Julianna Goldman: Good news for Democrats: Even Republicans are tiring of Trump
The commentator writes contrary to the popular opinion leading up to the first televised session last month of the House select committee investigating the Capitol riot, it now appears that voters — from the most progressive to the most MAGA, and independents in between — are taking note of the damning revelations after seven public hearings.
Democrats are worried that President Joe Biden is old, but the Jan. 6 hearings are showing that former president Donald Trump is stale.
And in a sea of negativity for Democrats, that’s a potential bright spot ahead of November’s midterm elections. Contrary to the popular opinion leading up to the first televised session last month of the House select committee investigating the Capitol riot, it now appears that voters — from the most progressive to the most MAGA, and independents in between — are taking note of the damning revelations after seven public hearings.
“I think it’s time to move on,” a two-time Trump voter and a woman, said in a focus group of MAGA Republicans about a week after the first hearing in June. The focus group was organized by GOP strategist and never-Trumper Sarah Longwell.
In another focus group of hers, this time with voters who supported Trump in 2020 but not in 2016, one female voter said: “They keep talking about the results of the election and I feel like even when he's doing his roadshow, he keeps bringing that up, like it's, you know, a grudge.” The woman added, “I just feel like we've moved past that.”
No participants in either focus group said they wanted Trump to run again in 2024.
Longwell says that’s a notable shift. Before the hearings, half the participants in every Trump voting group would say they wanted to see the former president run again in 2024. Now, they repeatedly say that Trump isn’t electable, he has too much “baggage” and too much to defend.
“Republicans want to talk about Biden and jobs and inflation,” Longwell told me. “When Trump hammers on the 2020 election, it’s boring and not what they’re thinking.”
On the Democratic side, new data from Research Collaborative is also showing significant movement, particularly among independents. The organization is bringing in quantitative and qualitative research from various firms, studying focus groups as well as public and private polling to examine political issues. Their focus right now is on the Capitol assault hearings.
They found that between mid-May and mid-June, support for the investigation increased by 8 percentage points, to 63%, driven mostly by independents, who are now seeing a criminal conspiracy play out, versus a spontaneous attack on a single day.
In focus groups, voters are pointing to revelations like Trump’s draft tweet calling on his supporters to march to the Capitol, according to McKenzie Young, Research Collaborative’s executive director. They’re repeatedly talking about the former officials asking for pardons. “There’s a pretty clear reaction that anybody who asks for a pardon knows they did something wrong,” she told me.
Trump voters who don’t deny the outcome of the 2020 election are more reluctant to vote for those associated with the “criminal conspiracy” to overturn results of the election.
While 64% of independents hold Trump responsible for the Jan. 6 attack, nearly as many (59%) now hold “Trump Republicans in Congress” responsible as well.
What’s more, since April, the percentage of independents who say they are less likely to vote for a member of Congress who supported the attack increased by 12 points, to 71%.
Then there are “soft Trump voters,” described by Research Collaborative as those who are conflicted about their 2020 vote for the former president. More of them now see Jan. 6 as a criminal conspiracy. Before the hearings, there was a 30-percentage-point gap between soft Trump voters who thought it was and those who didn’t. Now that gap has shrunk to only 8 points.
About 20% of soft Trump voters now believe that the former president and Trump Republicans pose a threat to the future of elections. That’s not to say Trump has completely lost his grip — more than half of such voters believe that Trump and Trump Republicans never posed a threat.
But the hearings appear to be shifting opinions and perceptions. These soft Trump voters favor Republicans in the generic congressional ballot by 52 points, but when they’re asked to choose between a Republican who supports Trump and a Democrat who supports Biden, that margin shrinks to 47 percent.
Whether this translates into effective voter turnout is the big question. The level of concern about what happened is high, but outside the hearings there’s nothing to create momentum. People are shocked, they see the consequences of a political party propagating undemocratic means and methods, but they want to know what’s going to be done about it. They want accountability.
The research does show that Democrats have an opportunity to tie the hearings to abortion rights. In focus groups, voters have been making connections between the extremism they are learning about in the hearings and the Supreme Court’s decision, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, that overturned its 1973 abortion-rights precedent Roe v. Wade.
Some 44% of independents agreed that the perpetrators of Jan. 6 and those who worked to overturn Roe are the same people.
Could that be a rallying cry to organize a surge of new voters like the one that propelled Democrats to victories in 2018 and 2020? Biden secured his presidency by winning large shares of younger voters and voters of color who were among the 29 percent of the electorate who had not voted in 2016 — and those are the voters Democrats need to buck trends and come out in November.
“For some, the connection is very clear,” Young says, “but for folks who are not thinking about politics every day,” they need to be organized and there’s messaging work to do.
As we see with the connection to Dobbs, the extremism on display from the Jan. 6 hearings is motivating Democratic and independent voters — they just need to know that’s what this election is about.
Julianna Goldman is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist who was formerly a Washington-based correspondent for CBS News and White House correspondent for Bloomberg News and Bloomberg Television.
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