The third anniversary of the attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob comes amid troubling indicators about public opinion on that event. A Post-University of Maryland poll published this week shows a sizable share of Americans accept lies about the 2020 election and the insurrection that followed on Jan. 6, 2021. Only 62 percent say Joe Biden’s victory was legitimate, down from 69 percent two years ago, and far lower than after the contested 2000 election. One-third of U.S. adults say they believe there’s “solid evidence” of “widespread voter fraud” in the 2020 election. Regarding Jan. 6 itself, 28 percent say former president Donald Trump bears no responsibility, 21 percent say the people who stormed the Capitol were “mostly peaceful” and 25 percent say the FBI probably or definitely instigated the attack.
These are minority views, but that’s cold comfort. Disproportionate numbers of Republicans hold them, showing just how corrosive Mr. Trump’s repeated lies, amplified by a right-wing media echo chamber, have been. The devotion of the GOP base to this alternative history helps explain why Mr. Trump has avoided meaningful accountability, why he is still the front-runner, by far, for the Republican nomination — and how dangerous he could be back in power. Already, he promises “full pardons” and a government apology to many Jan. 6 rioters, plus “revenge” and “retribution” for unnamed others.
The truth must be told. Mr. Biden won the 2020 election, fair and square, and no credible evidence has emerged of widespread voter fraud. Mr. Trump, despite knowing that he lost, summoned supporters to Washington ahead of the certification of the election and told a crowd on the Ellipse that he’d go with them to the Capitol and that they needed to “fight like hell.” Mr. Trump relished watching on television as his supporters attacked the Capitol for 187 minutes and resisted pleas to stop them. As Vice President Mike Pence said later: “His reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day.”
More than 140 police officers were injured there that day. So far, 1,240 people have been charged with federal crimes related to Jan. 6, including 452 who were charged with assaulting law enforcement officers. More than 700 have been sentenced after receiving due process, including the right to a jury trial. FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, a Republican appointed by Mr. Trump, has testified categorically and under oath that there’s nothing to the “ludicrous” conspiracy theories that his agency played any role in urging people into the Capitol.
The Supreme Court agreed last month to hear challenges to a law that has been used to charge 332 people in connection with Jan. 6, which makes it a crime to obstruct or impede an official proceeding. Defense lawyers say the government has used it overly broadly. Even if the justices agree, however, it would leave convictions on other matters intact.
It’s simple political realism to acknowledge that the latest polling suggests that efforts to hold Mr. Trump accountable have fallen short. In 2021, 10 House Republicans voted to impeach him, and seven Senate Republicans voted to convict, for inciting the insurrection. But there weren’t enough votes to disqualify Mr. Trump from running again. In 2022, his favorability ratings fell amid the hearings of the House select committee investigating Jan. 6, which resulted in a damning 814-page report. However, criminal indictments against Mr. Trump in 2023, as justified as any might be on the legal merits, have turned into a rallying point for his backers: The Post-UMD poll showed that 41 percent of Americans, and 77 percent of Republicans, say they believe the Justice Department is unfairly targeting Mr. Trump for political reasons. It is unclear how potential election-year trials might affect the broader electorate.
For now, a mere 46 percent of Americans said Jan. 6 should disqualify Mr. Trump from the presidency and 33 percent said his conduct that day is “not relevant.” In between, 17 percent say Mr. Trump’s actions “cast doubts on his fitness for the job but are not disqualifying.” That segment could decide the election. What they, and all voters, must understand is that, just like in 2020, the 2024 elections will be free and fair. Audit after audit has shown the U.S. election system is secure, and none of Mr. Trump’s 2020 legal challenges panned out. They also need to understand the real chance that he could win, legitimately, but that there is still time, and an effective way — via the ballot box — to prevent that.
Image Credits: Michael Robinson Chávez/The Washington Post