Photo: Evan Vucci/AP
Somewhere in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Thursday afternoon, it seems quite possible that an elderly man was crying in anger in front of a television.
Donald Trump, who spends the summers at his golf club in Bedminster, is a TV man, a ratings man. So the widely-aired hearings of the Congressional Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol, hit him where it hurts†
Related: ‘A Dangerous Cancer’: Fourth Hearing Reveals How Trump’s Big Lie Devastated People’s Lives
The former US president is reportedly glued to them – and has not enjoyed what he has seen. Since the panel has presented a carefully crafted case against Trump as the leader of a failed coup, he would be furious that there is no one in the room to stand up for him.
Trump “has tuned in to every hearing” and has grown increasingly enraged — to “the point where he’s about to yell at the TV,” according to a close adviser — with what he considers to be the “lack of defense by his Capitol Hill allies”, reported the Washington Post†
He may be aware that, although the hearings are coming too late to force his resignation and whether or not the justice to file criminal chargesthey seem to be doing greater political damage than anyone imagined.
Thursday’s fifth hearing served up more of the same in the Cannon Caucus Room which, somewhat reminiscent of a grand ornate ballroom with curtains closed and lights on, gives a gravitas to Trump’s nail that can’t squirt a trickle of media revelations or tell-all memoirs.
Photographers thronged the witnesses, as did the panel chair, Congresswoman Bennie Thompsonlowered the hammer, a now ominous sound for Trump, and spoke of “a brazen attempt to use the Justice Department to advance the president’s personal political agenda”.
Trump’s consternation has probably only grown as… Republican Liz Cheney took his central role in the conspiracy to undo the election when another Republican, Adam Kinzinger, questioned former Justice Department officials. “Today, President Trump’s utter disregard for the Constitution and his oath will be fully exposed,” Kinzinger said.
Again, everything went smoothly and efficiently. There were no interruptions, objections, points of order or corrupt tactics. And that would have infuriated Trump. He has been particularly critical of Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader in the House, for boycotting the committee rather than giving pro-Trump Republicans a voice.
Trump told Punchbowl News“In retrospect, I think it would have been very smart” to put more Republicans on the committee. “The Republicans don’t have a vote. They don’t even have anything to say.”
McCarthy apparently gambled that this would allow Republicans to write off the hearings as illegitimate, partisan, and an attempt to distract from more pressing issues like inflation. But the presence of Cheney, Kinzinger and more than a dozen Republican witnesses have undermined that argument.
In addition, McCarthy, who wants to become Speaker of the House of Representatives, may have forgotten that Trump is paying attention to TV, where the hearings are inevitable and will take place next month, prolonging the pain. Even if they don’t penetrate the Trump base, they penetrate Trump himself.
And his formidable political instincts — which served him well against Hillary Clinton and early warning that Joe Biden posed the greatest threat to his reelection — will now warn Trump that the Jan. 6 commission’s contribution to the history books threatens his hopes for a presidential run in 2024.
The hearings have painted a portrait of a man who is disconnected from reality, venting paranoid conspiracy theories and putting himself before his country. Kinzinger noted, “He was willing to sacrifice our republic to extend his presidency. I can’t imagine a more dishonorable act from a president.” They also put forth a callous, cruel streak that saw him make baseless accusations without regard for how they would ruin individual lives†
A source close to Trump told NBC News“I look at this and say that there is no one in America looking at this – even with everything that is happening in the world to Joe Biden – and saying, ‘Donald Trump should be the next president of the United States’. Nobody. ‘”
Trump’s checkered list of notes this year’s Republican primaries have also raised questions about whether he still has a firm grip on the “Make America great again” movement. The hearings could turn him into damaged goods and give even Maga diehards some reasons to look for more eligible alternatives.
Frank Luntz, a political adviser and pollster, said: “I no longer see people drinking the Kool-Aid. I see people moving away from Trump for the first time. His approval is by far more important than anyone else in the Republican party, but he no longer has control over the Republican party. He’s the loudest voice, he has the most influence, but he loses control every day.”
The main challenger to Trump’s throne is Ron DeSantis, Florida’s right-wing governor, who wins him in polls. A poll of 300 likely Republican voters in New Hampshire, the first presidential primary state, found 39% wanted DeSantis to be the next nominee, while 37% preferred Trump, within the margin of error of 5.5%, according to the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.
Pam Roehl, who attended the Faith & Freedom Coalition conference in Nashville, Tennessee last week, told the Associated Press that she still supports Trump, but is increasingly outnumbered among friends who have moved on. “They’re like, ‘Get with the program. Why don’t you support DeSantis?’” she was quoted as saying.
If the two men go head to head, DeSantis could point to his track record in Florida and be free of the baggage of the 2020 election and the January 6 uprising. More than three decades younger than Trump, the governor would be seen as the candidate of the future, while the former president continues to dwell on the past. Trump’s big lie, it turns out, could prove his big liability.