The most obvious question before us following Thursday night’s powerful, Trump-eviscerating Jan. 6 committee hearing is whether it moved the needle even a little.
Because if this prime-time hearing — almost certain to have been the most watched of the committee’s mini-series to date, following, as it did, Cassidy Hutchinson’s bombshell testimony while promising a fresh minute-by-minute accounting of what Trump did and didn’t do on Jan. 6 — didn’t change many minds, it would be devastating.
It would mean that the hard core and even the soft core of Trump supporters either didn’t watch the hearing or remain unpersuadable, no matter the evidence, or both.
It could mean that, in the various Trump legal proceedings, it could be difficult to get to a guilty verdict even if Department of Justice prosecutors or others are brave enough to indict.
My psychotherapist friend suggests this would be a matter of cognitive dissonance, but I always prefer to go back to the old line: Who you gonna believe, me or your lyin’ eyes?
We could agree, however, that this would be the ultimate test of Trump’s long-ago thesis that he could shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue and not lose a single vote. “It’s, like, incredible,” he said during the 2016 campaign.
And the never-ending Trump saga has been, like, incredible ever since.
The evidence makes clear that when Trump did as little as possible to stop the unprecedented Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol — so little that even the James Webb space telescope couldn’t have spotted any movement — he had chosen to use inaction as a desperate form of action. Never calling in the troops to help police quell the attack. Never calling Mike Pence to see if he was OK. Ignoring the advice of nearly all his senior aides, many of whom were so appalled they quit on the spot, while deferring to the conspiracy theorists.
He did, of course, take the opportunity to chat with Rudy while watching the riot on Fox and reading intelligence missives constantly telling him the chaos was growing ever more dangerous. The American people had to settle for a few tweets praising so-called patriots and never mentioning the damage he and his friends were doing to American democracy.
By choosing to do nothing to stop the riot and, in fact, encouraging the mob to hunt down former Trump lapdog Pence, we can deduce, as I do, that the riot was the last-gasp bid to stop the electors from being accepted by Congress, as had been planned by John Eastman, Rudy Giuliani and the rest of the Trumpist crazies.
Or it could be that when violence suddenly became unloosed, he simply grabbed at the main chance — using mob violence to physically threaten a recalcitrant Pence to the point that his Secret Service defenders were actually sending final farewell messages to their families. To stop the electoral count. To have the necessary time to cook up an even more incredible scheme for holding on to power.
The one almost comic moment of the hearing came when the House committee first showed an image of Sen. Josh Hawley, the ambitious Trump enabler, throwing the power salute to the mob assaulting the Capitol. Then it showed video of him, not so long after, running down the stairs with other senators and staff to escape the mob. Try to cognitive dissonance that.
Even the children understood the damage being done. We saw Don Jr.’s texts to Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to get his father to “stop this shit.” Ivanka was in the room begging her father to halt the mob. We heard desperate messages from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to Trump to call off his people. McCarthy then went on to publicly blame Trump personally for the assault, as would Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
That was then. McCarthy, of course, would soon go to Mar-a-Lago to kiss the ring. McConnell would just prefer never to have to answer for Trump ever again.
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Meanwhile, committee vice chair Rep. Liz Cheney, who has become the surprise star of these hearings, was subbing for chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, who, like Joe Biden, has COVID. She wrapped up the hearing with this question:
“Every American must consider this: Can a president who is willing to make the choices Donald Trump made during the violence of January 6th ever be trusted with any position of authority in our great nation again?”
Here’s how Trump answered the question when he finally called off the mob with a brief video trying to end the violence. He said he understood why the mob got out of control because he, too, felt the rage of having an (actually unrigged) election stolen from him and from his mob of Trump supporters. Trump had ignored the script given to him and instead called the insurrectionists special people. And said that he loved them.
A day later, he made another video. Ivanka had urged him to say something about peace and about the brave Capitol police. Some in his cabinet were threatening to invoke the 25th Amendment, which allows the cabinet to remove a president who had gone, well, fully around the bend.
But we got to see the outtakes when Trump did this: tell his advisers to strike the words they had actively wanted him to say — that “the election is over.” He didn’t say it then, and he hasn’t said it since, even as one-time true believers, in hearing after hearing, have told us how Trump proposed to steal the election, he’ll never say it.
That’s where we are now. The committee promises it will be back with a few more hearings in September. And those Republicans who still, according to the polls, overwhelmingly support Trump? We still don’t know. We might get a clue in the November midterms. Or maybe not until Trump really does, as he has widely hinted, run for president in 2024 — if he’s not indicted and convicted by some jury before.
The only certainties are that Trump will still be around somewhere, and we’ll still be talking about him. What’s possible — and how do you root here? — is that we’ll be hearing how he got robbed again in 2024.
To avoid that, all we need is for everyone who missed Thursday’s hearing to Google it and watch the whole thing. Really watch and listen to it. If there were any justice in the world — and that, we know, is still far from being determined — a fair reading of the hearing would be the end of Trump.
More importantly, it would mark the end of Trump’s 5th Avenue declaration. Which would be, like, incredible.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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