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Forget About Forgetting January 6
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Forget About Forgetting January 6

Try as he might, Donald Trump can’t erase the sacking of the Capitol from Americans’ minds.

A Donald Trump supporter wears a gas mask and holds a bust of him after he and hundreds of others stormed stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C (Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images)

One week from today, I will have joined the rest of the political press in our quadrennial pilgrimage to frozen Iowa, going to the Canossa of the cornfields to do penance for our many transgressions of punditry, reportage, and analysis.

And Iowa will not disappoint, offering a forecast for snow and a low of 3 degrees next weekend. The mortification of the flesh by outdoor liveshots.

Democrats have dumped Iowa, so all the attention will be on the Republicans, and, as usual, one Republican in particular. Former President Donald Trump, having himself been disappointed in Iowa eight years ago, seems to be taking seriously the possibility that it might happen again.

He gave up a 5-point lead back then, so maybe even an advantage of 32 points shouldn’t be taken for granted. And even if he significantly underperforms, getting, say, less than 40 percent of caucus goers’ support, it could become a serious problem. That’s the problem with spending two years saying you’re invincible. And with former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley charging in New Hampshire, which votes eight days later, it would be a bad time to stumble in Iowa.

To see that such a thing doesn’t happen, Trump is on the stump in Iowa today. He’s holding one rally on the outskirts of Des Moines and another in the town of Clinton on the Mississippi River. But it’s the date, not the locations, that is the most significant.

Trump made a lot of history in his term in office, including two impeachments, three Supreme Court appointments, the longest government shutdown on record, and the worst pandemic in a century. But January 6, 2021, beats them all. 

For Barack Obama, it was announcing the death of Osama Bin Laden (May 1, 2011). For George W. Bush, it was the bullhorn at Ground Zero (September 14, 2001). For Bill Clinton, it was declaring he “did not have sexual relations with that woman” (January 28, 1998). Time wears away the other memories, but some remain. And ironically for Trump, solipsist and master impresario, the memory that remains is not of him, but of his supporters. Not the star of the show, but the extras run amok.

A recent poll conducted by The Washington Post and the University of Maryland asked Americans, among other things, whether “the storming of the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021 was an attack on democracy that should never be forgotten” or whether “too much is being made of” it. While those aren’t mutually exclusive things, the choice conveniently sorts Americans into two camps, albeit imperfectly.

Fifty-five percent of respondents were on team “never forget,” compared to 45 percent on team “move on.” Not surprisingly, perhaps, the proportions were about the same among independent voters as the electorate as a whole and lopsided among Democrats, 86 percent to 14 percent.

President Joe Biden’s return to the campaign trail reflects these preferences well. The attacks, which put into violent action Trump’s effort to steal a second term, represent the most reliable means to disqualify the leading rival to the incumbent president.

More interesting to me, though, is what Republicans thought of the choice between moving on and never forgetting. It’s no surprise that 72 percent of Republicans and 80 percent of Trump voters thought too much is being made of the attack ahead of the third annual commemoration. That would be like asking Democrats and Biden voters whether they thought inflation was being discussed too much. 

But then there’s this: About a quarter of Republicans and 17 percent of Trump voters affiliated themselves with the sentiment about “an attack on democracy that should never be forgotten.” This tells us a lot about the deep divisions in the GOP and the potential weakness in Trump’s support in a general election. With Trump unashamed, even boastful, about his role in that dark chapter it will be easy to twinge the guilty consciences of that 17 percent. 

For instance, do you think Trump today will be able to resist talking about the anniversary? How often in the weeks to come will he remind voters of his impudence toward the Constitution and arrogance about maintaining institutions? The man just can’t help himself.

The pollsters’ question is an interesting one for figuring how the electorate will break in the primaries and in the fall. But in a practical sense for the respondents, it was pure fantasy.

January 6 will not be forgotten, any more than Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook,” Lyndon Johnson taking the oath in Dallas, or Franklin Roosevelt’s “a date which will live in infamy” will be forgotten. It was chiseled into the foundation of our political memory, whether anyone likes it or not. 


Holy croakano! We welcome your feedback, so please email us with your tips, corrections, reactions, amplifications, etc. at STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. If you’d like to be considered for publication, please include your real name and hometown. If you don’t want your comments to be made public, please specify.


