The first small cracks began to appear in the Republican wall of support for President Trump and his unfounded allegations of voter fraud in the 2020 election, with a growing number of elected officials and party leaders signaling on Thursday that they would surrender to Mr. Trump’s plot. theories for only so long. Some were ready to openly contradict him.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said it was time to call Joseph R. Biden Jr. the “president-elect.” Arizona’s Republican Attorney General has said Mr. Trump will not end up winning his state, despite the president’s protests. And on Capitol Hill, several Republican senators began, in low voices, to say that Mr. Biden should be entitled to classified briefings as the new commander-in-chief or that it is time to recognize that he will be. soon to be certified president-elect. .
Asked when he thought Mr. Trump should accept the outcome, Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, even set a deadline for the president to acknowledge the reality: the December 13 – the day before delegations from the Electoral College voted for the president.
Influential party financiers and strategists also began to weigh in.
“The president is doing his most rabid supporters a disservice by insisting that he would have won the Nov. 3 election had it not been for voter fraud,” an op-ed for the Las Vegas Review-Journal said, a newspaper belonging to the family of Republican megadonor Sheldon. Adelson. “This is just plain wrong.” Mr Adelson and his wife, Miriam, have donated over $ 75 million to super PACs supporting Mr Trump.
Karl Rove, the Republican strategist, published a Wall Street Journal opinion piece under the headline “This election result will not be overturned.”
Mr. Trump has a long memory, a penchant for revenge on those who believe him, and overwhelming support among the Republican voter base. The fact that so few prominent Republicans are prepared to publicly break with him, even if defeated, is the latest sign of his lasting hold on the Republican Party – now and in the future.
“When you look at the number of votes he got, you look at the kind of enthusiasm he’s getting, I mean – he’s going to be a very, very important number whether he’s in the White House or not.” , said Senator Josh. Hawley, Republican of Missouri. “I don’t know who else would be considered the leader if not for him.
No prominent potential Republican candidate for president in 2024 – including Mr. Hawley – has criticized Mr. Trump for refusing to acquiesce in the transition of power. Most have remained silent or have given Mr. Trump, who has spoken privately about the possibility of running again in four years, the leeway and support without repeating his most baseless conspiracies. Vice President Mike Pence, who followed Mr. Trump to the pulpit on election night, tried to make it sound like he stood firmly by the president’s side without echoing his false declarations of victory.
But with Mr Biden now as the head of enough states to give him up to 306 Electoral College votes – the same sum Mr Trump won in 2016 and declared a ‘landslide’ – and without evidence credible with electoral malfeasance, Republicans are starting cautiously to recognize the reality of Mr. Biden’s victory. The former vice president leads with more than 20,000 votes in Wisconsin, 53,000 in Pennsylvania and 148,000 in Michigan – which is on par or above Mr. Trump’s winning margins in those states four years ago. And in the popular vote, Mr. Biden is now ahead by more than five million votes.
“There is an inevitable logic to this,” said Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary under President George W. Bush, who congratulated Mr. Biden on his victory on Fox News. “None of these recounts and allegations are going to overturn this election.”
Democrats say indulging in Mr. Trump’s recalcitation undermines confidence in the country’s democratic institutions and undermines the legitimacy of the new Biden administration.
Former President Obama called it a “dangerous path” in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” according to extracts published Thursday. He said he was troubled that “those Republican officials who clearly know best are okay with this.”
On Thursday, the president launched new, baseless charges against a voting software company. Groups representing government election and security officials, including within the Trump administration, as well as election vendors in the private sector, issued a joint statement stating: “There is no evidence that a voting system has suppressed or lost votes, changed votes or been compromised. “
Mr. Trump’s strategy is a familiar one he has deployed since the first full day of his administration. Then he demanded that his press secretary, Sean Spicer, go to the White House briefing room to declare his inauguration crowd the largest in history, despite clear evidence to the contrary. Now he wants Republicans to ignore election results to declare him the winner in 2020 anyway.
When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo predicted earlier this week, with a smile, that there would be “a smooth transition to a second Trump administration,” Mr. Trump republished favorably the video on Twitter.
The political and rhetorical security space into which many Republicans have retreated is a call to “count all legal votes”, implying that there was a string of illegal votes that no evidence has shown to exist. (There are also more extreme democratic fears that GOP state legislatures will appoint rogue voters who might ignore the results in their states, but Mr. Biden’s campaign has rejected such rhetoric.)
For now, Senate Republicans are particularly wary of running into Mr. Trump ahead of the two ballots in Georgia on Jan. 5 that will determine control of the chamber, realizing that they must mobilize Mr. Trump’s base without him on the ballot. There are fears that Mr. Trump could attack Senator Kelly Loeffler or Senator David Perdue for their lack of loyalty.
The two senators signed an unusual joint statement calling for the resignation of Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State, a move widely interpreted as aimed at winning Mr. Trump’s favor.
“It’s pretty clear that the president doesn’t care about the Senate majority or those two senators, so they know it would be nothing to turn on them and crush the turnout,” said Brendan Buck, who was a primary advisor to the last two speakers in the Republican House, Paul D. Ryan and John A. Boehner. “We have always talked about how the president took control of the party. But here is an example of where he is holding GOP base voters hostage to force Republicans to participate in his charade.
Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, said Republican loyalty to Mr. Trump revealed the party was “now a cult of personality in its own right.”
“I think they understand that Trump will continue to dominate their politics for the next decade and they have all made a decision that they cannot personally survive if they argue with him,” he said. “This is a devastating development for our country.”
Mr Murphy said that undermining the legitimacy of Mr Biden’s victory has real-world consequences. “If there is a lingering belief among 40% of the country that Joe Biden’s election was fraudulent, it’s very difficult to do even non-partisan things like handing out a vaccine,” he said.
The Trump campaign continues to bombard supporters with urgent requests for money for his “election defense fund,” but the fine print of these calls shows that the president is in fact considering his own future, mostly raising money for a new one. political action committee, not a legal and recount account. The first 60 percent of every donation goes to Mr. Trump’s new PAC, Save America, and 40 percent goes to the Republican National Committee.
It was only after the PAC obtained $ 5,000 from an individual that the money would end up in the Trump recount fund.
Bob Bauer, one of Mr. Biden’s top lawyers, dismissed Mr. Trump’s legal documents and tweets as “drama.” As Mr. Trump continues to stoke fears of a stolen election, even some aides and allies privately acknowledge that Mr. Trump has lost.
The reality is that Mr. Trump is not only the president, but also a major publisher and distributor. In the week following the election, his posts topped Facebook, counting for the top 10 most engaged status updates in the United States, and 22 of the top 25. “I WON THIS ELECTION, A LOT!” was his first post.
Mr. Trump also posted the most engaged link on Facebook that week, a solicitation of money to fight the election results.
Within the Republican Party, the president remains a singular influence. He effectively anointed Ronna McDaniel for another term as chair of the Republican National Committee with a tweet this week.
Several RNC members echoed Mr. Trump’s fraud allegations on Thursday.
“The real winner may never be known,” said Rob Steele, a member of the Michigan RNC, where some Republican lawmakers are demanding a “thorough audit” of the election.
Most were happy to delay Mr. Biden’s recognition as president-elect until December 14 – if so.
“Parties always belong to the last presidential candidate until the next presidential candidate arrives,” said Fleischer, the former White House press secretary. “It won’t be Donald Trump’s party once Republicans have a new candidate in 2024.”
“Unless,” he added, “it’s Donald Trump.
Luke Broadwater and Reid J. Epstein contributed reporting from Washington.