Cassidy Hutchinson testimony tests Trump’s political strength

Capitol Riots

Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Road to Majority conference Friday, June 17, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

(The Hill) — President Trump is taking a beating from the Jan. 6 panel, with ex-White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson this week offering particularly damaging testimony about the former president’s temperament and knowledge of what was happening in the attack on the Capitol. 

The hearing underscored the panel’s effort to build a public case that Trump is unfit to serve as president again as he moves toward launching a possible new bid for the White House. 

Yet it’s unclear how much the testimony of Hutchinson and others is breaking through. 

A poll published Friday by Emerson Polling found Trump with a sizable lead among potential 2024 GOP primary candidates. Fifty-five percent of respondents said they’d back Trump for the nomination, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) garnering 20 percent.

And in a hypothetical 2024 rematch between Trump and President Biden, the Emerson poll found Trump leading with 44 percent support to Biden’s 39 percent.

The poll was conducted June 28-29, meaning the effects of Hutchinson’s testimony may not have been fully taken into account by some respondents.

Multiple former Trump aides have argued the Jan. 6 hearings amount to a television production that is bipartisan in name only given the two Republican members, Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who are among the most outspoken Trump critics.

GOP strategists also believe that while the Jan. 6 hearings may cost him among voters who were reluctant to vote for him in 2016 before backing him in 2020, it may not be enough to cost Trump in a hypothetical matchup with Biden, particularly given all the other problems the country is facing.

“It’s all too soon to say. We’ll see what the final product is,” one GOP strategist with ties to Trump’s orbit said.

“I think that the biggest problem for folks that want this commission to be everything and anything is the American people are facing real life daily problems and that can be directly attributed to the policies of the Biden administration,” the strategist added.

Hutchinson, who served as a top aide to then-chief of staff Mark Meadows, painted a picture with her testimony on Tuesday of a former president with a temper who disregarded warnings things could get violent on Jan. 6 and seethed with anger when he was unable to join his supporters at the Capitol that day.

The most explosive piece of testimony – that Trump lunged for the wheel of his SUV and then at a Secret Service agent when told he couldn’t go to the Capitol – has faced pushback from some of the individuals involved in the episode, though they have not testified publicly to dispute the account.

But Hutchinson’s testimony that Trump and his chief of staff were warned some in the crowd had weapons and that Trump wanted to go the Capitol with the scores of supporters who went on to storm the complex have not been refuted by others involved.

Hutchinson’s appearance before the committee built on a larger narrative the House panel has laid out: That Trump was told repeatedly by officials that his claims of election fraud were not supported by evidence but pushed his claims that the 2020 election was stolen anyway, culminating in the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

One hearing featured Department of Justice officials testifying in detail about how Trump pushed the agency to investigate fraud claims even as those same officials said they explained one-by-one why those claims were false.

Another hearing featured officials close to former Vice President Pence testifying about how Trump and his allies pressured Pence to overturn the 2020 election results without legal basis.

And at the end of Tuesday’s hearing, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) showed text messages that indicated Trump allies may have engaged in witness intimidation.

With at least a few more public hearings still to come, followed by the committee’s final report, Trump’s standing among potential 2024 voters could still take a hit. And there are signs that the public is taking the committee’s findings seriously.

An Associated Press-NORC poll published Thursday found 48 percent of adults believe Trump should be charged with a crime for his role in the Jan. 6 riots, while 31 percent said he should not be charged.

The poll, which was conducted before Hutchinson’s public testimony, also found 58 percent believe Trump bears a great deal or quite a bit of responsibility for the events of Jan. 6.

A pair of conservative editorial boards this week also raised concerns about Trump’s viability should he run in 2024.

The Washington Examiner editorial board wrote that Hutchinson’s testimony “ought to ring the death knell for former President Donald Trump’s political career. Trump is unfit to be anywhere near power ever again.”

The Wall Street Journal noted that some of Hutchinson’s testimony was second hand and wrote that the committee “is steeped in partisanship.”

“But that doesn’t mean Republicans should look away from the considerable evidence it is producing about Mr. Trump’s behavior that would surely be relevant to voters if he runs in 2024,” the editorial board wrote.

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