POLITICS

Who will be Jan. 6 hearing's most avid viewer? Donald Trump, with a team ready to hit back.

Trump, a prolific and mercurial watcher of television news during his four years in the White House, will be watching on Thursday.

  • The former president will be keeping an eye on Jan. 6 hearings that start Thursday.
  • Trump has authorized allies to dispute claims about him regarding the insurrection.
  • The GOP’s counter-programming efforts show how politics has become an information war, analysts said.

WASHINGTON — The most avid viewer of the Jan. 6 insurrection investigation hearings will be the man at its center: Donald Trump.

Trump, a prolific and mercurial watcher of television news during his four years in the White House, will be watching on Thursday, as the House committee probing the Capitol attack launches prime-time hearings, people who have spoken with Trump in recent days said.

The 45th president's viewing habits will not only shape Republicans' spin on the hearings — they could influence the direction of this year's midterm elections and the future of the Republican Party itself.

What Trump watches could result in everything from fiery social media posts to a wholesale assault on how Americans see the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol last year.

Trump wants to know what the special House committee, packed with political opponents, will bring out to show to the American people, particularly since he has no allies on the committee to tip him off ahead of time, said two people who have talked with him recently and spoke on condition of anonymity about private conversations.

Just ahead of the Jan. 6 hearings, Trump and other Republicans don't even know what evidence they will be hit with. That alone means that the ex-president and his backers will give extra the hearings special scrutiny.

Rioters loyal to President Donald Trump storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

All of this, of course, could change, given Trump's famously mercurial personality, those people said, emphasizing that he has no set schedule and could just as easily change his mind about his viewing plans.

Even before the hearings begin, the former president's political action committee and House Republican leaders are organizing "counter-programming" projects designed to respond to hearing revelations via social social media, news websites, and television, radio and newspaper interviews.

WHAT WE DON'T KNOW ABOUT JAN. 6: What Trump's family told the committee, whether attack was organized

JAN. 6 COMMITTEE'S LONG-AWAITED HEARINGS PROMISE REVELATIONS:Will a divided U.S. want to hear them?

The public relations preparations underscore how so much of American politics boils down to what one analyst described as "information warfare."

"So much of American political discourse today is designed to control and shape our political discourse," said Jennifer Mercieca, a communication professor at Texas A&M University who has studied political rhetoric.

"Rather than allow the American people to hear the evidence gathered by the January 6th committee with a fair and open mind, they are using propaganda strategies to try to control and shape what Americans think before the evidence is even put forward," said Mercieca, author of "Demagogue for President: The Rhetorical Genius of Donald Trump."

'VERY STRANGE AND SOMEWHAT ALARMING': White House, Justice aides offer insider accounts of Jan. 6 Capitol attack

ELECTION LAW:After Jan. 6, lawmakers want to clarify that vice presidents have ceremonial role in counting votes

Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the Conservative Political Action Coalition, who is involved in counter-programming, described the hearings as "a taxpayer funded opposition research effort."

Trump allies noted that most House Republicans refused to participate in the investigation.

Both of the Republicans on the nine-member committee are anti-Trump: Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. In a normal hearing, a large group of minority party members would be able to grill witnesses and cite other pieces of evidence to defend their supporters.

House Jan. 6 committee Chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., during a panel meeting on Capitol Hill on March 28, 2022.

That lack of allies on the committee has made Trump even warier, the two Trump confidantes told USA TODAY.

An immediate response – and the looming midterm elections

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy and other Republican leaders have said they refused to participate in the investigation because Democrats refused to allow pro-Trump lawmakers onto the committee, such as Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio.

Those involved in the counter-programming, such as Jordan and McCarthy, have signaled their strategy. In short: Cast the Jan. 6 hearings as a political exercise, an attempt by Democrats to distract voters from issues like inflation and high gas prices as Americans decide which party gets to control Congress after the November elections.

Trump's response is hard to predict.

While still not on Twitter – he was banned shortly after the insurrection – Trump has been sending out missives via the app Truth Social, to which he has financial ties. He has also been known to phone in to conservative media outlets to discuss breaking news.

President Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. make their way to board Air Force One before departing from Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Georgia on Jan. 4, 2021.

Fox News – home to Trump favorites like Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity – will not be broadcasting the hearings live, opening the door to the kind of drop-in calls Trump has done on both prime-time shows in the past.

Trump and his allies have long disputed characterizations of the Jan. 6 attack as an insurrection or the deadly mob as anything but patriots.

That fundamental disagreement between Republicans and Democrats over what happened that day has gone far beyond verbal disputes.

In recent primary elections in May and June, for example, Trump-allied election deniers and doubters have already won spots on the November ballot, such as Pennsylvania governor candidate Doug Mastriano; Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C., who is running for Senate; and former football star Herschel Walker, a Senate candidate from Georgia.

Mastriano, in fact, was subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 committee.

SEE THE LIST:Who has been subpoenaed so far by the Jan. 6 committee?