'Impeachment No. 3': Jan. 6 panel isn't swaying these swing-state Republicans

Brendan Smialowski
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·6 min read
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RENO, Nev. — Republican voters in Nevada were aware Tuesday that the Jan. 6 committee was building a public case that Donald Trump knew the election wasn’t stolen.

They saw some of the committee’s new video footage of violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“Reprehensible,” said one voter.

“Disgusting,” said a second.

“It has everybody angry,” said a third.

It wasn’t the noose hanging outside the Capitol that upset them, the chants of “hang Mike Pence” or the testimony of the president’s former attorney general.

Instead, it was “Washington politicians” and “the media establishment,” several voters interviewed said, who they saw as trying to stack the deck against the former president.

“It might as well be impeachment No. 3 for Donald Trump,” said Judy Cameron, a Reno retiree who had just voted in Nevada’s Republican primaries on Tuesday with her husband. “This is their big push to get Donald Trump off the ballot.”

NBC News talked to more than two dozen voters in both Washoe and Clark counties — the two most populous in Nevada — and found that the Jan. 6 committee hearings that captivated Washington not only failed to persuade these voters but pushed them in the opposite direction.

Among this sampling of Republicans, including in Washoe, the swingiest county in one of the nation’s swingiest states, it has hardened partisan views, spawned more conspiracies or deepened fealty toward Trump.

Though a limited snapshot, the unpersuaded voters underscore the near impossibility that the committee — no matter how stunning the new evidence they unearthed appeared to be — will be able to persuade a segment of voters who remain unmoved.

Fox News — a major driver of public opinion on the right — refused to carry the first prime-time hearing (it has since reversed course). Still, prime-time hosts like Laura Ingraham have chosen to forgo replaying the new violent scenes, and, after the first hearing, spent much of the hour afterward mocking Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the top Republican on the committee, and her voice.

The committee’s members have acknowledged they’re unlikely to move many Trump loyalists, and instead have set lower goals, like trying to convince enough moderates to sign on to overhauling the Electoral Count Act to remove loopholes. Their loftier goals — like convincing the Department of Justice to indict Trump — don’t require voter support.

And Trump voters say they see through the effort as purely political.

On Nevada’s primary election day, as voters hurried in and out of their polling spots, wearing stars-and-stripes socks pulled up to their knees or collecting into small groups to grouse that developing countries had superior election integrity, Republicans were light-years away from granting credibility to the Jan. 6 committee.

“It’s all political and designed to try to prevent Donald Trump from running for president again,” said Tom Berenato, a two-time Trump voter and Clark County resident.

He called the Jan. 6 committee flawed because it has “nobody on it with opposing views” to the majority on the panel of Democrats and what he called “anti-Trumpers” like Cheney.

While Berenato doesn’t believe Trump’s false claim that the 2020 election was stolen, he still thought the former president’s pursuit of election audits and lawsuits were worthy “because there were a lot of irregularities and shenanigans going on in several swing states.”

Many other voters interviewed dug in on 2020 election denialism and repeatedly brought up the need for election integrity. They slammed the mainstream media — including Fox News — and even suggested that the witnesses, nearly all of whom so far have been Republican men, were coerced into their testimony.

The hardened views persisted after testimony was aired from Trump’s former attorney general, William Barr, and former campaign manager Bill Stepien, both of whom said they had told the then-president that there was insufficient evidence of massive voter fraud and no legal support to overturn the 2020 election.

Several Nevada Republicans interviewed contend Barr’s testimony was “trash” and quickly discarded Stepien — who continues to advise Trump-aligned candidates — into a heap of traitorous RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) attempting to take out Trump.

“You’ve got the liberal mass media, completely controlled with a narrative that’s sent out to all of them at about 4 a.m. in the morning,” said Donald Fossum, a supporter rallying outside Reno High School for the unsuccessful Senate GOP candidate Sam Brown. “That’s why you can read their lips on your screen; they’re all saying the same thing.”

Fossum, who dubbed himself “your local cut-the-crap guy,” stopped himself from going on, saying: “We are being careful in our realm to not sound conspiratorial.”

At one point on Tuesday, voters consumed with fraud concerns surrounded Bruce Parks, GOP chair of Washoe County, as he exited his polling location.

“How do you think we’re doing as far as getting the vote trued in this state?” John Roberts, who described himself as a conservative voter, asked Parks. Roberts expressed concern about the upcoming midterm general election and the 2024 presidential contest. Another man chimed in about the worry of ballot boxes being stuffed. Those assembling on the sidewalk began to debate the need to change state law.

“I understand that and there’s a way to overcome that — vote,” Parks told them.

When a reporter asked the group if they were persuaded by testimony the day before of insufficient voter fraud in 2020, one of the voters who did not give his name pulled his head back: “You mean on the TV?” Then waved his hand in disgust.

Another voter complained he didn’t know who to trust in the Republican Party anymore.

“[Barr] came to a conclusion before ever looking at the evidence,” Roberts said. “I found that really strange.”

At a time when inflation is up, gasoline prices in Nevada lead the nation at $6-plus a gallon and housing prices are on the rise, Parks said he’s been swarmed with questions about voter fraud.

“I hear it all day, every day: ‘Is my vote gonna count this time?’” Parks said in an interview. “That is one of the biggest concerns.”

Still, some voters said they were deeply troubled by the events of Jan. 6. and the hypercharged, politicized environment that led to it.

“Anybody in the government having a hand in that or allowing it to happen, to me, is just criminal,” said Steve Trollope, a voter from Sparks, Nevada. Trollope lamented the dangerous climate that both parties feed into, he said, where people can no longer disagree without escalation.

“To me, this is a volatile place,” he said. “Democracy is about to die. That’s frightening.”