The specter of January 6, 2021 rose again Tuesday in a series of dramatic developments — even as questions remain about how those events will impact the 2024 presidential race.
The biggest news of all was confirmation from former President Trump that he expects to be indicted in the investigation into the Capitol riot, and the events surrounding it. The probe is spearheaded by special counsel Jack Smith.
The likely indictment overshadowed the latest attempt by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to reset his faltering campaign. DeSantis’s high-profile interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper came to be largely dominated by Trump-related developments.
DeSantis said that he hoped his rival, who is leading the Florida governor by about 30 points in national polls, “doesn’t get charged,” adding “I don’t think it will be good for the country.”
At almost exactly the same time as the DeSantis interview was airing, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) announced that 16 residents of her state had been charged with felonies because of their involvement in “the alleged false electors scheme following the 2020 U.S. presidential election.”
All those developments came on Tuesday alone. The previous day, the Georgia Supreme Court had quashed an effort by Trump’s lawyers to derail a possible indictment in that state, centering on efforts by the former president and his allies to overturn the election result.
In Georgia, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has indicated she expects to decide whether, and whom, to charge by August 18.
It is a starting barrage of news — and one that would almost certainly be politically fatal to any contender for public office not named Donald Trump.
The complication is that previous legal setbacks for the former president have coincided with upticks in approval for him among GOP voters — an apparent rallying-around effect from a swath of the population inclined to believe Trump’s claims that he is being targeted for political reasons.
The broader electorate is a different story, of course.
The return of Jan. 6 to the headlines could spell bad news for Trump in a general election if he were to become the GOP nominee. In an Economist/YouGov poll released last week, Trump was viewed unfavorably by 56 percent of Americans and favorably by just 42 percent. In the weighted polling average maintained by data site FiveThirtyEight, Trump’s unfavorable number has recently edged up to its highest point ever, at almost 58 percent.
Still, there are not many persuadable voters on either side of the pro- and anti-Trump equation — and there will likely be no seismic shift now. Last year’s House Select Committee hearings into Jan. 6, for example, commanded media headlines for weeks but Trump’s approval ratings soon settled back into their usual range.
Trump himself almost got out in front of the story of his likely indictment Tuesday, posting on the Truth Social network just as the first news reports were emerging that he had been told by prosecutors that he was a “target” of the probe. Such a designation usually, though not always, leads to an indictment.
The former president said that his attorneys had been informed that he was a target on Sunday evening and that he had been given “a very short 4 days” to report to the grand jury.
Trump further contended that the development was the latest effort to hobble President Biden’s “NUMBER ONE POLITICAL OPPONENT, who is largely dominating him in the race for the Presidency.”
He added that he had “the right to protest an Election that I am fully convinced was Rigged and Stolen.”
Nobody yet knows what charges, if any, Trump will face, but the Select Committee back in December made referrals to the Department of Justice on four charges: inciting or aiding an insurrection, obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and conspiracy to make a false statement.
Referrals are non-binding but, if any of these charges were leveled, they would come on top of the 37 criminal counts Trump faces in relation to the sensitive documents discovered at his Mar-a-Lago estate and the 34 counts advanced by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, all of which center on alleged falsification of business records.
There has been some sign that Trump’s GOP rivals are trying to put a bit more daylight between themselves and the former president. The other contenders need to change the shape of a race that Trump has dominated, with the first debate set for next month and the Iowa caucus now less than six months away.
Former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, for instance, told Fox News that “we need a new generational leader. We can’t keep dealing with this drama. We can’t keep dealing with this negativity. We can’t keep dealing with all of this.”
DeSantis, speaking at a press conference in Columbia, S.C., told reporters that Trump “should have come out more forcefully” on Jan. 6, presumably to urge rioters to go home. While hardly a full-throated condemnation of Trump’s conduct, it was nevertheless an unusually pointed criticism.
Still, other Republicans especially in Congress, were far more supportive of Trump — including Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who complained that the likely indictments were part of an effort to “weaponize government.”
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) was characteristically even more vociferous, referring to the likelihood of charges for Trump as “absolute bull**t.”
Those kinds of comments show just how much the GOP remains Trump’s party.
It’s far from certain that even an indictment holding him culpable for one of the darkest days in American history will loosen his grip.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.
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