How Trump Kept His Grip After Jan. 6

Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the political news in Washington and across the nation. We’re your hosts, Blake and Leah.

Today, we have a guest item from our colleague Jeremy W. Peters, adapted from his forthcoming book, “Insurgency: How Republicans Lost Their Party and Got Everything They Ever Wanted.” It will be published on Feb. 8.

Six weeks after the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, Donald Trump’s pollster, Tony Fabrizio, conducted a survey of Republicans that looked at how well liked the former president was among several distinct groups of voters within the party.

It was the first time Fabrizio had done a detailed breakdown of the G.O.P. electorate since 2007, when he identified an emerging segment he called “Dennis Miller Republicans,” after the comedian who prides himself on being brash and politically incorrect. The growing sense of cultural isolation and anger among these Americans — conservatives, independents and former Democrats — shaped the contours of what would become the Trump movement.

A veteran G.O.P. pollster who has worked on presidential campaigns going back to Patrick J. Buchanan’s first White House bid in 1992, Fabrizio saw how thoroughly Trump had remade the G.O.P. in his image — and how enduring his popularity remained, even after the attack on the seat of American democracy.

The people who described themselves as the most committed Republicans were also the most likely to say they were committed to Trump, Fabrizio found in his post-Jan. 6 survey. Feelings about the former president, he explained in his analysis, were so intertwined with the understanding many voters had about what it meant to be a strong Republican that “Trumpism and party fidelity” were becoming one and the same.

In the immediate aftermath of Jan. 6, Trump’s enduring appeal was not so apparent. A Pew Research poll taken a few days after the attack showed his approval rating reaching the lowest point of his presidency — just 29 percent. Senior Republicans had spent the previous four years carefully avoiding direct conflict with Trump. Now, they felt a need to denounce him.

Kevin McCarthy, the House G.O.P. leader, urged his colleagues to support a resolution to censure Trump for inciting the violence. And in a speech on Jan. 13, the day Trump was impeached for the second time, McCarthy was unambiguous about where he believed the blame fell. “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters,” he said.

Even former Vice President Mike Pence, who on Jan. 6 was hustled out of the Senate chamber by Secret Service agents who were concerned he was a target, was angry enough to fume privately to a Republican senator, “After all the things I’ve done for him.”

The breach didn’t last long. And burying the memory of what happened on Jan. 6 — which Pence downplayed recently as “one day in January” — has become a necessity to maintaining power and relevance in today’s G.O.P.

One year after that day in January, polls show that most Republicans see little need to re-examine — or even acknowledge — what happened. Around three-quarters of them still view Trump favorably, or roughly the same as when Fabrizio conducted his poll shortly after Jan. 6. And there is no surer sign that the Republican Party remains the party of Trump than the fact that there remains no obvious or able challenger to him in sight.

McCarthy was among the first to change tack, visiting Trump’s Palm Beach estate in late January. After the two men posed for a photo, a Trump spokesperson released a statement announcing that the two men had agreed to work together to reclaim the House majority.

“President Trump’s popularity has never been stronger than it is today, and his endorsement means more than perhaps any endorsement at any time,” the statement noted. McCarthy has since tried to derail the congressional commission investigating the attacks.

No one seems more intent on proving how damaging it is politically for a Republican to question Trump’s revisionist accounts of what happened in the 2020 election and on Jan. 6 than Trump himself.

In an interview at Mar-a-Lago a few weeks after the attack, he suggested that Pence had jeopardized his political future by not heeding his demand to interfere with the counting of the Electoral College votes in Congress that day.

“There was no downside,” Trump said. “So Mike could have done that. And I wish he did. I think it would have been much better for the country. I also think it would have been better for Mike.”

He expressed little interest in discussing what harm might have befallen Pence, his beseechingly loyal lieutenant of four years, as rioters marauded through the halls of Congress calling for his execution. Their threats weren’t real, he insisted. “I think it was an expression. I don’t think they would have ever thought of doing it,” he said.

As Republicans at first tried to dispel the idea that Trump’s dominance over the party would continue once he left office, many of them sounded like Senator Rick Scott of Florida, who said in a television interview a year ago that the G.O.P. belonged to no single person but to its voters — the people.

Trump, however, offered a revealing clarification to Scott’s comment: “But the people like me the best, by far.”

  • For The New York Times Magazine, Susan Dominus and Luke Broadwater interviewed more than 20 Capitol Police officers and their families about their emotional and physical scars after the Jan. 6 riot. Officers who have since left the department “said the failures of Jan. 6 were the most egregious of a series of management crises and errors.”

  • Broadwater and Alan Feuer have written a preview of what the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 attacks is planning, and Broadwater explained what the panel can actually accomplish.

  • Pro-Trump groups are raising money and holding events that “seem intended to reinforce the former president’s grip on the Republican Party and its donors,” Kenneth P. Vogel and Shane Goldmacher report.

  • Time is running out for New York’s bipartisan redistricting commission to draw new congressional and state legislative maps, which makes it increasingly likely that Democratic supermajorities in the Legislature will have the final word instead, Nicholas Fandos writes.

  • The New York Times asked parents about child care during the pandemic, and Maggie Astor shared a handful of responses.

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We asked what you wanted to read in 2022, and readers of On Politics certainly delivered.

Our inbox was full of your questions about voting access and your personal experiences with the pandemic, not to mention requests to learn more about individual political figures and international politics.

We’ve bookmarked these ideas for future newsletters, but in the meantime we noted a real sense of anxiety about polarization and the survival of democratic institutions. A few examples below:

“How do we fix this? Did folks in 1850 ask the same question? How do you stop a tidal wave? And yet there is still drivers ed and wrestling tournaments and Xmas and college applications and the new iPhone.” — Amy Vansen, Michigan

“We’ve lived through a lot of political crises but this is one mess we would hope not to leave behind for our children and grandchildren to deal with.” — Jaime McBrady, Medellín, Colombia

“When I read in today’s story ‘just as election season begins in earnest,’ I cursed. I am very tired of hearing everything related to the election prospects of the parties so far ahead of the event.” — Keith Johnson, Seattle

Senator Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat who lives in Richmond, was among hundreds of drivers stranded in traffic on I-95 after an unusually severe winter storm hit the Washington, D.C. area.

He posted a tweet from the road on Tuesday morning, reporting, “I started my normal 2 hour drive to DC at 1pm yesterday. 19 hours later, I’m still not near the Capitol.”

Kaine had been headed to Washington for an 8 p.m. meeting on voting rights to help Democrats puzzle through how to work around a Republican filibuster. But, as temperatures plunged into the 20s, ice brought the interstate to a standstill, and he got stuck.

“This has been a miserable experience,” Kaine told WTOP, a Washington-area radio station. “But at some point, I kind of made the switch from a miserable travel experience into kind of a survival project.”

By 3:45 p.m., Kaine tweeted, “Ok after 27 hours on the road from Richmond to DC, very happy to be back in the Capitol and working on voting rights legislation this afternoon.”

— Blake

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