Jamie Moksnes would vote for Donald Trump if he runs again in 2024. Probably.
The small-business owner from St. Michael, Minn., said he could be swayed by evidence that Trump said, "Hey, we've got to riot, we've got to storm the Capitol." But he predicted that for most Minnesotans the Jan. 6 congressional hearings — the culmination of a year-long investigation into Trump's attempts to subvert the will of voters and the attack on the U.S. Capitol — are unlikely to change their minds.
"People probably have their opinions already set," Moksnes said as he watched his sons cool off at a local splash pad Wednesday. "And I don't think that it's going to make a difference on either side."
It is a prediction that rang true in more than 20 interviews this week in exurban communities where voters overwhelmingly backed Trump in 2020.
Some Minnesotans called the hearings led by Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson and Republican Rep. Liz Cheney unnecessary political theater and said they aren't paying attention. Several wished the Congress members would focus on the economy and inflation instead. Others have been riveted by new evidence of Trump's efforts to overturn the election and said he must be held accountable.
Ryan Bode, who was sitting in the shade at the Buffalo Rodeo's family night event Wednesday, fell into the first camp.
"Couldn't care less," Bode said of the hearings that have been taking place throughout June and are scheduled to continue in July.
Nearly 6 in 10 Americans said they are following news about the congressional committee very or somewhat closely, according to Quinnipiac University poll results published Wednesday. It found people were divided on whether Trump committed a crime as he tried to change the election results, with 46% saying he did and 47% saying he did not.
About 225,000 households tuned into either KARE 11, KSTP-TV or WCCO-TV to watch the initial hearing that aired during prime time in early June — significantly more than the typical viewership for that time slot, according to Nielsen ratings. But the total viewers petered off the following week, dropping to slightly more than 100,000 by the third hearing.
"Old news. What's actually going to come of it that will matter? So much of what happens in Washington just seems like it's for show," said Bode of Buffalo, Minn., who sells seed to farmers. He doesn't care for Trump or President Joe Biden, and said he would like lawmakers to focus more on inflation rather than the Jan. 6 hearings.
University of Minnesota sociology Ph.D. candidate Mark Lee was also at the rodeo, where people were filling the stands to watch children try to hang on to running sheep in a "mutton busting" contest. Like Bode, Lee wasn't tracking the hearings.
"It seems like everybody I know has made up their mind about Donald Trump years ago. If there are criminal charges to be brought, fine. But I'm not interested in the public spectacle aspect of it," said the Buffalo resident. As he reflected on the state of American democracy, he added, "We tend to exaggerate the perils of our own time. If you think about across countries and across history, I think our democracy is still pretty strong."
Nan Wellnitz was managing one of the many booths at the rodeo. She was setting up what she described as a pared-back spread of Trump merchandise, such as flags with Trump's image proclaiming "A hero will rise." The Ogilvie, Minn., resident said she doesn't believe Trump said anything to incite a riot.
"I don't agree with what they did," Wellnitz said of those who broke into the Capitol. "I understand why they did it. Emotions got high. ... They took it just a little too far."
A couple of miles away, Phyllis Cross sat in the sun overlooking Buffalo Lake "getting her vitamin D." She has been watching every minute of the hearings and feels a deep sense of gravity about this moment in the country's history.
"He wants to be an autocrat," Cross, a political independent, said of Trump. "I'm 82 years old. I think I want to die living in a democracy."
After conversations with friends at her church, she said she is hopeful the hearings are changing some Republicans' minds.
"They are surprised, like I am, of the extent that he went to to keep the lie going, and then to scam his supporters out of $250 million based on that lie," Cross said, referring to information released by the congressional panel that Trump raised money from supporters after the 2020 election under the premise that it would go to an election defense fund to address his false election fraud claims.
A committee investigator said such a fund doesn't exist and instead most of the money went to a political action committee that backed pro-Trump groups.
"To me, that is immoral," Cross said.
Many of Cross' concerns and hopes for the hearings were echoed in dozens of messages the Star Tribune received after requesting readers' feedback on the Jan. 6 hearings.
One of those readers, Erin Kelly of Delano, Minn., grew up in a politically active household, her mother a staunch Democrat and her father a Republican. As a bit of a "history nerd" she always thought it would have been interesting to witness the Watergate hearings. All of that contributed to her decision to watch the Jan. 6 hearings firsthand.
"I put a lot of value on just seeing things for myself. I don't want someone else's impression to be what I think," she said. "I can only hope it stirs people who still make their own decisions and still are open to reason to say, 'Oh, it's really important that this gets completely shut down.' I think the insanely pro-Trump people need to come around in their own time. Maybe this will help for some of them. Maybe it won't."
For others, Kelly said she hope it spurs them to vote in everything from local to presidential races to ensure candidates who believe unsubstantiated claims of election fraud are not put in positions of power.
Of the roughly 40 people who submitted responses to the Star Tribune's request for comments, John Vickerman was one of the few who said they are not paying attention to the hearings. The iron worker from Buffalo said he's more concerned about inflation, gas prices and the infant-formula shortage.
"There's a lot of regular, average Americans who are really pissed off about this. ... Using the Jan. 6 thing as cover to not fix any of the real problems that are going on in this country," Vickerman said.