The Jan. 6 hearings at times have resembled a criminal trial in absentia for former President Donald J. Trump. On Thursday night, the proceedings suddenly felt more like a court-martial.
A 20-year Navy veteran and a lieutenant colonel within the Air National Guard led the questioning by House members. Five times, Mr. Trump was accused of “dereliction of duty.” The nation’s highest-ranking military officer provided withering recorded testimony of the commander in chief’s failure to command. A former Marine and deputy national security adviser testified in individual that the previous president had flouted the very Structure he had sworn to guard and defend.
Over eight days and evenings, the Jan. 6 committee has relied almost exclusively on Republican witnesses to construct its case that Mr. Trump bore personal responsibility for uplifting and even encouraging the riot that ransacked the Capitol. But on Thursday, the committee’s casting, choreography and script all appeared rigorously coordinated to make a subtly different case to a specific subset of the American people — voters who haven’t yet been persuaded to interrupt with Mr. Trump — that their patriotism itself dictates that they break with him now. “Whatever your politics, whatever you concentrate on the end result of the election, we as Americans must all agree on this — Donald Trump’s conduct on Jan. 6 was a supreme violation of his oath of office and a whole dereliction of his duty to our nation,” said Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, a Republican and Air Force veteran who helped lead the questioning.
Witness after witness portrayed in vivid detail how Mr. Trump consumed hours of Fox News coverage on Jan. 6, 2021, in his private dining room, moderately than directing American forces to intervene and stop the bloodshed.
“No call? Nothing? Zero?” Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said incredulously in audio played from his deposition.
The summer hearings have been a blockbuster by Capitol Hill standards, drawing big audiences and redefining what a congressional investigation — at the very least one without dissenting voices — should appear like. The season finale, because it were, brought together all of the plot lines of the previous episodes to portray Mr. Trump as a singular threat to American democracy, a person who put his own ambitions before every little thing else, including the well-being of lawmakers and his own vice chairman — and continued to accomplish that even after the rioting and violence had subsided.
“I don’t need to say, ‘The election is over,’” Mr. Trump said in an outtake of the taped address he delivered to the nation the day after the assault, which was obtained by the committee and played on Thursday. “I just need to say Congress has certified the outcomes without saying the election is over, OK?”
Weaving together clips of his own aides testifying about their frustrations, live questioning and never-before-seen video footage, the committee used the language of patriotism to attempt to disqualify Mr. Trump as a future candidate by appealing to that ever-more-endangered species in American politics: real swing voters whose opinions on the attack weren’t fully calcified.
“He could have stopped it and selected to not,” said Deva Moore of Corpus Christi, Texas, who said she got here away from the hearings “horrified.” “I believe he’s guilty of riot. He encouraged his supporters, who’ve every right to support him — he encouraged them to violence and murder.”
Key Revelations From the Jan. 6 Hearings
Ms. Moore, who called herself a political independent, voted for Mr. Biden in 2020 but has been disenchanted by points of his record and said she wouldn’t back him again. She doesn’t hold Jan. 6 against Republicans on the whole: It “only affects how I feel about Trump,” she said.
It’s unclear if the hearings are changing many minds, or in the event that they are drawing an audience who already agrees with their conclusions. Polling points to a pointy split between the opinions of Americans who’re glued to them and those that are tuning them out. A Quinnipiac University poll this week showed that 69 percent of Americans who said they were following the hearings closely believed that Mr. Trump had committed a criminal offense related to trying to vary the election results. But only 22 percent of those that said they weren’t thought that he had committed a criminal offense.
“Due to how they put it together and presented the case with all Republican witnesses, from the judgment of history, they’re going to be seen as having unraveled quite a caper,” said Lee M. Miringoff, the director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. “It will not be transformational in and of itself, but I do think it’s impactful on differing constituencies.”
The hearings are definitely being watched. The primary, in June, ranked because the most-watched telecast of the second quarter, gathering nearly 20 million viewers across multiple networks. Amongst nonsporting events, it ranked second only to the State of the Union when it comes to audience size. The early estimate for Thursday’s hearing from Nielsen was 17.7 million viewers.
