Analysis-Trump’s rivals give him a pass on Jan. 6 attacks as hunt for Iowa votes heats up

By James Oliphant and Gram Slattery

DES MOINES, Iowa (Reuters) – Donald Trump’s Republican rivals are scrambling for every vote they can get in Iowa, where the first Republican presidential nominating contest is now just days away. But when it comes to his actions involving the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, they are largely giving him a pass.

They are not alone. At campaign events and town halls in Iowa, where voters will make their decision on Jan. 15, the attack rarely comes up. The candidates don’t mention it and neither do the voters, even as the country prepares to mark the third anniversary on Saturday.

That has made it that much easier for the former president to glide to the Republican nomination, which he stands on the cusp of doing. If he succeeds, he will face Democratic President Joe Biden in the November general election.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, Trump’s main rivals, are far behind him in opinion polls in Iowa. But neither of them has said that Trump’s role in the attack makes him unfit for another four-year term in office.

New polling suggests it may be smart for them to keep their mouths shut. A Washington Post-University of Maryland survey released this week showed Republicans are more sympathetic to the Jan. 6 rioters and less likely to blame Trump for his actions that day than they were three years ago.

John Geer, an expert on public opinion at Vanderbilt University, said that if either DeSantis or Haley train their fire on Trump over the issue, it could hurt their efforts to finish in second place in Iowa or New Hampshire, which holds its primary on Jan. 23.

On Jan. 6, 2021, thousands of Trump’s supporters marched on the Capitol after hearing him deliver an inflammatory speech in which he falsely claimed the election had been stolen and told them to “fight like hell.” They stormed the building, disrupting the certification of Biden’s victory and sending lawmakers, Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, and staff fleeing for their lives.

Lon Zimmerman, 81, who attended a DeSantis event in Sioux City, Iowa, on Wednesday, said the attack was “no worse than a frat party that got out of hand.”

Rioters who were later imprisoned for crimes related to the events of Jan. 6 are serving “jail terms for a political crime,” he said, echoing one of Trump’s talking points.

Trump faces criminal charges in federal and state courts for attempting to subvert the 2020 election, but has not been charged with any crimes relating to fomenting an insurrection or rebellion on Jan. 6. He has called the attack a “protest.”

As DeSantis has crisscrossed Iowa this week, the subject has rarely surfaced and when it has, DeSantis has chosen not to criticize Trump over his actions that day.

In the past, DeSantis has hit Trump for not doing enough to hold back the rioters but has stopped short of saying the mob was trying to stop the transfer of power.

He has argued that attempts to prosecute Trump are politically motivated, and last week reiterated that, as president, he would pardon Trump if he were convicted of federal crimes. He has also suggested Trump should have granted clemency to the nonviolent participants when he was still president.

Haley has been more critical of Trump, calling Jan. 6 “a terrible day” and agreeing that those who stormed the Capitol should be prosecuted.

But she has never argued that Trump’s actions disqualify him from another term as president and has praised him as being “the right president at the right time.” She, too, has said she would pardon Trump of federal charges.


The lack of criticism from DeSantis and Haley has “normalized” Trump’s actions, Geer said.

Still, he expects Biden to hit Trump hard on the issue during the general election if Trump becomes the Republican nominee.

Biden is likely to give a preview of those coming attacks when he delivers an address on Friday in historic Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, to commemorate the attack. Trump is scheduled to hold two rallies on Friday in Iowa, and another two on Saturday.

The Washington Post poll found Republicans were less likely to view the Jan. 6 rioters as “mostly violent” in the intervening three years. That has come as some within the party have promoted conspiracy theories that either outside liberal groups or government agents secretly worked to provoke the attack in a “false flag” operation.

Republicans in Iowa who spoke to Reuters this week largely absolved Trump of any culpability in the attacks.

Trump “wasn’t responsible for it any more than I was responsible for it,” said Tom Shields, 78, who attended a DeSantis event in Waukee, Iowa, on Wednesday. “I don’t know if the FBI had a hand in orchestrating some of this or stirring it up. Shame on them if they did.”

Investigations have found no evidence that the FBI or any other law enforcement agency fomented the attack.

Another voter, John Costello, 19, said Jan. 6 had turned him off Trump for good, and praised DeSantis for navigating the issue deftly.

Still, Costello said, he thought DeSantis should consider going after Trump harder on the issue, “especially since Trump is winning in Iowa and in many states by 30 (percentage) points or more.”

(Reporting by James Oliphant in Des Moines, Iowa and Gram Slattery in Sioux City, Iowa; editing by Ross Colvin and Jonathan Oatis)