STATSHOT

Biden Job Performance
Average approval: 39.6%
Average disapproval: 57.8%
Net score: –18.4 points 

Change from one week ago: ↓ 0.2 points                        
Change from one month ago: ↑ 0.2 points

[Average includes: USA Today/Suffolk: 39% approve-58% disapprove; Fox News: 43% approve-57% disapprove; Quinnipiac: 38% approve-58% disapprove; NYT/Siena: 39% approve-57%; Gallup: 39% approve-59% disapprove]

Polling Roulette


TIME OUT: FISHER OF METAL

New York Times: “James Kane is a magnet fisher, which is exactly what it sounds like: He regularly tosses a magnet into the water to see what comes out. … For the past five months, he has been treating magnet fishing as a full-time job. … While Mr. Kane still dreams of finding a treasure chest full of coins, he mostly finds junk. One-off pieces of silverware are still considered a decent score — they’re apparently fine to use after they’ve been boiled for an hour. But sometimes the family will luck out. He once found a bag with $200 worth of waterlogged bills in it. Another time he found an iPhone 13. The owner let him keep it. … ‘It’s the poor man’s archaeology,’ [his partner Barbie Agostini] explained. … Mr. Kane pulled out a Styrofoam chest full of his favorite finds. They included the magazines from four guns, the barrel of a sniper rifle and two tiny cannonballs that might predate the city itself, which he plans on giving to the American Museum of Natural History…”


TRUMP COURTS SENATE SKEPTICS AS IOWA NEARS

Politico: “Donald Trump is making serious headway with a bloc of the GOP that’s among the most skeptical of his 2024 bid: Republican senators. … He won five endorsements from Republican senators during December alone, after snagging just three of them over the preceding four months. So far, Trump’s secured 18 endorsements from the Senate GOP … A combination of behind-the-scenes courtships like that of [John Hoeven (R-ND)] and the growing feeling of inevitability that Trump will win the nomination is peeling off Republican senators who might otherwise have longed for a new, less divisive standard-bearer. These days, many in the GOP see only upside to early support for Trump. … Many of Trump’s recent endorsers, like Sens. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Rick Scott of Florida and Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, are up for reelection in 2024 in red states where a primary is their biggest electoral threat.” 

As House leadership falls in line: The Hill: “House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (Minn.) endorsed former President Trump in his 2024 White House bid Wednesday. Emmer’s endorsement means all of the top five members of House GOP leadership — Speaker Mike Johnson (La.), House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (La.), House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (N.Y) and National Republican Congressional Committee Chair Richard Hudson (N.C.) — have endorsed the former president in the 2024 GOP primary. … Emmer had previously indicated in an interview with The Hill last year that he might not endorse a candidate in the primary. But after Scalise endorsed Trump on Tuesday, Emmer was the lone member of House GOP leadership who had not voiced support for Trump …” 

DeSantis, Haley qualify for pre-Iowa debate: AP: “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley are set to appear at next week’s Republican presidential debate on CNN, while former President Donald Trump participates in a Fox News town hall at the same time. Both events will be held at 9 p.m. ET on Jan. 10 in Des Moines, Iowa, just five days before the state’s first-in-the-nation GOP voting contest. … Biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who participated in previous debates, did not qualify for the CNN event. Candidates needed to achieve 10% support in at least three specific polls of likely Republican voters or caucusgoers, at least one of them measuring voters just in Iowa.” 

GOP COALESCES AROUND MORENO FOR OHIO SENATE  

The Messenger: “The momentum keeps building for Ohio businessman Bernie Moreno. Moreno was endorsed Wednesday by the Club for Growth PAC … The endorsement, first reported by Politico, comes after Moreno secured former President Donald Trump’s endorsement. Moreno is in a three-way primary against Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose and State Sen. Matt Dolan. … The Club, which sought to support an alternative to Trump in the presidential primary to little success, is now aligned with the former president in one of the most crucial Senate races of 2024. … The endorsement is a particular blow for LaRose, who entered the race as the only statewide elected official but has struggled on the fundraising front.”

