WASHINGTON — 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. Trump escalated those allegations late Thursday, telling reporters at the White House that the ballot-counting process is unfair and corrupt.
Trump 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.
Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who spoke at a recent Trump campaign rally, did not address Trump directly, but said in a tweet Thursday night 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.”
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.”
From retirement, former GOP Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, was more direct: “No Republican should be okay with the President’s statements just now. Unacceptable. Period.”
Maryland GOP Gov. Larry Hogan, a potential 2024 presidential hopeful who has often criticized Trump, said unequivocally: “There is no defence 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,” Hogan said on Twitter.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, did not address Trump’s remarks directly, but sought to provide a reassuring note. Counting votes is often “long” and “frustrating,” Romney said.
If any irregularities are alleged, “they will be investigated and ultimately resolved in the courts,” Romney tweeted. “Have faith in democracy, our Constitution and the American people.”
Before Trump’s speech in the White House briefing room, several Republicans challenged his attempts to halt vote-counting in Pennsylvania and other battleground states. The comments left Trump without key voices of support as he continues to trail Democrat Joe Biden in his bid for reelection.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Trump ally who won reelection 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 Thursday.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, urged “everyone to be patient” as results come in. “It is critical that we give election officials time to complete their jobs, and that we ensure all lawfully cast ballots are allowed and counted,” she said in a statement.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., addressed Trump directly on Twitter: “Stop. Full stop,” he wrote Wednesday in response to Trump’s claim that Democrats were trying to “steal” the election.
“The votes will be counted and you will either win or lose,” Kinzinger told Trump. “And America will accept that. Patience is a virtue.”
The comments by the Republican lawmakers and other GOP leaders were rare, public rebukes of 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 criticizing Trump, even when they find his conduct unhelpful or offensive to their values and goals.
Trump’s tweets declaring victory and calling for officials to “STOP THE COUNT” were an early test of how strongly he can keep Republicans in line as he tries to challenge the voting process in court.
One Democrat, Sen. Chris Murphy, told The Associated Press earlier Thursday he hopes Republicans step up. “I think Republicans will likely want to give him a day or two to, you know, sort of make his arguments.” But, Murphy said, when it becomes clear that there’s no path for Trump’s disputes, “My hope is that Republicans will put public and private pressure on him.”
While 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.
In remarks Wednesday at the White House, Trump baselessly claimed victory and alleged “major fraud on our nation” as state election officials continued counting ballots amid a huge increase in voter turnout.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Trump ally who is an analyst for ABC News, said there was no basis for Trump’s argument. Christie called 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.”
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, said Wednesday on Fox News that while he supports Trump, “if it ends up being Biden, all of us will accept that.”
As elected officials, Republicans and Democrats “believe in the rule of law,” DeWine said. “Every vote has to be counted. We as a country accept election results.”
Trump’s family, never shy about expressing their support, took to Twitter to question why GOP lawmakers 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!” Trump’s son Eric tweeted.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said states administer U.S. elections, not the federal government. “We should respect that process and ensure that all ballots cast in accordance with state laws are counted. It’s that simple,” Portman said in a statement.
“It’s best for everyone to step back from the spin and allow the vote counters to do their job,” added Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.
Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick and Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.
Matthew Daly, The Associated Press