Have the Jan.6 Hearings Hurt Donald Trump?: Analysis

After the committee investigating the January 6, 2021 Capitol riots has held five hearings, there is still a question as to just how much damage the hearings will actually do to former President Donald Trump.

The House Select Committee, which has spent a year investigating the events which led up to the Capitol riot, had been building up to proceedings in the weeks and months before the first live televised presentation, promising to deliver evidence that some hoped would force the Department of Justice to act and charge the former president.

However, there is no guarantee that Attorney General Merrick Garland will take the unprecedented step and charge the former president with a crime over his alleged attempts to overturn the 2020 election results or incitement of his supporters to storm the Capitol as a last-ditch attempt to hold onto power.

Even if no charges are brought against Trump or any of his allies, there is still hope from the panel that their findings could at least prevent Trump from running for office again for allegedly inciting an insurrection, or ruin the former president's reputation entirely by reminding the American people of his actions and rhetoric before the attack on January 6.

However, this is not the first time that Trump has faced a potential legacy-destroying hearing over the past six years.

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Then-President Donald Trump speaks to supporters from The Ellipse near the White House on January 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. The committee investigating the January 6 Capitol riots is looking into Trump's actions on that day and the days leading up to it. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

What Sticks to 'Teflon' Trump?

Trump is the only president in U.S. history to be impeached twice, with the Senate voting to acquit Trump both times, and the former president also survived Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian collusion during the 2016 election.

This is on top of the seemingly endless run of scandal and controversies which dogged Trump over the years, from the Access Hollywood "grab them by p****y" recordings to his emboldening of far-right groups and handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

Speaking to Newsweek, Thomas Gift, founding director of University College London's Center on U.S. Politics, described Trump as the "Teflon president" while in office, and that there is nothing to suggest that his "ability to avoid scandals from sticking to him" has lessened since January 6 or the subsequent live hearings.

"Trump's grip over the GOP may have loosened somewhat, but he's still—by far— the most dominant figure within the party. So despite the enormity of the evidence proving Trump's malfeasance, the odds that the MAGAverse will abandon him in response to the January 6 hearings are essentially zero," Gift said.

Gift added that it appears Republican voters may only be viewing the hearings as a "replay of impeachment 2.0" where Trump was accused of inciting the attack, or as "yet another witch-hunt and political smokescreen" designed to take down Joe Biden's most likely opponent in 2024.

"Democrats may be glued to the TV enraptured by every new detail unfolding in the hearings, but their minds were set against Trump anyway. For all those reasons, it's hard to see the January 6 hearings budging public opinion toward Trump even a little," Gift said.

Are People Watching?

In order to build pressure against Trump, the panel already knew that they must present new findings that are not already public knowledge such as how often Trump falsely declared he was the winner of the last election.

The committee was also aware that they needed to maintain the public's interest in the congressional hearings.

In order to do so, they brought in former ABC News television executive and documentary filmmaker James Goldston to help turn the proceedings into a captivating presentation suitable for primetime television.

The move appears to have paid off. The first live primetime hearing on June 9 attracted 20 million viewers across the news networks, according to the Nielsen ratings.

However, those numbers have started to fall, albeit with the subsequent hearings not being played in primetime slots.

The first daytime hearing on June 13 was watched by 13 million, with the third on June 16 falling further still to around nine million.

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A tweet from former President Donald Trump is displayed during the fifth hearing by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol in the Cannon House Office Building on June 23, 2022 in Washington, D.C. Alex Wong/Getty Images

What Do Viewers Think?

The ratings appear to be backed by some polls, which suggest the public is not as interested in the hearings as they go on.

An Ipsos poll conducted after the third hearing found that just two-thirds of Americans (66 percent) are not following the hearing closely/closely at all, compared to 33 percent who said they are keeping top of proceedings very or somewhat closely.

However, a Quinnipiac University National Poll released Wednesday gave an opposing view. The survey found that a majority of Americans say they are following the January 6 hearings either "very closely" (26 percent) or "somewhat closely" (32 percent).

Where the hearings appear to be having a detrimental effect on Trump is the view on whether he should be charged with a criminal offense over the January 6 attack.

According to the recent Ipsos/ABC News poll, nearly six in 10 (58 percent) of Americans think Trump should be charged with a crime for his role in the riot.

Another survey conducted by Navigator Research also found that 54 percent of respondents support the idea of the Department of Justice indicting the former president in connection with the Capitol riot.

What do Experts Think?

David Niven, a political science professor at the University of Cincinnati, said that the fact that the January 6 hearings are able to focus entirely on Trump's efforts to overturn the election results could be what damages Trump.

"Ironically, one of Trump's great political strengths is that there are so many things wrong with him that it is hard to hold people's focus on just one thing for any length of time," Niven told Newsweek. "Each session is a reminder that Trump lied, Trump connived, and ultimately, Trump unleashed a torrent of violence against innocent people trying to lawfully do their jobs."

However, Christa Ramey, co-founder of Los Angeles-based civil litigation firm Ramey Law PC, does not believe that the January 6 hearings are hurting the former president at all, especially within the GOP.

"His group of followers are within their own echo chamber, calling the hearings a 'witch hunt' and not bothering to watch them, so it's very unlikely to move the needle with them," Ramey told Newsweek.

"Republicans who aren't necessarily Trump supporters are much more likely to be swayed by the evidence presented in the hearings. But there's definitely a ceiling on how many Republicans will be swayed," she continued. "The fact that viewership of the hearings has been modest also provides an indication that there's a ceiling on how much of the public even cares at this point."

Clark D. Cunningham, a professor of law at Georgia State University, said the issue is not whether Trump's reputation is damaged by the proceedings, but whether authorities believe he committed a crime.

"The question is going to be will people be open-minded about the evidence that's been presented in these hearings," Clark said. "The battleground is not so much did Trump win or not, was there fraud or not. Now the battleground is what did Trump do," he said. "He didn't just talk about his belief that there had been fraud. He put into motion a scheme which a judge in California has described as a criminal act."

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Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as they storm the US Capitol in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021. OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP/Getty Images

Will the Hearings Lead to Criminal Trial?

Ultimately, it doesn't matter if the live televised hearings ratings fall and people begin to tune out of the proceedings, or if opinion polls on Trump slightly differ in the wake of the January 6 hearings.

What matters is if the committee persuades the Department of Justice that Trump committed a number of crimes during his attempts to overturn the election results in the run-up to the January 6 attack.

In his opening remarks on June 9, Committee chair Rep. Bennie Thompson described January 6 as the "culmination of an attempted coup" which was Trump's "most desperate chance" to prevent Biden from becoming president.

"The committee has shown that Trump knew, or that he should have known, that the 2020 election was free and fair," Ramey said.

"It has shown the pressure Trump put on Vice President Mike Pence and on state officials to violate their oaths and it has shown the deadly consequences of the whirlwind of hate that Trump set into motion," she said. "The evidence presented in these hearings meets the burden of proof necessary to result in charges."