DOVER, N.H. — In New Hampshire, the chasm that deepened between Americans in the Trump era has cracked open once more with the Jan. 6 hearings.
There are those eagerly tuning in. And there are those defiantly tuned out.
Jack Brownley, 84, an Air Force veteran in Dover, said that although he was “not a news watcher,” the hearings have become appointment viewing for him. “I look forward to them,’’ he said, adding that he has concluded former President Donald Trump is “totally, totally” responsible for an attempted coup.
Rick Hyotte has not watched any of the hearings. And he has no plans to do so
“I’ve made up my mind — it’s just a show,’’ Hyotte, 50, said while smoking a cigar outside Castro’s Back Room in Manchester. He said he believed the former president held no culpability.
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol reconvened for its third hearing Thursday, building on earlier sessions that shed light on one of the darkest chapters of U.S. history — a president who refused to accept two and a half centuries of constitutional democracy and who tried to stop the peaceful transfer of power.
In a swing congressional district in the Manchester region, interviews with voters in recent days showed that few minds have been changed about the events of Jan. 6. Reactions to the hearings in this part of New Hampshire have largely fallen along the same hyperpartisan lines that guide how much of the country responds to almost every issue.
Voters who supported President Joe Biden in 2020 are closely following the hearings and wondering if, after so many earlier scandals, Trump will at last be relegated to a place of infamy. Voters who supported Trump dismissed the hearings as a “sham,” a political exercise by enemies who have always been out to get the former president and a distraction from more urgent issues such as high gas prices and the baby formula shortage.
Several voters declined to be fully identified, explaining that they feared becoming targets of harassment in the fraught political climate.
Liz C., 60, who works for a local government office in the affluent, liberal community of Exeter, called the hearings “a waste of time and money.” She said it was clear to her that Trump did nothing wrong on Jan. 6. “I think they should just put it to bed,’’ she said. “Let’s focus on our current president, and let’s clean up the mess. Biden has screwed up everything.”
Carolyn K., 53, a graphic designer also from Exeter, said it was frightening that “people really seem to be sticking to the storyline that the election was a fraud.” When asked why she did not want to be fully identified, she said, “It’s a little bit of a scary time right now.”
Walter Holt, 79, a veteran of the Vietnam War and a retired shipyard worker, lives in a community for people ages 55 and older in Rochester. He said a neighbor in his community wears a Trump hat that “I want to snatch off his head every time I see him.”
But Holt does not talk politics with neighbors. He called Trump “a pig” who was responsible for the country losing its “moral compass.’’
New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District, spanning from Manchester to the southeast part of the state on the Maine border, has long been contested political terrain. The district voted for former President Barack Obama in 2012, Trump in 2016 and Biden in 2020. It flipped five times in seven congressional elections before Rep. Chris Pappas, a Democrat, won for the first time in 2018.
Pappas faces a tough reelection this year in a political environment that has become difficult for Democrats. He said in an interview that even though many voters have decided to ignore the Jan. 6 hearings, the sessions are a significant moment for the country.
“It’s important for the historical record; it’s important for the individuals who lost their lives that day; it’s important from the perspective of justice,’’ Pappas said. “We’ve got to make sure that individuals who perpetrated a violent attack on the Capitol are held responsible.”
The field of Republicans competing before a September primary to oppose Pappas includes high-profile figures who have spread doubts about the 2020 election. One Republican candidate, state lawmaker Tim Baxter, introduced a bill this year calling for a forensic audit of the state’s 2020 vote, even though there has been no evidence of widespread fraud. Another candidate, Karoline Leavitt, who was a press aide in the Trump White House, has said that the 2020 election “was stolen away from us.’’
Leavitt wrote on Twitter this week that “the corrupt political establishment in DC is shamefully focused on January 6th” while the nation faces more pressing crises.
Matt Mowers, another veteran of the Trump administration whom Pappas defeated two years ago, is seeking a rematch. He has said that in 2020, some secretaries of state “were violating their constitutions” in setting voting procedures.
House Democrats are hoping the Jan. 6 panel’s hearings will reach at least two groups of viewers: dispirited Democrats who could be spurred to turn out in the November midterm elections by a stark reminder of the attempted insurrection, and independents or Republicans open to revising their views of Trump.
It is uncertain how many independents or Republicans who may be willing to do that exist.
In the days after the first hearing last week, a poll by Morning Consult/Politico found that 40% of registered voters reported watching some of the hearing live, but they were mostly Democrats. Only 27% of Republicans said they had watched. In the same survey, the share of voters who blame Trump for the attack had declined from 63% in January 2021 to 57%.
“There are few remaining persuadable voters on the issue,” the pollsters wrote, “and those tuning into the latest news cycle do not appear to be among them.”
At least 20 million people watched the prime-time opening hearing last week, according to Nielsen — more than this year’s Oscars audience but fewer than that of the State of the Union speech. The second hearing, held Monday morning, reached about 10 million television viewers.
Mark Ferdinando, 59, a Trump supporter who caught last week’s opening hearing, was unimpressed. It was “a lot of people who wanted to hear themselves talk,’’ said Ferdinando, an insurance agent in Manchester. “I think everybody knows what happened. I think they should concentrate on more important things — the economy, gas prices, whatever’s going on overseas.”
Maureen Harms, 45, an accountant who also works in Manchester, had a much different takeaway. She was disturbed by the account of Caroline Edwards, the Capitol Police officer who described being knocked unconscious by rioters and slipping in the blood of fellow officers during the attack.
“Listening to her testimony that it was like war, I was shocked,’’ Harms said.
Still, she is skeptical that gripping testimony will change the views of Trump’s supporters. “There’s no amount of television or media that will convince them that they’re wrong,’’ she said.
Many supporters of Trump echoed talking points in the conservative news media that seek to relieve him of any responsibility for Jan. 6. They repeated the widely disputed claims that he urged supporters outside the White House that day to march “peacefully” to the Capitol and that he authorized National Guard troops to protect the Capitol but was thwarted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Carlton Cooper, chairman of a regional Republican committee in Rochester, said he believed there was plenty of evidence of widespread fraud in 2020, including the stolen-election claims made in the documentary “2000 Mules.’’
“People know downright that President Trump won the election,’’ said Cooper, whose front yard is festooned with American flags and a sign reading “Let’s Go Brandon,” a catchphrase popular with conservatives that is code for a Biden insult.
He has not watched any of the hearings.
Kathy Corson, a real estate agent who is the former top elected official in Exeter, said it had seemed that throughout Trump’s presidency, no scandal could stop him. She is more optimistic than most that tying Trump to an insurrection and to a financial scheme that misled his own supporters will permanently tarnish him.
“Truth is tough, right?” she said.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.