House member eyes Romney’s Senate seat: Salt Lake Tribune: “In September, the Republican representing Utah’s 3rd Congressional District said he would not pursue the U.S. Senate seat occupied by outgoing Sen. Mitt Romney this year. But now, Rep. John Curtis will execute an about-face on Wednesday morning by joining the crowded GOP field. … Curtis says he also heard from a handful of current U.S. Senators who encouraged him to run for Romney’s seat but declined to say who. … Multiple sources told The Salt Lake Tribune that Romney was one of those senators who lobbied him to join the race. … Curtis’ low-key approach has angered some of the fiercely partisan Republicans in Utah who have taken to labeling him a RINO …” 

As does the son of the late Sen. Orrin Hatch: Deseret: “Brent Orrin Hatch filed Tuesday to run for Utah’s open U.S. Senate seat, in the hopes of replacing outgoing Sen. Mitt Romney. [He] has some experience in Washington D.C., with stints working in the administrations of former presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, but has spent most of his career as an attorney in private practice in Utah. … He joins a growing list of candidates for Romney’s seat, including former Utah House speaker Brad Wilson …” 

Poll: Moderate Slotkin up big over Harper in Michigan: The Hill: “Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) is leading the field of Democratic candidates for Michigan’s open Senate seat, up 38 points over her closest competitor in the party. A new Public Policy Polling survey of likely Democratic primary voters in the state found Slotkin with 50 percent support in a hypothetical primary, followed by actor Hill Harper with 12 percent. … Slotkin, a third-term House lawmaker, launched her Senate campaign shortly after Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) announced last year that she wouldn’t run for reelection in 2024.” 

BIDEN PLAYS EXPECTATIONS GAME IN NEW HAMPSHIRE 

Politico: “As the sitting president, Biden has a high bar to meet. At the same time, his name won’t appear on the ballot thanks to his push to make South Carolina the first primary — forcing voters to pencil him in. … Steve Shurtleff, the former state House Speaker and a [Dean Phillips] supporter, said the Minnesota congressman just needs ‘around 40 percent’ to succeed. As for Biden, he said, ‘If the president fell below 60 percent, then he’s in serious trouble.’ The Phillips campaign has set 42 percent as a barometer for success, according to one of his advisers… Several Biden backers — and even some of his critics — said the president simply needs to win, especially given the complexities of a write-in campaign. … Though Biden is not campaigning in the state, his allies in New Hampshire have gotten behind a grassroots group, as well as a super PAC, aimed at encouraging voters to write in his name.”

BRIEFLY

Abortion referenda not necessarily a boon to Dem candidates—Politico

Republicans lose top recruit for key Nevada House race—Nevada Independent 

Boebert, again, reaches for another’s seat—Colorado Sun

RFK Jr. qualifies for Utah ballot, his first—New York Times

Dems dramatically outspend GOP ahead of Santos special election—Spectrum News

WITHIN EARSHOT: YOU KNOW, JUST IN CASE …

“You know Iowa starts it. You know that you correct it.”—Nikki Haley tells New Hampshire voters to make things right if she doesn’t beat fellow candidate Ron DeSantis in the Iowa Caucus. 


MAILBAG

“First, Happy New Year! I’d like to hear the case for News Nation. As yet, you haven’t written much about this venture in The Dispatch. I’m open and intrigued by News Nation, but I was very disappointed in the debate the network hosted. Perhaps because I went in with high expectations: NBC had done a surprisingly good job and I expected News Nation, given its mission to be a network for all Americans, would do even better. I don’t watch cable news generally, and only know a handful of names at News Nation. Ninety percent of my interest and openness to it is a function of my respect for you, Mr. Stirewalt. Could you please offer Dispatch readers an honest assessment of the network and the debate, as well as your thoughts about how to make cable news better going forward?”—Ben Connelly, Charlottesville, Virginia

