WASHINGTON – Since his election, President Trump’s relationship with Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill has mostly fallen into one of two categories: the unbreakable bond with his most ardent supporters, who defend him at all costs, and the tenuous and strained alliance with the rest. , who share his agenda but often cringe in private at his language and tactics.
Neither group is particularly well suited to the drudgery of trying to persuade Mr. Trump, who refuses to concede the election, that it’s time to step down – or at the very least, to stop spreading. assertions about the integrity of national elections that contradict considerable evidence. And it is unlikely that Mr. Trump, who has been perplexed and at times enraged by the Republican institutionalists who normally should play such a role, will listen if they do.
The dynamics help explain why, days after President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. was declared the winner of the election, even Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, was unwilling to acknowledge the result. Instead, senators tiptoed around – or in some cases blindly ignored – the reality of Mr. Trump’s loss and the lack of evidence to suggest widespread electoral fraud or irregularities that could reverse that result.
“There is no such thing as bipartisanism, in terms of the number of members ready to speak – and would that matter to him? Would he listen? said William S. Cohen, a former senator and House member from Maine who was one of the first Republicans to break with his party and support the impeachment of President Richard M. Nixon. “Trump doesn’t care at all about the House or the Senate and he rules out of fear. He can still ignite his supporters – there are 70 million out there. He still carries that fear factor.
On Monday night, a club of only a few Republican senators known to dislike Mr. Trump – Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – acknowledged Mr. Biden.
Mr. McConnell, who is set to be the top Republican in Washington during the next Biden administration, threw his support behind Mr. Trump, refusing to acknowledge Mr. Biden’s victory by claiming Mr. Trump was “at 100% in its rights ”to contest the result.
Far from trying to sway the president’s thinking, most Republicans have done their best to avoid appearing to dictate what to do.
“I look forward to the President dealing with this, but he has to deal with it,” Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican on Mr. McConnell’s leadership team, said on ABC Sunday. Week, “even as he noted it” seems unlikely “that the outcome will change based on Mr. Trump’s legal claims.
Some of Mr. Trump’s henchmen, on the other hand, have rushed to advance his baseless theories of fraud. Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue of Georgia, both facing the second round of elections in January, demanded the resignation of their state’s top election official, a fellow Republican, after saying there was no evidence widespread fraud in state elections.
Rep. Leader Kevin McCarthy of California also insisted that Mr. Trump was right to challenge the election results.
“Every legal challenge must be heard,” said Mr. McCarthy. “Then and only then, America decides who won the race.”
In 1974, as President Richard M. Nixon faced the Watergate scandal and the high probability of impeachment and conviction, a group of powerful Republican lawmakers marched to the White House and one by one, appointing lawmakers to their own party who were ready to vote to condemn him, told him it was time for him to leave. The message was clear and Mr. Nixon announced his resignation the next day.
Expect such a calculation for Mr Trump, said Timothy Naftali, founding director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum and professor at New York University.
“It is very difficult for Republicans whose leader has won 71 million votes, the most of any Republican standard-bearer, to just turn their backs on him,” Naftali said. “The problem is no longer so much Trump as loyalty to Trumpism. And I think that’s why you see the contortions now. If you are a Republican and you get it wrong, you are going to be eliminated.
There is also a more immediate concern for the party. As Mr Perdue and Ms Loeffler face an election whose results are likely to determine Senate control, Republicans are reluctant to do anything to dampen the enthusiasm of their Tory base. Any hint that the leaders were pushing Mr. Trump off the stage could spark a Twitter rampage from the president who could turn his supporters against the party at a critical time.
“The Republican Party hemorrhaged seats in 1974 after Watergate, following the virtual impeachment of a Republican president,” Mr Naftali said, as they appear to be on their way to securing seats in the House this year after Mr. Trump’s impeachment by the Democrats. “So what’s the lesson for politicians? The lesson is not to run away from Trump. “
Yet some Republicans have argued in recent days that it is crucial for their party members to measuredly push back against the president’s unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud.
On Monday, 31 former Republican members of Congress – many of whom are staunch critics of the president – denounced Mr. Trump’s claims in an open letter calling on him to accept the election results.
“We believe that President Trump’s statements alleging election fraud are efforts to undermine the legitimacy of the election and are unacceptable,” wrote the group, led by former representative Tom Coleman of Missouri. “Every vote must be counted and the final result accepted by the participants, because public confidence in the outcome of our elections is the foundation of our democracy.”
Barbara Comstock, a former Republican MP from Virginia who signed the letter, said she did it because skeptical voters “have to get along and see that it’s not real.
His former colleagues, Ms Comstock added, had largely come to the private conclusion that Mr Trump’s legal challenges “are not going anywhere.”
“Their facade is crumbling,” she says. “He inevitably goes where he goes. We just need to responsibly explain to people why this is not true.