NASHVILLE – More than a week after the presidential race call for Joseph R. Biden Jr., Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt had yet to publicly acknowledge the result. Then, on Monday, in the dying seconds of a half-hour press conference on the coronavirus resurgence, a reporter slipped in a final question:
Who would the governor be working with at the federal level in the days to come?
“Well, I’m going to talk to whoever’s president at the time,” Mr. Stitt, a Republican, said at the briefing. “Until January 20, we will be talking to President Trump. Then, you know, we’ll talk to President-elect Biden on January 20.
It was a nod, even buried, to a reality Republican governors, like other elected officials in the party, struggled to negotiate as Mr. Trump refused to concede the election.
Of the 26 Republican governors, about a half-dozen have said unequivocally that Mr. Biden won or that Mr. Trump should concede – like Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who was among the first in the party to congratulate the president – elect. Others, like Governor Kristi Noem of South Dakota, have reiterated Mr. Trump’s unsubstantiated claims about the election’s problems. “So many serious electoral integrity issues” she wrote on twitter.
Most operated on dark middle ground, straddling a line in which they did not fully recognize the president’s claims that the election had been rigged or affirm Mr. Biden’s victory. Or they tried to say nothing at all: A few avoided making explicit statements about the outcome of the presidential race and did not respond to requests for comment to elucidate their position.
In many cases, voters and political observers had to listen carefully to glean the position of their governors, such as Mr Stitt’s brief mention in the briefing. In the case of Governor Tate Reeves of Mississippi, there were hints in a recent vow to fight with the Biden administration for a hypothetical stop of the virus, without publicly acknowledging that Mr. Biden had, in fact, won.
The issues go beyond the political perspective. The coronavirus is invading the country with renewed fury, threatening to overwhelm hospitals and prompting officials in some states to revert to the stringent measures used in the spring to curb the initial spread of the pandemic.
Many, including at least two Republican governors, have raised concerns that the turbulence surrounding the transition could cause confusion and a dangerous distraction in efforts to fight the pandemic.
“We are in the middle of a war and we don’t know who the general will be,” said Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland at an event held Monday at the Ronald Reagan Foundation and Presidential Institute in Washington. “We don’t know what the game plan is. And we can’t wait until the end of January. “
The time had come, he added, for Mr Trump to acknowledge that Mr Biden had won a “pretty crushing victory,” and he said the delay in that process was starving the country for the clarity he had received. urgently needed. Mr Hogan said on Tuesday he would meet with Mr Biden to discuss the response to the virus.
But unlike Mr Hogan, a moderate ruler of a state that has overwhelmingly supported Mr Biden, governors serving in more conservative states must face a different political reality in which to challenge the president, or even be seen as not supporting him. enough, can anger Mr. Trump and his supporters.
“I think that’s why some governors have remained relatively silent,” said JR Davis, Republican political consultant in Arkansas and former spokesperson for Governor Asa Hutchinson.
“There are a lot of Republican governors who realize that there has been no fraud,” Mr. Davis said, “and in areas where there may have been fraud, there is no there just aren’t enough votes to make a difference. ” On the flip side, there were 73 million Trump voters, and many of them live in states like Arkansas.
Numerous statements supported the President’s assertion that the integrity of the election must be ensured but did not presuppose that there are serious reasons to doubt the outcome. There is a lot of talk about the “process in place” (Governor Greg Abbott of Texas) to “make sure every legal vote is counted” (Governor-elect Greg Gianforte of Montana) to “get to the bottom of it” (Gov Jim Justice of West Virginia).
Some took the opportunity to boast about the way the elections went in their state.
“If the tables were turned, the Democrats would surely mount their own legal challenges, as would be their right,” said Gillum Ferguson, spokesman for Gov. Bill Lee of Tennessee, where Mr. Trump beat Mr. Biden by 23 points percentage. “Either way, other states should take note of the swift and efficient process with which Tennessee conducted an election with safety and integrity.”
Among the governors who took a more measured approach was Mr Hutchinson of Arkansas, a state Mr Trump won with nearly 28 percentage points. Mr Hutchinson, who is barred by term limits from running again, issued a statement on Nov. 8 which began by acknowledging “the likelihood that former Vice President Biden and Senator Harris won over 270 votes. electoral ”.
Mr Hutchinson then said that the electoral process was not entirely finished. “As a nation, we must allow the preparation and court challenges process to unfold with patience and public understanding,” he said. “I have supported Donald Trump for the presidency but I am an American first and I will support and work with the voters’ final decision.”
Still, critics have asked what it would take for key Republicans to recognize the decision has been made.
“With each passing day, it becomes more and more difficult for Republican leaders to defend Donald Trump,” said Jim Demers, lobbyist and former lawmaker for the Democratic state of New Hampshire. “The clock is ticking for the Republicans to step up and say, ‘Mr. President, we have given you enough time, there is no evidence of fraud and it is time to turn the transition over to the team. Biden. ”
Mr. Trump mobilized right-wing media and used social media to make baseless allegations of fraud and spread disinformation in an attempt to undermine public confidence in the electoral process.
In a reprimand, the country’s top IT and electoral security experts published a letter denouncing such claims, claiming they were “baseless or technically inconsistent.” Election officials from all states, Republicans and Democrats, also said there was no evidence to indicate irregularities widespread enough to influence the outcome.
The discord over the results revealed a split within the Republican Party. In Georgia, Brian Kemp, the Republican governor, was already keenly aware of the sting that has just struck the president, after being publicly scolded by Mr. Trump – “I was not happy with Brian Kemp; I’ll tell you that ”- on his handling of the virus.
Now the governor has been stuck in an intramural crash as the president and his supporters unleash attacks on Republican state officials who oversaw the elections there.
Brad Raffensperger, who describes himself as a conservative and a supporter of the president, became a target after Georgia, which had not gone to a Democratic presidential candidate since 1992, switched to Mr Biden by a narrow margin .
Last week, the state’s two Republican senators took the extraordinary decision to urge Raffensperger to resign because they accused him of mismanagement and called the elections he oversaw “an embarrassment.” In turn, Mr. Raffensperger said his fellow Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, were trying to undermine the legitimacy of the election in favor of Mr. Trump, who demanded an ongoing manual recount that should not reverse the result.
In a statement last week, a spokesman for Mr Kemp said the situation should “be a wake-up call for the secretary of state’s office to seriously examine all the allegations of improper voting that have been made.”
“Georgians deserve every legal vote to be counted,” added spokesman Cody Hall, “in order to have full confidence in the outcome of our election.”
In a recent press conference, the Judge Governor of West Virginia dismissed the claim that he and other Republicans were trying to create uncertainty. He argued that it was in fact the opposite: he believed in taking the time to be methodical in order for the result to be decisive and unassailable, even if that result was not the one he preferred.
“We absolutely want to know that the votes cast were legal votes and we want our electoral process to be absolutely solid,” Justice said. “We don’t want to walk away and say, ‘Well, that was really rigged or this or that and everything. We don’t want that in America. And I hope Joe Biden doesn’t want that.
“But when we come to that conclusion,” he added, “if Joe Biden is truly our president-elect, I will support him with all my soul.”
Rick rojas reported from Nashville, Campbell Robertson from Pittsburgh, and Will wright of Jersey City, NJ Reporting was contributed by Mike Baker from Seattle, Manny Fernandez from Houston, Jack healy from Denver, and Simon romero Albuquerque.