Ratings dominated the front pages and featured prominently in network and cable television news coverage. People discuss it extensively on social media. The question is no longer about Donald Trump’s role in the coup attempt (no doubt his fingerprints are everywhere); instead, the country is avidly debating whether there is sufficient evidence of Trump’s corrupt intent to prosecute him for it.
A survey by the Democratic firm Navigator Research found that “the House investigation is attracting public attention, with 63% of respondents saying they have heard ‘a lot’ or ‘a little’ about the hearings.” Even more telling: “A growing number of Americans believe it is important to uncover the truth behind the attempted coup; respondents said ratings were significant by a margin of 15 points, up from five points from April.” That increase is largely driven by independents, 45% of whom now say the survey is important, compared to 26% who say the opposite.
Other polls confirm these results. A new ABC News-Ipsos poll released on Sunday found that 58% of Americans thinks Trump should be criminally charged, until about six points of a similar poll in April.
There is also anecdotal evidence that the hearings are happening even among some Republicans. Retired Michigan Rep. Fred Upton had this exchange with Dana Bash on CNN”State of the Union”:
BASH: Do you think the case presented by the January 6 Committee resonates with moderate Republican voters and independents?
UPTON: Yes, I think so.
I think the overriding issue is certainly the economy and gas prices. But I think there’s been a real interest in what’s going on. You have, obviously, your various factions that aren’t going to turn it on and watch. They made their decision some time ago.
But, yeah, I think it had an impact on voters across the country. And we’ll see how this thing plays out. The committee took great care not to divulge any details before its hearings.
As the hearings continue this week and beyond, the country will learn even more about Trump’s involvement. Committee member Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” on Sunday suggested that more evidence and “guidance” is coming. This is a key benefit of public hearings: those sitting on the fence might feel more comfortable coming forward. Other witnesses may not have realized the importance of the information they have had from the start.
In other words, the amount and value of evidence that Trump was at the center of the coup plot will only Continue to build. Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-California), another committee member, recently suggested there is evidence that Trump was directly involved in the plan to come up with alternative voter lists.
The serious tenor of the coverage and the widespread interest in the evidence have several consequences. The first is that it could sway critical prosecutors, such as Fani Willis in Fulton County, Georgia. She will no doubt watch with avidity Tuesday’s testimony from two Georgia state officials regarding efforts by Trump and then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to pressure election officials to “find” just enough votes to overthrow the state. And according to the testimony of other witnesses such as Rusty Bowers, the Republican Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, other state investigations may be possible.
Second, the committee has already heightened interest in another promising line of inquiry: Trump’s alleged plan to raise money for his campaign’s election lawsuits through what the committee says is a non-existent fund. Committee Member Zoe Lofgren (D-California) Explain that “the average donation was less than $20” and that “these were donors who were not wealthy, but they answered his calls, which were fraudulent. And I don’t think that’s fair. Whether the alleged scam carries criminal or civil liability will no doubt be the subject of vigorous investigation among state attorneys, state attorneys general and class action attorneys. Without the hearings, it’s unlikely this ever happened.
Third, in case the Department of Justice decides not To prosecute Trump and his closest cronies, Attorney General Merrick Garland will come under enormous pressure to justify why the mound of evidence isn’t enough. Garland has sworn to ignore all politics, and his decision will inevitably involve whether he thinks a jury can find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. On the contrary, public expectations could change in such a way that a refusal sue would seem shocking to most Americans.
In short, audiences are already have a palpable impact on the public’s perception of Trump and on state officials as they consider their next steps. In the end, the public might not be surprised if they lead to various actions against the former president and his closest aides.