WASHINGTON — It was all a lie, the stories of stuffed ballot boxes, rigged voting machines, and constitutional “flexibility” that would have allowed Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the 2020 election results and return them to the Republican state legislatures.
The first three House committee hearings on Jan. 6 deeply undermined, if not demolished, the post-election myths endlessly repeated by former President Donald J. Trump and his supporters and embraced and amplified by Republicans in Congress.
A parade of Republican witnesses — his attorney general, William P. Barr, his daughter Ivanka Trump, and his own campaign lawyers — knew he had lost the election and told him so. Mr. Trump was told that his demands of Mr. Pence to unilaterally block his defeat were illegal. Even the most active coup plotter, conservative attorney John C. Eastman, admitted before Jan. 6 that his scheme was illegal and unconstitutional, then sought a presidential pardon after leading to mob violence. .
Yet perhaps the most striking revelation so far is how deeply Mr. Trump’s contempt for truth and the rule of law has penetrated the Republican Party, taking root in the fertile soil of an electorate of right simmered in conspiracy theories and well maintained by their media of choice. The Republican response to the hearings — a combination of indifference, diversion and double-dealing — reflects how central the lie of a stolen election has become to the party’s identity.
In Washington, Republicans in Congress have neither broken with Mr. Trump nor spent much energy trying to refute the findings of the inquiry. And from the race for Nevada secretary of state to the Michigan gubernatorial contest, Republican candidates have embraced the fictional plot in their 2022 campaigns.
“I have been fighting for safe, fair and transparent elections since before January 6, and this fight continues,” said Michigan State Rep. Steve Carra, whose re-election was blessed by Mr. Trump and who said on Friday that he had watched some but not most of the hearings. “Absentee ballots were sent out unsolicited, signature verification relaxed, drop boxes everywhere, especially in the Democratic zone – all of this merits further investigation.”
Like mint in the garden, the seeds the Trump team planted between Election Day 2020 and January 6, 2021 are now growing out of control, aided by the former president’s allies.
Jarome Bell, a leading candidate to challenge Representative Elaine Luria, Democrat of Virginia, walked through his Republican-leaning district showing voters a film of right-wing provocateur Dinesh D’Souza pushing the false fraud allegations. The hearings, he said on Friday, had “no impact on me. ‘2000 Mules’ has a bigger impact on what actually happened. He added, “Commission 1/6 is cover-up.”
Jon Rocha, a candidate for state representative in Michigan who enjoys the support of Mr. Trump, also cited the film and boasted that he had not watched any of the hearings, “not even a clip of 30 seconds”.
One of the reasons the lies have thrived is the failure of Republicans who don’t believe them to push back. Before the Jan. 6 hearings began, Republican leaders promised a robust “rapid response” effort to counter any emerging narratives.
The themes of the January 6 House committee hearings
But there has been no such pushback from the Republican National Committee or any other organization at the revelations that Mr. Trump continued to pressure Mr. Pence to overturn the election results, even after being told it was illegal.
No Republican leader has offered a response to the testimony of retired federal appeals court judge J. Michael Luttig, a revered conservative, who said Thursday that Mr. Trump had given Mr. Pence an order whose execution would have provoked “the first constitutional crisis since the founding of the Republic”.
No one bothered to counter the panel’s finding, revealed Monday, that Mr. Trump and his campaign raised hundreds of millions of dollars from supporters under the false pretense of massive voter fraud, using the raised for an election defense fund that didn’t exist.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader, chose not to engage on the issue at all. And to the extent that they try to counter-schedule the hearings, House Republicans have pushed voters to look elsewhere — at rising gas prices, inflation and migrants on the southern border.
Only Mr Trump seems particularly angered by the exercise, appalled by the testimony of his daughter, who shared details of her abusive phone call with Mr Pence on the morning of January 6 and said she trusted the judgment of Mr Barr when he said the 2020 election was not stolen.
“It’s a one-way street, it’s a rigged deal, it’s a disgrace,” Mr. Trump said unrepentantly on Friday during a speech in Nashville in which he called January 6 a “simple protest that got out of control”. he continued to spread false claims and grand conspiracy theories about voter fraud.
