The opportunity for the Jan. 6 attack to serve as a unifying moment for the country has already been lost.
The initial bipartisan condemnation of it has given way to a partisan argument in which many congressional Republicans play down the attack. The Republican Party’s official organization described the riot as “legitimate political discourse,” and Republican leaders like Representative Kevin McCarthy quickly softened their initial denunciation. About half of Republicans voters say it was a patriotic attempt to defend freedom.
But the facts about Jan. 6 still matter. On that day, a mob violently attacked the Capitol — smashing windows, punching police officers, threatening members of Congress and Vice President Mike Pence — to try to prevent the certification of a presidential election. The rioters justified their attack with lies about voter fraud, and they received encouragement from top Republicans, including President Donald Trump and the wife of a Supreme Court justice.
Last night, a House committee investigating the attack held its first public hearing, and today’s newsletter covers the highlights. These hearings are not going to transform the politics of Jan. 6, yet they do have the potential to affect public opinion on the margins. And the margins can matter.
There are still many Republican voters disgusted by what happened on Jan. 6. Nearly half say that finding out what happened that day is important. Almost 20 percent consider the attack to have been an attempt to overthrow the government, according to a recent CBS News poll. About 40 percent believe, accurately, that voter fraud was not widespread in the 2020 election.
“I actually think that there is an opportunity,” Sarah Longwell, an anti-Trump Republican strategist, said this week on our colleague Kara Swisher’s podcast. The hearings, Longwell added, can help prosecute the case for how extreme some Republican politicians have become.
If Republican voters are divided over the attack and Democrats are almost uniformly horrified by it, the politicians making excuses for it remain in the minority. Candidates who base their campaigns on lies about voter fraud — as some are now doing in Arizona, Pennsylvania and elsewhere — will have a harder time winning elections. Future efforts to overturn an election will be less likely to succeed.
For the same reason, any Republicans who have consistently denounced the attacks — like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, the only two Republicans serving on the Jan. 6 committee — are especially important. They are demonstrating that it’s possible to hold very conservative views and nonetheless believe in honoring election results. Until very recently, that combination wasn’t even unusual: Ronald Reagan and many other Republicans won elections by earning more votes.
The Jan. 6 hearings are part of a larger struggle over the future of American democracy. Americans will probably never come to a consensus on many polarizing political issues, like abortion, guns, immigration and religion. That’s part of living in a democracy.
But if Americans cannot agree that the legitimate winner of an election should take office and if losing candidates refuse to participate in a peaceful transfer of power, the country has much bigger problems than any policy disagreement.
Your next great read
It seems impossible to replicate online the feeling of walking into a bookstore and discovering new books and authors. But some apps are trying.
Several companies have tried to tackle the issue, with mixed results, Alexandra Alter and Elizabeth Harris write in The Times. This week, the app Tertulia came out. It uses a mix of artificial intelligence and human curation to distill online chatter about books and point readers to the ones that might interest them.
But it’s not easy. “I don’t think anyone has found a tool or an algorithm or an A.I. platform that does the job for you,” Peter Hildick-Smith, president of the Codex Group, which analyzes the book industry, told The Times.
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to Cook
Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David
P.S. Kevin Quealy — a talented data journalist and friend of this newsletter — will be The Upshot’s next editor.