Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testifies about how former President Donald Trump actions on January 6, 2021. | Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Or just another chance to rise from the ashes?
The political world is still collecting itself following the testimony of former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson on Tuesday to the committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attacks on the Capitol. The sheer volume of shocking details she provided, about what former President Donald Trump knew in advance of the Capitol riot and his behavior that day, is such that it will take a while to assess its impacts.
Among the obvious questions, though, is just how bad this will be for Trump, politically, and how Republicans will react to it.
In conversations with a half-dozen Republican strategists who represent a spectrum of opinion within the party and were granted anonymity to speak frankly, there was a broad consensus that, yes, this might have an impact on Trump — but probably not on Republicans in the midterms. There was a sense that this would inflict real damage on Trump’s long-term ambitions, even if it did nothing to shift the needle for now.
”What more do you need to believe crimes were committed?” one Republican strategist asked, before also conceding that “There have been a million times when people say Trump is finished, but this could be the millionth and one, but I don’t see a way for him to come back from this testimony.”
Another Republican operative noted that Hutchinson’s testimony has the potential to make a big impact because of her rarefied level of access to the president, and compared her to Miles Taylor, the former Trump DHS official who wrote an anonymous op-ed for the New York Times in 2018.
That operative said while Taylor had “The operative told me, “This is someone who legit had tremendous daily access … not some nobody trying to make a name for herself like Miles Taylor. This is a real person who was taken seriously.”
Further, Trump has less goodwill among the political class inside the GOP than he did in the past. As one national strategist pointed out, there are “a lot of people that feel burned by Trump this cycle because he’s getting involved in so many different primaries. There are a lot of Republican consultants who were loyal and our candidates were loyal, and he picked somebody else, so it’s all interconnected.” The national strategist added that they “didn’t know where the breaking point is. I felt like it was after January 6, but it didn’t last as long. Every time you second-guess the guy, he rises like the phoenix from the ashes, but there is a breaking point.”
As to where that breaking point was, the Republican operative noted the silence from most national Republicans. “It’s fascinating how little you’re hearing from people like Ron DeSantis,” they said, and marveled at “how few members of Congress have stepped in” to defend Trump since Hutchinson’s testimony.
Even if Tuesday’s revelations further dent Trump’s potential to mount a political comeback, don’t expect Republicans to publicly say so. “There still is a tribal industrial complex that won’t let people go out and speak against this president,” the strategist said.
Not all agreed. The Republican strategist who was, of all those Vox spoke to, the most dubious of the hearing’s impact simply thought anything Hutchinson said was discredited by what they considered a tainted and partisan process. “The persuasive potential of the committee died when [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi threw [Republican Rep.] Jim Banks off, and not just [Republican Rep.] Jim Jordan. … At that point, it was clear Nancy wanted a partisan show trial, not an investigation. So Republicans checked out.”
The skeptical Republican added, “Look, Soviet show trials sometimes turned up evidence of real shit, but we don’t take them seriously because it was mixed in with a huge amount of theatrics. Cassidy Hutchinson will be seen the same way, both because her story about grabbing the wheel is unraveling, and because she’s testifying in a ludicrous forum.” (Anonymous pushback to one of the most explosive parts of Hutchinson’s testimony appeared in reports shortly after it, when Secret Service sources disputed to several outlets that Trump ever tried to grab the steering wheel of the presidential SUV to go directly to the Capitol on January 6 and assaulted an agent in the process. Hutchinson never claimed to have witnessed that event, simply that that story was relayed to her shortly after it took place by deputy chief of staff Tony Ornato.)
Whatever the impact on Trump, none of the Republicans I spoke to thought the testimony would damage Republicans in the midterms. As one veteran operative pointed out, “people right now are really focused on $5 to $6 a gallon gas and I think that’s where people’s heads are at. By and large people have tuned this out. … Maybe this would be different if the economy was better but people are focused on their own welfare right now.”
That was echoed by another Republican working on 2022 races, who said, “No one is going to vote based on something that is happening within Washington regarding something that occurred a year and a half ago.”