Republicans desert Trump over baseless vote-fraud claims

Republicans desert Trump over baseless vote-fraud claims
President Donald Trump walks away after speaking at the White House on Thursday (Evan Vucci/AP)

Some Republicans are breaking with President Donald Trump’s attempts to falsely declare victory in the election and claim without evidence that Democrats are trying to “steal” it from him.

Mr Trump escalated those allegations late Thursday, telling reporters at the White House that the ballot-counting process was unfair and corrupt, having uttered similar allegations late on election night.

The president did not back up his claims with any details or evidence, and state and federal officials have not reported any instances of widespread voter fraud.

Representative Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois, tweeted that the president’s claims of fraud were “getting insane”. If Mr Trump had “legit” concerns about fraud they needed to be based on evidence and taken to court, Mr Kinzinger said, adding: “STOP Spreading debunked misinformation”.

On Wednesday he had commented more forcefully on Mr Trump’s claim Democrats were trying to “steal” the election, tweeting: “Stop. Full stop.”

“The votes will be counted and you will either win or lose,” Mr Kinzinger told Mr Trump. “And America will accept that. Patience is a virtue.”

Maryland’s Republican governor Larry Hogan, a potential 2024 presidential hopeful who has often criticised Mr Trump, said unequivocally: “There is no defense for the President’s comments tonight undermining our Democratic process. America is counting the votes, and we must respect the results as we always have before.”

“No election or person is more important than our Democracy,” Mr Hogan said on Twitter.

Other criticism, though less direct, came from members of Congress. Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who spoke at a recent Trump campaign rally, said in a tweet that if any candidate believes “a state is violating election laws they have a right to challenge it in court & produce evidence in support of their claims”.

Mr Rubio said earlier: “Taking days to count legally cast votes is NOT fraud. And court challenges to votes cast after the legal voting deadline is NOT suppression.”

Retired Republican senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, was more direct: “No Republican should be okay with the President’s statements just now. Unacceptable. Period.”

He added: “Fellow Republicans, don’t wait until the election is called to defend our elections and our democratic institutions. The time is now.”

Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, a Trump ally who is an analyst for ABC News, said there was no basis for Mr Trump’s argument. Christie called Mr Trump’s attack on the integrity of the election “a bad strategic decision” and “a bad political decision, and it’s not the kind of decision you would expect someone to make … who holds the position he holds”.

The comments by the Republican politicians and other GOP leaders were rare, public rebukes of Mr Trump, who has demanded — and generally received — loyalty from fellow Republicans throughout his four-year term. Most in the GOP take pains to avoid directly criticising the president, even when they find his conduct unhelpful or offensive to their values and goals.

Mr Trump’s tweets earlier on Thursday declaring victory and calling for officials to “STOP THE COUNT” were seen by some as a test of how firmly he can keep Republicans in line as he tries to challenge the voting process in court.

Before Mr Trump’s speech in the White House briefing room, several Republicans challenged his attempts to halt vote-counting in Pennsylvania and other battleground states.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Trump ally who won re-election Tuesday in Kentucky, told reporters that “claiming you’ve won the election is different from finishing the counting”. His office declined to comment after Trump’s address on Thursday.

Representative Will Hurd, a Texas Republican who did not seek re-election, called Mr Trump’s comments about corruption “dangerous” and “wrong”. He said Mr Trump’s remarks undermined the US political process and “the very foundation this nation was built upon”, adding: “Every American should have his or her vote counted.”

Donald Trump leaves after his address to reporters. Looking worn and deflated, the incumbent president did not take questions from journalists (Evan Vucci/AP)

While Mr Biden was close Thursday to the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House, it was unclear when a national winner would be determined after a long, bitter campaign dominated by the coronavirus pandemic and its effects on Americans and the national economy.

GOP Senator Mitt Romney did not address Mr Trump’s remarks directly, but sought to provide a reassuring note. Counting votes was often “long” and “frustrating”, Romney said.

If any irregularities are alleged, “they will be investigated and ultimately resolved in the courts”, Mr Romney tweeted. “Have faith in democracy, our Constitution and the American people.”

Several GOP figures came out in support for Mr Trump over his comments as did his family, who took to Twitter to question why GOP politicians were not rushing to the president’s defence.

“Where are Republicans! Have some backbone. Fight against this fraud. Our voters will never forget you if your sheep!” Mr Trump’s son Eric tweeted.

Senator Lindsey Graham, one of Mr Trump’s leading congressional supporters, said on Fox News Thursday night he would donate 500,000 dollars (£380,000) to the president’s “legal defence fund” and urged people to go to the Trump campaign’s website to pitch in.

Florida’s Republican governor Ron DeSantis urged the president to “Fight on, exhaust all options”. South Dakota governor Kristi Noem tweeted that Mr Trump was fighting “rigged election systems”.

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