I try not to talk too often about NewsNation or my other work: The American Enterprise Institute, the Ink Stained Wretches podcast, books, speeches, articles published elsewhere, etc. There are several reasons for that, none being a paucity of esteem for those endeavors and institutions. The first reason is that self-promotion is gross. Like talking about money or cleaning the food trap at the bottom of the dishwasher, self-promotion is sometimes necessary, but always icky. It’s also not what I think you come here for. The modern media model seeks a self-licking ice cream cone of content in which items are used and reused in an endless loop of self-referential content. Indeed, part of the idea behind this note is to bring in other perspectives, because I count on the fact that Dispatch readers aren’t interested in mobius-strip coverage. There’s also this: The subject on which I am likely to be an impartial observer is myself. Who cares what I think about what I’m doing? But, with those many caveats, I will gladly make the case for NewsNation. I don’t know what disappointed you about our debate, so it’s hard to answer that particular concern. If it was that the questions were too rough or were designed to heighten the contrast between the candidates, I’m pretty content to let the product speak for itself. I, too, thought the NBC debate was pretty good, but I also think that it could have done more to get at the differences between the candidates on key issues. I also think that in previous debates, candidates were not adequately pushed to confront the absent frontrunner, Donald Trump. A news outlet’s job in a debate is not to help candidates or parties, but voters. And to do that, especially when the candidates are spoiling for a fight, you sometimes have to let the fur fly. It’s an imperfect medium, no doubt, but I think it was a good, even-handed, substantive effort. Speaking of imperfect mediums, television news, especially 24-hour television news, has lots of limitations and pitfalls. What TV does best is live coverage of breaking news. What it does worst is to provide substance and context in a format that favors soundbites and banal partisanship. And with so many hours to fill, the temptations toward those things are hard to resist. But what I’ve seen at NewsNation is encouraging. Parent company NexStar could certainly have taken the shorter path to profit by picking a monolithic ideological or partisan identity for the product and trying to cultivate a loyal cadre of superusers. But instead, they have opted for the harder way of trying for news that is aspirationally fair, commentary that is diverse, and a clear delineation between the two. I am often reminded of what it was like when I first started appearing on Fox News 16 years ago. I may not agree with every opinion offered in prime time, but I feel confident that there are some basic standards in place for the opinion folks and that the news side is independent and allowed to operate without an agenda or with the kind of pandering narrative obsessions that so often flatten cable news coverage. I think a big reason for that is the driving energy in the company is local news. Nexstar has 200 stations coast-to-coast and NewsNation seems to be an outgrowth of that much more than setting a national agenda. Local TV can’t afford to be partisan or ideological, and that’s a good check on the temptation to climb into a silo. There are good people, too: Fox News refugees, but also people from ABC, CNN, NBC, and CBS. I’ve found an engaging and diverse new group of colleagues, whom I enjoy and admire. And we have another advantage: Startup energy. It’s a great deal of fun to be part of starting something new, particularly when the people involved, from the very top, are explicit about a willingness to forgo shortcuts and to reject rage-based revenue. Here’s a recent interview an affiliate did with CEO Perry Sook. Tell me that’s not some wholesome business right there. I’ve learned a lot in this business about pressures subtle and not-so-subtle to shape and shade my analysis. And it is a true pleasure to say that I don’t feel any of that at NewsNation.


You should email us! Write to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM with your tips, kudos, criticisms, insights, rediscovered words, wonderful names, recipes, and, always, good jokes. Please include your real name—at least first and last—and hometown. Make sure to let me know in the email if you want to keep your submission private. My colleague, the resolute Nate Moore, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack!


NEW YEAR, NEW CUTLINE CONTEST, AGED MEAT 

I picture 2023 Cutline Contest winner Bob Goldman kicked back at his desk out in Gilroy, California—the garlic capital of the world—with a gleam in his eye that only the anticipation of well-earned cured meats can bring. And you should know that Mr. Goldman opted for the fully cooked Wigwam Ham from Edwards of Virginia, hickory smoked and aged for more than 200 days. Nothing wrong with the turkey, of course. But bravo, sir.

But what about the meats of Christmas future? The quest begins anew next week, with the first entrant into the January Cutline Contest with the monthly prize of political memorabilia and a chance to be the cutline of the year. So get after it!  

Send your proposed cutline for the picture that appears at the top of this newsletter to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. We will pick the best entrants for each week and an appropriate reward for the best of this month—even beyond the glory and adulation that will surely follow. Be hilarious, don’t be too dirty, and never be cruel. Include your full name and hometown. Have fun!


FEEL THE BURN 

Variety: “[Oppenheimer Director Christopher Nolan] summed up his appreciation for film criticism by telling a story about how he was once using his Peloton for a workout class only to have the instructor pan one of his movies. The Oscar nominee did not disclose which film it was, but clearly the Peloton instructor had no idea Nolan was in his virtual class that day. ‘I was on my Peloton. I’m dying. And the instructor started talking about one of my films and said, ‘Did anyone see this? That’s a couple hours of my life I’ll never get back again!’’ Nolan said. ‘When [film critic] Rex Reed takes a s–t on your film he doesn’t ask you to work out! In today’s world, where opinions are everywhere, there is a sort of idea that film criticism is being democratized, but I for one think the critical appreciation of films shouldn’t be an instinct but it should be a profession.’”

Nate Moore contributed to this report.

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the politics editor for NewsNation, co-host of the Ink Stained Wretches podcast, and author of Broken News, a book on media and politics.