But while his allies in the Republican leadership don’t contradict the message that the attack was fueled by lies, they also fail to acknowledge that the election wasn’t stolen.
And 50 years to the day after Richard M. Nixon’s henchmen stormed into the Democratic seat at the Watergate Hotel, the hearings sparked by the two scandals highlight just how dramatically the Republican Party has changed. Then, key Republican leaders reacted to increasingly damning revelations about their president by siding with the Democrats and forcing Mr. Nixon out of office. Today, Republican leaders are either silent or dismissive of the committee uncovering a steady stream of misdeeds from Mr. Trump.
Representatives Bennie Thompson, Liz Cheney and Adam B. Schiff “will not stop lying about their political opponents,” said Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, wrote on Twitterreferring to the Democratic president of Mississippi, the Republican vice president of Wyoming and the Democratic member of California.
Representative Peter Meijer of Michigan, one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Mr Trump for inciting Jan. 6, said the hearings so far have been “a reminder of the depth of our divisions, even from an information consumption perspective.
Many of his constituents haven’t even seen the videotaped testimony exposing the case against Mr. Trump — only footage of police removing barricades to let rioters into the Capitol on Jan. 6. conspiracy theory embraced by Fox News host Tucker Carlson and others on the right.
Mr. Meijer said he had heard many more right-wing voters lamenting the “Jan. 6 political prisoners” than those in the center demanding accountability for the attack.
Most voters, however, aren’t paying attention, said Rep. David Valadao of California, another Republican to vote for impeachment.
“Talking to voters at home right now — I mean, fuel prices, food prices, infant formula, etc.,” Mr. Valadao said. “There’s so much that people are focusing on right now that they’re just not paying attention to the January 6 stuff as much as I know a lot of people would like to.”
Asked if the hearings could do Republicans a favor by making it easier to find another 2024 presidential candidate than Mr. Trump, he replied: “I don’t know if enough people are paying attention where it will have such a big impact.”
But in a Republican primary season fueled by pro-Trump fervor, many candidates became their party’s nominees for the highest office largely because they campaigned on the lie that the 2020 election was stolen. by President Biden.
Republican candidates for Governor of Pennsylvania, Secretary of State in Nevada, Senate of Nevada, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, and Attorney General of Texas have all attempted to void the 2020 election or passed false allegations of electoral fraud.
Mayra Flores, a Republican from Texas who won a House seat in a special election on Tuesday, declined to comment on whether Mr Biden had won in 2020, telling the San Antonio Express-News: ‘I’m just speaking generally. . There is electoral fraud.
And there is more to come. State Rep. Ron Hanks, vying to challenge Senator Michael Bennett, a Democrat, in Colorado’s Republican primary on June 28, marched to the Capitol on January 6 and kicked off his campaign with an ad showing him firing on a fake Dominion voting machine, a central device for a sprawling conspiracy theory about votes allegedly stolen by foreign powers from Mr Trump.
On Monday, the committee showed a videotaped deposition in which Mr. Barr could barely suppress his laughter at the absurdity of such stories and testified that Mr. Trump should have been ‘detached from reality’ if he believed them.
In Michigan, a wild contest to choose the Republican to challenge Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer is being narrowly led by Ryan Kelley, a real estate broker who was arrested this month and charged with participating in the Jan. 6 riot. . Mr. Rocha, the state House candidate in West Michigan, said voters were far more concerned about gas prices and empty store shelves than the Jan. 6 hearings, then said said voters were actually still very angry about “election integrity.”
“They did it in 2020. Now they’re finding new avenues to get Republicans off the ballot this year,” he said.
In Arizona, the leading Republican gubernatorial candidate, Kari Lake, has made her “stolen election” claims a central part of her campaign. Mark Finchem, candidate for secretary of state, was on the steps of the Capitol on January 6. And Blake Masters, who hopes to challenge Sen. Mark Kelly, the incumbent Democrat, has unfoundedly suggested that “a third of the people outside the Capitol complex on January 6 were real FBI agents.
Annie Karni contributed report.