WASHINGTON ― As the bipartisan House Jan. 6 committee prepares to detail how Donald Trump tried to overthrow democracy to remain in power, the former president and his allies are preparing an alternative reality for his followers to inhabit.
In this universe, the members of Trump’s mob who assaulted police officers and breached the Capitol, and are now being prosecuted for it, are actually “political prisoners.” The Jan. 6 committee ― which includes two Republican members, one of whom is the vice chair ― is a sham. And Trump himself did not do a single thing wrong.
“The Jan. 6 hearings will be damning for Donald Trump,” said former Rep. David Jolly, who served in Congress as a Florida Republican. “Without counterprogramming, every Republican would have to address whether they can still defend the former president amidst new revelations of his culpability. The GOP counterprogramming is simply grade-school politics of deflection.”
“Every time you see a Republican ‘counterprogram’ the hearings, you will see a Republican participating in Trump’s cover-up,” said Amanda Carpenter, a former top aide to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. “There will be bombshells, and every Republican who opposed the creation of the committee is a Republican who worked to prevent that information from ever becoming public.”
Trump and his defenders ― whose lies about the 2020 election being “stolen” from him stoked anger among his millions of followers, anger that boiled over at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 ― are nevertheless continuing to spread those same lies as they mix in new ones about the committee hearings and Justice Department investigations.
Matt Schlapp, who heads the Trump-aligned Conservative Political Action Conference and who personally helped spread Trump’s election lies in Nevada in the weeks following the 2020 election, wrote in a Wednesday Twitter post: “The 1/6 charade is more like a DNC convention than a congressional hearing.”
That post linked to a Newsmax interview in which Schlapp defends two former top Trump aides who are being prosecuted for obstruction of Congress for defying committee subpoenas. “They were indicted because of their politics,” he said.
Rep. Jim Jordan ― an Ohio Republican whose appointment to the committee was vetoed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi because of his role in spreading Trump’s post-election falsehoods ― published an op-ed Tuesday at The Federalist, a pro-Trump website, in which he claimed the true purpose of the hearings is to demonize conservatives.
“Democrats want to use the violence of Jan. 6 to stigmatize conservative voices and delegitimize conservative ideals,” Jordan wrote.
And at a news conference by House GOP leaders Wednesday, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana complained that Pelosi has not scheduled a prime-time hearing to address the issue of migrants coming across the Mexican border. “Nancy Pelosi continues to politicize Jan. 6,” he said.
Former Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois, a onetime colleague of Scalise, said the strategy is unsurprising. “This is just what they do. Fight back, distract, muddy the waters, confuse, lie,” said Walsh, who until 2020 identified as a Republican. “This is what they always do. And it works.”
The Jan. 6 committee is planning a series of six public hearings, starting at 8 p.m. Thursday, to lay out Trump’s actions and statements that led to the violent attack on the Capitol, a last-ditch attempt to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s legitimate election win. All three major broadcast networks are carrying the hearing live, as are CNN and MSNBC on cable.
Fox News, whose evening hosts acted as informal White House advisers during Trump’s presidency, is not carrying it. At 8 p.m., top-rated Tucker Carlson ― who months ago produced a “documentary” claiming that Jan. 6 was a false flag operation ― is scheduled to host his show as normal. The hearings are being relegated to Fox Business.
“Fox is a pure propaganda outlet,” said Norman Ornstein, a political scientist with the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute. “It is clear that the last thing Republicans want is for their core audience to be exposed to a powerful reality that they have worked very hard to erase.”
He added, though, that given that so many hard-line Republicans have become Trump true believers, the only meaningful audience for the committee is swing voters and low-propensity Democratic voters.
“The audience is persuadable suburban voters and Democrats who need to be motivated into realizing that we face and continue to face an unprecedented existential threat,” Ornstein said.
Trump, despite losing the election by 7 million votes nationally and 306-232 in the Electoral College, became the first U.S. president in more than two centuries to refuse to hand over power peacefully. His incitement of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol killed five people, including one police officer; it also injured another 140 officers and led to four police suicides.
Nevertheless, Trump remains the dominant figure in the Republican Party and has indicated he may run for president again in 2024.