The Jan. 6 Committee’s work has highlighted numerous weaknesses and tensions in our political system, while also underscoring the continuing significance of numerous individuals’ commitment to their constitutional oaths, says a Virginia Tech expert.

Political Science Professor Karen Hult shares her perspective in the following Q&A.

With the final Jan. 6 hearing taking place, what are your major takeaways?

-Former President Trump was central to numerous “stop the steal” efforts to block the inauguration of the candidate who won the November 2020 presidential election.

-Compelling claims by former Trump Administration officials and Republicans that Trump was “willfully ignorant” of both the lack of evidence that he had lost key states and their Electoral College votes and the fact that the protests his “’will be wild’” tweet catalyzed on Jan. 6, 2020, might be violent and could threaten the lives of Vice President Mike Pence, members of Congress, and others.

-Institutional and legal norms and constraints designed to ensure the peaceful transfer of power are fragile.

Has this process helped restore bipartisan faith in elections?

Throughout U.S. history, there have been eras, groups, and parts of the country where the legitimacy of elections has been questioned. Contemporary partisan polarization, floods of money flowing into elections and issue advocacy efforts, dissemination of misinformation on social and other media, and partisan state legislative (and judicial) efforts to influence voter access all likely have contributed to current skepticism about the fairness of elections. It seems doubtful that the hearings alone will some do much to bolster faith in elections, particularly across ideological, partisan, and demographic divides.   

Have the hearings had any impact on the support of Trump’s political base?

This is difficult to tell with any confidence. At least in the short run, some Republicans have expressed less support for Trump and in particular for his running again for president. At the same time, the hearings may have further mobilized parts of his base, reinforcing both their support for so-called Trumpism and their hostility toward those who maintain that he lost the 2020 election.

Will the hearing have an impact on midterm primaries?

Through mid-July, Trump-endorsed candidates have had a mixed record of success in Republican primaries. He’s had visible successes in Pennsylvania and Maryland but defeats in Georgia and Nebraska. The general elections in fall 2022, of course, are the next test – in terms of partisan control of the U.S. House and Senate and of governorships and state legislatures, as well as of once-less-visible offices like state attorney general and secretary of state. As usually is the case, the ability of Republican and Democrats to turn out voters for their candidates while seeking to discourage supporters of their opponents is likely to be pivotal. The hearings likely will be only a relatively part of most people’s decisions to vote, competing with party loyalty, and concern of issues that include inflation, immigration, reproductive rights, and climate change. 

Any other thoughts to offer?

I’ll just reiterate that a primary contribution of the hearings has been the Committee’s work to assemble, construct, and communicate a systematic narrative of what took place before and after the 2020 presidential election and the attack on the Capitol, as well as how and why the threat to a peaceful transition of power unfolded.

The Committee’s final report may propose several possible legislative responses (e.g., revising the Electoral Count Act as a bipartisan group of senators currently is doing), and the Committee is discussing the scope and nature of criminal referrals it might make to the U.S. Department of Justice.  Whether the Committee’s report or other actions will be sufficient to address ongoing threats to the U.S. constitutional republic is by no means certain.

About Hult
Virginia Tech political science professor Karen Hult teaches political science at Virginia Tech and its Center for Public Administration & Policy, with expertise in the U.S. Presidency, U.S. state politics, policy, and governance, and organizational and institutional theory. See her bio.

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