While many Republican voters continue to live in an alternative reality, this week’s polling on Jan. 6 suggests that, by and large, the American public has a pretty good handle about what unfolded on that horrific day and who was responsible.
The recently released AP-NORC survey found that nearly two-thirds of Americans (64%) believe the attack was either extremely or very violent, including 87% of Democrats, 57% of independents, and even 39% of Republicans.
So the GOP lie that Jan. 6 was just some tourist escapade that went a tad sideways hasn't resonated with a solid majority of Americans. In fact, only 14% of adults said the assault was not very violent or wasn't violent at all.
The public also has a decent grasp on who is to blame for the Capitol siege, with 80% saying the individuals involved in the riot bear either "a great deal" or "quite a bit" of responsibility.
But 57% of U.S. adults also say Donald Trump shares a great deal/quite a bit of the blame. If you add in those who say he bears "a moderate amount" of blame, the number jumps to 70%, including 77% of independents and 39% of Republicans. A Washington Post-University of Maryland survey likewise found that 60% of respondents felt Trump deserved either a great deal or a good amount of the blame.
Americans also assign much more blame for the attack to congressional Republicans than they do congressional Democrats, with 41% saying GOP lawmakers shoulder a great deal/quite a bit of the blame. The number jumps to 66% if you add those who hold Republicans moderately responsible.
Just 22% of respondents, however, say Democrats bear a great deal/quite a bit of the blame. Even adding in moderate responsibility only pushes Democrats to 44% of the blame.
Overall, the polling suggests the public is ripe for a Democratic message pegging Trump as a chief instigator of the violent attack that posed a significant threat to our democracy. That was a big part of the message President Joe Biden sent with his speech commemorating the Jan. 6 attack—that Trump told a series of lies that ultimately resulted in a pro-Trump mob holding “a dagger at the throat of America.”
But the data also suggests Democrats can build outward from the insurrection narrative, casting "the Jan. 6 deniers and pro-violence crowd as a dangerous fringe," as Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin noted.
"When 'your side' has 60 percent or more of the public behind it, you should talk about it — a lot," wrote Rubin.
She's exactly right. The public is largely with Democrats in its view of Jan. 6, and Democrats should capitalize on that. The topic has the extra benefit of being extremely uncomfortable for Republicans, which is why nearly all of them—other than Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and her father—fled town.
Republicans' remarkable absence from the Jan. 6 commemoration betrays a real weakness on the subject—one that Democrats should exploit.
President Biden struck a new tone for Democrats in his speech Thursday marking the one-year anniversary of that deadly attack. They can and should take up the mantle of being the real defenders of democracy against a Republican Party that is coddling terrorists.