If there's one thing Democrats can learn from Republicans, it's that a relentless focus on juicing their base is crucial for the midterms. What separates Democrats from Republicans, however, is that many issues they champion also resonate with a broad majority of the country.
Although some Democrats have been squeamish about the Jan. 6 investigation, it's an issue the Democratic base feels passionately about. But it could also yield dividends with swing voters.
The Washington Post's Jacqueline Alemany sifted through a focus group conducted last month by Lake Research Partners with "new midterm voters, high-information voters and/or White voters who started participating in electoral politics after the 2016 election." It's fair to guess the group had a Democratic lean (though we don’t know for sure—they did not ask for party affiliations), and here's what several of them had to say about accountability for Jan. 6, especially among lawmakers.
- "I just don't get why you can support treason and then try to be part of the government that you were trying to overthrow," said Gabby from Madison, Wis.
- "It's treason," said Mark from Chicago. "It makes me want to move to their district and vote against them," he added.
- "I feel like for me, it's just very frustrating and it's a matter of, if these were Black people or minority folks in the U.S. the perspective would be completely different. It just feels like a double standard to me," said Chandler, who didn't specify where he lived.
- "Horrible. It's horrible what happened. Horrible," responded Sarae from Baltimore. "I am frustrated, angry. I want to vote, because I want the right person to win and make a change in the world moving forward for my child and for my child's child, because it's scary."
I’m willing to bet that, for many Democratic voters, accountability for Jan. 6 is imperative. They want the probe, they want the evidence to come out, and ultimately, they would like to see heads roll—particularly those of the planners and inciters. Fortunately, the bipartisan panel is conducting an aggressive investigation that hasn't pulled any punches so far. That needs to continue because Democratic base turnout is critical in November.
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Swing voters, or at least Trump-to-Biden voters, are a bit of a trickier nut to crack. Listening to the most recent The Focus Group podcast by The Bulwark founder Sarah Longwell, it's clear that Trump-Biden voters are both reality-based and pretty well-informed about Jan. 6 (in contrast to the more deluded takes from many GOP base voters). Remember, these are mainly Republican-identified voters who cast a ballot for Trump in 2016 and then switched to Biden in 2020 because Trump was just that bad.
Asked about Trump's involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection, one woman offered, "I think some of it had to do with Trump inciting the extremists. And I think that his language, the words he used, his rhetoric was encouraging to those people who were on the far right to go and do what they did."
Here's another woman: "One of the reasons I didn't vote for Trump in 2020 is because he throws fuel on the fire, and is very inciteful and instigating in his language and responses, and I think all of that was just a perfect storm. ... But I would say that it was Trump's lack of action that would ultimately be responsible because he could have stepped up and said, Hey, no, guys, this isn't okay. And he didn't. He basically gave them go-ahead to be violent and attack the Capitol."
A male voter: "I'd lay the blame at Trump's feet. Beginning in early 2020, he started laying the groundwork for the election being fraudulent with no basis in reality. ... Anybody who's paying attention, who's honest with themselves, how can you not blame him? If not the entire set up, the fact they came right from a rally he was at to the Capitol. I mean, you're just not paying attention if you can't draw the line between those two, literally and figuratively."
Pretty good, right? Trump-Biden voters clearly get it, and they rightly lay at least some, if not all, of the blame at Trump's feet. Much like Biden's competent handling of Ukraine, Jan. 6 seems to be an issue that helps reaffirm their decision to reject Trump in 2020. Thus, these are voters Democrats would like to engage again in November.
The problem is, according to Longwell, nearly everyone in this group of voters says "it's time to move on from Jan. 6," and they don't have much faith in the congressional committee.
One woman: "They should spend their time and effort doing something else than figuring out who's to blame for something that is way in the past."
One man on the Jan. 6 panel: "Is it still going? I thought it was over."
Another woman: "I don't trust it because it's yet another committee, commission, whatever..." In so many words, she said it would likely devolve into partisanship even though it's technically bipartisan.
So Jan. 6 accountability is a tougher sell to this group. Most of them felt like the Jan. 6 panel was a wasted effort, didn’t exactly trust it, and wanted to move on for one reason or another.
Still, my overall takeaway for these voters is that reminding them of Trump's corruption and his continued grip on the GOP is a very worthwhile endeavor. From Jan. 6 to Putin's invasion of Ukraine, these Trump-Biden voters genuinely feel good about their decision to vote against Trump.
The good news is: The Jan. 6 panel is actually doing pretty damn good work at a rapid pace. Headlines around the probe, criminal referrals, prosecutions, and court rulings naturally keep the issue percolating. Democratic voters crave seeing that, and swingy voters who are at least minimally paying attention will be continually exposed to Trump's crimes one way or the other.
But the Democratic sweet spot for reaching swingy voters on Trump/GOP corruption is likely the issue of Ukraine, which very clearly isn't in the past and most certainly isn’t a waste of time. Indeed, it’s both urgent and existential, and Trump-Biden voters have expressed disgust about Trump’s recent appeals to Putin. Reminding swing voters why Trump and his dominance of the Republican Party continues to be so dangerous is precisely where the term "Trump-Putin axis" could be such a great attack line for Democrats.
Ultimately, Democrats need base turnout with a sliver of Trump/GOP defections sprinkled on top. Jan. 6 continues to provide openings in both respects.