But Fox News, one of the crucial necessary outlets for reaching Republican voters, has proudly ignored among the proceedings.
“One among our producers just said that on every other channel, they’re playing some sort of Jan. 6 hearing,” Tucker Carlson, the channel’s popular prime time host, said tauntingly on Thursday. “Jan. 6?” he said. “Because that’s the most important thing happening in America without delay.”
Republican strategists involved in 2022 congressional campaigns say the hearings have barely registered for voters enthusiastic about the midterms. But some strategists imagine the proceedings may affect perceptions of Mr. Trump, contributing to fatigue with him amongst Republican voters as they start to think in regards to the next presidential campaign.
“It will be a mistake to assume that the Jan. 6 hearings are having no political effect in any respect on Republicans,” said Whit Ayres, a outstanding G.O.P. consultant. He said the hearings seemed geared toward “Possibly Trump” voters: individuals who voted for Mr. Trump twice and approved of his job performance, but could be open to supporting other Republicans in 2024.
“It’ll get into the water,” Mr. Ayres said. “The way in which that translates in polling terms is a rise within the variety of Republicans who would really like to see another person be the standard-bearer in 2024, someone who might pursue most of the same policies but carry less personal baggage than Donald Trump.”
Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the committee’s vice chair and one in all Mr. Trump’s most outspoken Republican critics, called his behavior on Jan. 6 “indefensible” during Thursday’s hearing. She accused him of getting so manipulated his supporters in stoking the falsehood of a stolen election that he “turned their love of country right into a weapon against our Capitol and our Structure.”
“Donald Trump knows that thousands and thousands of Americans who supported him would get up and defend our nation were it threatened,” Ms. Cheney said. “They’d put their lives and their freedom at stake to guard her. And he’s preying on their patriotism.”
Republican voters will render a verdict on Ms. Cheney far earlier than on Mr. Trump as she seeks to fend off a Trump-fueled primary challenge next month. She is widely considered the underdog.
Democrats imagine the deadly events of Jan. 6 remain a potent a part of the argument against returning Republicans to power, as they seek to make the midterm campaigns a alternative between two parties moderately than a referendum on Democratic leadership. The hearings, some argue, have served as a robust reminder of the Republican lurch toward extremism.
Celinda Lake, a Democratic strategist who was a pollster on Mr. Biden’s 2020 campaign, said there have been signs that the hearings were breaking through with independents, especially independent men, who’ve been disapproving of Mr. Biden.
“They’re really attentive to the arguments of, ‘This can be a criminal conspiracy. That is attempting to overturn the elections. That is attempting to overturn the desire of the people,’” said Ms. Lake, who’s polling and conducting focus groups on the topic. “And that makes independent men very feisty.”
Still, some voters are skeptical of the hearings.
“They’re biased with a predetermined end result,” said Richard Smith, 69, of Maricopa County, Arizona, who voted for Mr. Trump in 2020 but believes Mr. Biden ultimately won. He said he would like that Mr. Trump not run again. “There’s a degree where you simply accept events and move on, and he doesn’t appear to give you the option to,” he said.
Independent voters remain divided on the query of whether Mr. Trump committed a criminal offense within the aftermath of the 2020 election. In a Latest York Times/Siena College poll conducted in early July, a 49 percent plurality said Mr. Trump had committed “serious federal crimes” and a 56 percent majority said he had threatened American democracy.
David Winston, a veteran Republican pollster, said that he believed voters were taking note of the hearings, but that many were discounting some findings because Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans were solely in charge.
“There’s an understanding that it’s one side of the story. The electorate takes that under consideration,” Mr. Winston said. “There isn’t a evidence that it’s moved anybody.”
Indeed, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll in recent days showed that the share of Americans who think Mr. Trump bears an excellent deal or amount of blame for the riot has been virtually unchanged since per week after it happened.
For at the very least some Republicans, the hearings have been a reminder of a dark chapter within the party’s recent past. “The peaceful transfer of power is prime to the very foundation of our country,” said Henry Barbour, a Republican National Committee member from Mississippi. “What happened that day and what led to it are a terrible stain on our party.”