Three months after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol to try to overturn his November election loss, about half of Republicans believe the siege was largely a non-violent protest or was the handiwork of left-wing activists “trying to make Trump look bad,” a new Reuters/Ipsos poll has found.
Six in 10 Republicans also believe the false claim put out by Trump that November’s presidential election “was stolen” from him due to widespread voter fraud, and the same proportion of Republicans think he should run again in 2024, the March 30-31 poll showed.
Since the Capitol attack, Trump, many of his allies within the Republican Party and right-wing media personalities have publicly painted a picture of the day’s events jarringly at odds with reality.
Hundreds of Trump’s supporters, mobilized by the former president’s false claims of a stolen election, climbed walls of the Capitol building and smashed windows to gain entry while lawmakers were inside voting to certify President Joe Biden’s election victory. The rioters - many of them sporting Trump campaign gear and waving flags - also included known white supremacist groups such as the Proud Boys.
In a recent interview with Fox News, Trump said the rioters posed “zero threat.” Other prominent Republicans, such as Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, have publicly doubted whether Trump supporters were behind the riot.
Last month, 12 Republicans in the House of Representatives voted against a resolution honoring Capitol Police officers who defended the grounds during the rampage, with one lawmaker saying that he objected using the word “insurrection” to describe the incident.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll shows a large number of rank-and-file Republicans have embraced the myth. While 59% of all Americans say Trump bears some responsibility for the attack, only three in 10 Republicans agree. Eight in 10 Democrats and six in 10 independents reject the false claims that the Capitol siege was “mostly peaceful” or it was staged by left-wing protestors.
“Republicans have their own version of reality,” said John Geer, an expert on public opinion at Vanderbilt University. “It is a huge problem. Democracy requires accountability and accountability requires evidence.”
The refusal of Trump and prominent Republicans to repudiate the events of Jan. 6 increases the likelihood of a similar incident happening again, said Susan Corke, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.
“That is the biggest danger – normalizing this behavior,” Corke said. “I do think we are going to see more violence.”
Most have not disavowed the false narrative put out by Trump that he lost to Democrat Joe Biden because of voter fraud. Candidate Amanda Chase, one of the early favorites for the May 8 Republican nominating contest, has gone a step further. Following the ex-president’s November loss, she encouraged him in a Facebook post to impose martial law to cling to power. She cheered the insurrectionists who stormed the U.S. capital on Jan. 6 as “patriots.”
It’s a playbook that could spell trouble for Republican hopes in Virginia, experts and pollsters say. The former battleground state in recent years has elected a Democratic governor, a Democratic-controlled state legislature and two Democratic U.S. senators, largely on the strength of college-educated, suburban voters.
Fealty to Trump is emerging as a litmus test for Republican hopefuls looking to appeal to the former president’s devoted base to win next month’s nominating battle. But conspiracy theories about election fraud are likely to turn off many moderate voters needed to win the Nov. 2 general election, said Frank Luntz, a veteran Republican pollster.
“This is probably the most significant political conundrum I have ever seen,” said Luntz, who called Virginia a test case for the future of the Republican Party.
Virginia’s off-year contests are traditionally viewed as a harbinger for national political trends in the wake of a presidential election. The Republican campaigns here signal that the election-fraud myth is now a key plank for party hopefuls, said Al Cardenas, a veteran Republican strategist.
“‘The Big Lie’ will continue to be perpetuated,” he said.