The opening session of the January 6 hearings was narrowly tailored to the tastes of the theoretically persuadable Trump supporter. The argument laid out by the committee did not question the long-standing conservative obsession with pervasive voter fraud that underpinned Donald Trump’s refusal to accept the results. Chairman Bennie Thompson even conceded his right to launch a series of absurd legal challenges to the results. Instead it focused narrowly on the element of Trump’s autogolpe that is most difficult for the right to swallow: his last-gasp bid to use a violent mob to pressure Mike Pence and Congress to overturn the results.
The committee’s implicit request was that conservative Republicans who may have voted for Trump at least denounce the most heinous final stage of his coup, when the president was refusing to call in any defense of the besieged Capitol and telling his aides that Mike Pence deserved to be lynched. Their response arrived in real time: They do not believe Trump or his minions should be held accountable.
Fox News, of course, gave the hearings a giant middle finger. It shunted the hearings onto Fox Business and its streaming service, instead using its platform to give Tucker Carlson a commercial-free hour to spew various conspiracy theories. Carlson repeated his debunked false-flag charges, questioned the results of the election, and respectfully hosted flamboyant racist Darren Beattie, who had spent January 6 directing various Black people on Twitter to take a knee to Trump and learn their “proper role in our society.”
Most of the party messaging apparatus simply dismissed the hearings as dull. The Federalist termed them a “show trial,” using an elaborate comparison to the Stalin-era proceedings in which officials were tortured into supplying ludicrously false confessions.
The anti-anti-Trump right supplied somewhat more revealing reactions. Anti-anti-Trumpists represent the Republican Party’s power center. They consider Trump a poor communicator and strategist and a liability for the party, and they want him to go away while leaving in place the coalition he built to be used by more effective leaders. The role of the anti-anti-Trump right is to give Trump supporters a rationale without making a direct defense of his actions. Faced with using this method to wave away his least defensible behavior, they engaged in their most comic exertions.
Kevin Williamson at National Review what-abouted away the problem by insisting Democrats had committed all the same crimes. “Democrats spent the summer of 2020 legitimizing ‘mostly peaceful’ riots, arson, and murder during the George Floyd riots,” he wrote, neglecting to cite any examples of Democrats endorsing violent riots, and also neglecting to mention the many examples of Democrats explicitly denouncing them. “The main organizing idea of Democratic politics from 2016 to 2020,” Williamson continued, “was that the 2016 election was somehow stolen from Hillary Rodham Clinton, who insisted that Donald Trump was an ‘illegitimate’ president.”
Williamson again offered zero examples to support this claim, and ignored the enormous evidence to the contrary — from Clinton conceding the morning after the election to Barack Obama meeting with Trump and assisting in the transition. The lack of evidence reveals more than the extraordinary claim itself. For the National Review audience, these untruths are self-evident.
Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberly Strassel fixated on the committee’s refusal to seat Republicans who were themselves the subjects of the investigation as accomplices. She likened it to a trial without a defense attorney:
Of course, the hearings were not a trial. They were hearings. The 9/11 hearings did not include any representatives of Al Qaeda. Strassel would no doubt reject the notion that there is any comparison between 9/11 and 1/6, but this is just the point. Her premise is that the insurrection should not be treated as an attack on the system but as a dispute between two parties within it.
Perhaps the most fascinating response came from National Review’s Dan McLaughlin. “At the end of the day,” he wrote, “either you want Donald Trump to be the main character in American politics, or you want to marginalize him and promote a post-Trump politics. Those of us on the right who want the latter must crawl over the determined resistance of virtually every Democrat.”
Here we see many of the beliefs that have propelled the anti-anti-Trumpists through the current era. The anti-anti-Trump right sees itself as the sensible middle ground between the equivalent extremes of promoting Trump and holding him accountable. They might like Trump to go away, but any accountability mechanism is going to shatter his coalition. They wish to keep it together, which (alas) includes the racists, the fascists, and its swelling paramilitary wing.
McLaughlin’s personal choice to inherit leadership of this coalition, Ron DeSantis, has insinuated January 6 was an inside job and still has refused to say whether Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 election. You can see why it is so imperative to him that the subject go away.
Trump, for his part, is unchastened. “January 6 was not simply a protest,” he exclaimed last night, “it represented the greatest movement in the history of our country to Make America Great Again.” January 6 was not the death of his movement but its beginning, and the party is going along with him.