Trump’s Hold on GOP Means Few Are Disputing His Election Claims
U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to a news conference at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Chris Kleponis/Polaris/Bloomberg)

Trump’s Hold on GOP Means Few Are Disputing His Election Claims

Few Republican officeholders have been willing to publicly dispute President Donald Trump as he attacks the integrity of the election system, underscoring how he will remain a potent force in GOP politics even if he ultimately loses the White House.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell treaded a fine line Friday morning, tweeting that all of the legal votes should be counted, illegal ones should be discounted and the courts are available “to apply the laws & resolve disputes.”

But at a news conference in Kentucky, he repeatedly refused to address Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of widespread fraud that threatens to “steal the election from us.”

“I’m not going to answer any hypotheticals,” McConnell told reporters. “I’ve said what I intend to say about it.”

With Democrat Joe Biden gaining ground in the remaining states yet to be called in the presidential race, other Republicans appeared to be heeding the call of the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., who on Thursday tweeted a complaint about a “total lack of action” from Republicans, particularly those eying a run for president in 2024.

“I’m here tonight to stand with President Trump,” GOP Senator Lindsey Graham, who survived a tough re-election challenge in South Carolina, said Thursday on Fox News. “He stood with me, he’s the reason we’re going to have a Senate majority.”

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, on another Fox program, also endorsed the president’s claims about a tainted election.

“President Trump won this election,” McCarthy said. “So everyone who’s listening, do not be quiet. Do not be silent about this.”

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, also backed some of Trump’s election claims, as did Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, another potential contender for the party’s presidential nomination in four years.

One reason is that Trump’s raucous rallies and the ubiquity of his campaign signage in swathes of rural and exurban America is testament to his fervent following among the Republican base. He reshaped the party into a tribe held together by the force of his personality and cultural identity more than political ideology.

Going into the election, 95% of Republicans said they approved of his performance in office, according to Gallup, and exit polls showed 93% of Republicans voting for his re-election.

It is those core Republican voters who determine the outcome of party primaries and Trump has a well-established record of wielding that influence to reward loyalists and punish critics.

Powerful Platform

His combative persona and mastery of both social and traditional media virtually assure he will have a powerful platform to maintain his connection with followers. And he has has a history of holding grudges.

Many in the party say Trump’s vigorous campaigning in solidly Republican states was key to victories for a handful of vulnerable GOP senators, including Joni Ernst of Iowa, Steve Daines of Montana and Graham.

One Republican aide said Trump is still a kingmaker for Republican candidates. Another said Trump and his family were likely to exert their influence for years to come. Both asked for anonymity to discuss sentiment among congressional Republicans.

A few Republicans have publicly pushed back against the president, mostly those confident in their own constituencies or who are leaving or have left office. They include Illinois Representative Adam Kinzinger, Virginia Representative Denver Lee Riggleman, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and Utah Senator Mitt Romney.

Romney, the only Republican to vote to convict the president on an impeachment count, tweeted that Trump “is wrong to say that the election was rigged, corrupt and stolen – doing so damages the cause of freedom.”

Riggleman, who lost a party primary and won’t be returning to Congress next year, tweeted: “Count every vote, yes, but stop the Bravo Sierra, Mr. President, and respect the democratic process that makes America great.”

McConnell faces perhaps the biggest test of anyone in Washington if Trump refuses to concede and it becomes increasingly clear that he’s lost.

The GOP Senate majority now rests on winning at least one of two January runoff elections in Georgia, in which incumbent Republican senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler face tough challenges. Neither an internecine fight with Trump over accepting the election results nor a messy multi-week effort to thwart counting would help Republicans prevail.

One member of McConnell’s GOP leadership team, Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, told reporters Friday that it’s “reasonable” for Trump to see votes canvassed and let the ballot-counting play out. But he expressed some puzzlement at Trump’s move to call for just some states where Biden has been gaining ground to stop counting ballots.

“You can’t stop the count in one state and decide you want the count to continue in another state; that might be how you’d like to see the system work but that’s not how the system works,” Blunt said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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