As House Republicans rev up their disinformation machine, one of their most sought-after targets will be trying to dismantle the narrative established by the Jan. 6 committee that Donald Trump along with his GOP accomplices orchestrated a massive attempt to overthrow American democracy.
Not only do Republicans despise the reality that they betrayed their country, but the charge undeniably hit home with voters, many of whom prioritized safeguarding democracy at the ballot box.
Indeed, in post-election polling conducted by Impact Research, 60% of voters in 71 highly competitive districts said protecting democracy was an extremely important motivation for them—beating inflation (53%), abortion (47%), and crime (45%).
Ultimately, 73% of Democrats and 51% of independent voters called protecting democracy an extremely important reason they voted. And among voters who cast a ballot for Democrats, 41% named protecting democracy as their No. 1 issue (abortion was No. 2 at 39%, and 38% mentioned their strong dislike for the GOP candidate, many of whom were MAGA election deniers).
If the election results themselves weren't enough to drive the point home, the post-election polling served to reinforce just how salient protecting democracy was in the minds of voters. But it was never a given the issue would rise to the top in a cycle where voters, facing historic inflation rates, were almost universally distressed over the economy.
The fact that the threat to our democracy remained urgent in the minds of voters was, at least in part, due to the Jan. 6 panel's success in relaying a compelling and indelible narrative to voters. It also helped that the insurrectionist in chief himself, Trump, handpicked a slate of election deniers across the country, including in most of the cycle's highest-profile races. But again, the Jan. 6 panel's ingenuity in making Trump central to the story and indicting him in the court of public opinion was the key to making his endorsees utterly toxic on the campaign trail.
In fact, the committee took pains to make the information they uncovered both riveting and digestible to the public. The panel organized the hearings into an episodic series, with each one covering a different aspect of Trump's desperate effort to overturn the election results. The committee also hired veteran journalist, producer, and former ABC News president James Goldston, who used multiple witness interviews to weave together an oral history of Trump's expansive but ultimately failed coup attempt.
The result was nothing short of congressional TV gold, particularly in an era of mind-numbing hearings rife with an endless string of self-righteous partisan rants.
Given that backdrop, the Jan. 6 probe, with its gripping testimony culled from a wealth of raw deposition footage, presented a unique opportunity—one that also could have easily been a missed opportunity.
Instead, an analysis of 2022 Nielsen data found two of the Jan. 6 hearings were among just four political events that cracked last year's top 100 telecasts, according to Sports Business Journal. The other two events were President Biden’s inaugural State of the Union address and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky's December congressional address.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the top 100 telecasts of 2022 were mainly dominated by sporting events—particularly NFL and college football games. But the analysis found Biden's inaugural State of the Union address managed to finish 9th overall with about 34.6 million viewers, making it the only non-NFL related telecast in the top 10.
The next two most-watched political events of 2022 were Jan. 6 committee hearings No. 1 at 19.4 million viewers and No. 8 at 17.4 million viewers. Both hearings, initially designed to bookend the committee's work, were held in primetime and broadcast on multiple networks.
Zelensky's congressional address drew 16 million viewers. The fifth most-watched political event of the year, though it didn't quite make the Top 100, was Jan. 6 committee hearing No. 6 with 13.2 million viewers.
Looking solely at non-NFL telecasts, all three of those Jan. 6 hearings made the top 25 most-watched telecasts of 2022. (Screenshot included at the end of this article.)
But the fact that the Jan. 6 hearings accounted for three of the five most-watched political telecasts last year serves as a measure of just how penetrating the hearing's presentations were.
Instead of the Jan. 6 attack fading into the background more than a year after the republic's near-death experience, the insurrection took on new meaning as the panel brought Trump's broad-based, multi-faceted conspiracy into full view.
And while many Americans' views of Trump barely budged during the hearings, the sense that our constitutional democracy was still imperiled—and specifically that Trump and his delusional band of election deniers still posed a very real threat to the republic—grew in the minds of pro-democracy voters rather than receding.
After the first eight Jan. 6 hearings, a late July CNN poll found that 55% of Democrats said democracy was under attack, a 9-point bump from the 46% who had said that earlier in the year.
A New York Times/Siena poll released in October tested how many voters were open to voting for a candidate who agreed with them on most issues, but also believed the 2020 election was stolen.
As I noted at the time, 60% of voters overall said they wouldn't be comfortable casting a ballot for that election denier, even if the candidate aligned with the voter's views on other issues.
The partisan breakdown was even more telling, with 83% of Democrats saying they wouldn't be comfortable voting for that candidate, 60% of independents saying the same, while 71% of Republicans said they would feel comfortable voting for an election denier who largely agreed with them on other issues.
In other words, election deniers were nonstarters with a vast swath of the electorate—a very apt preview of the way the midterms ultimately unfolded.
Just a tangential side note here to say the Times incorrectly analyzed its own polling, framing it with the headline, "Voters see democracy in peril, but saving it isn't a priority." How depressing... and wrong. The team of writers concluded that voters had demonstrated "greater urgency" about the economy than the fate of the political system. That supposition was based on totally bunk Times polling/analysis I also covered here. All that is to say, one misstep led to another led to another last year among election analysts, even at the nation's most reputable outlets.
But at the time of the Jan. 6 panel’s formation, judging by focus groups, polling, and punditry, few Americans expected the select committee to impact much at the outset of the inquiry. Instead, the bipartisan committee, led by Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming (who lost her seat last year), proved to be both uniquely effective and consequential in the midterms.
The committee also established a historical storyline that is now ingrained in the minds of most Americans.
So as House Republicans set out to rewrite that narrative, it is difficult to imagine their ragtag group of small thinkers and petty grievers will accomplish much. Sure, they will reinforce the entrenched views of MAGA conspiracists, but they will also reveal themselves as a bunch of unserious boobs living on the noxious fumes of an alternative universe.
The pre-election polling, post-election polling, and midterm election results all suggest the GOP's wizardry will only serve further to alienate roughly 60% of America's reality-based voters. Instead of marring the Jan. 6 panel's compelling legacy, House Republicans will merely entrench themselves with an island of deluded election deniers. Please proceed.
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Happy New Year! Daily Kos’ Joan McCarter is on the show today to talk about the wild garbage fire that was the Republican speaker of the House vote. Kerry and Markos also break down what this onionskin-thin conservative majority can and cannot do in the coming year, as well as what the Democratic representatives can do to make Kevin McCarthy’s life just that much tougher.