Cracks are beginning to show in the Right’s support for President Trump’s continued contesting of the election as certification deadlines loom in key states that have been called for Joe Biden and the president’s legal team asserts the existence of a wider conspiracy to prevent his reelection.
There is growing concern within Republican and conservative circles that the allegations being made do not match with the evidence being made public, potentially demoralizing rank-and-file GOP voters ahead of two Georgia runoffs that will determine whether the party remains in control of the Senate.
“People are starting to get worried in Georgia,” said a Republican operative. “[Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell needs to explain to him if he or his kids want to run in 2024, blowing things up on the way out isn’t the way to make that happen.”
But the concern isn’t limited to Georgia. If Trump cannot prevail in his quest to contest the results in multiple close states where his campaign and legal team have alleged potentially outcome-altering irregularities, Republicans want to be best positioned to resist the policy initiatives of a new Biden administration. They credit Trump’s aggressive late campaign push with helping them gain seats in the House and potentially hold the Senate despite polling-based predictions that the party was going to lose considerable ground in both chambers. But they do not wish to see that legacy undercut by an ill-fated legal crusade on the way out the door.
“I respect the president and his efforts to exhaust legal resources to ensure every legal vote has been counted,” said Republican strategist Jon Gilmore. “However, with each passing day, the American people need to see concrete evidence of widespread fraud. If that is not produced, we as a party need to accept the results and focus on the critical races in Georgia.”
Elected Republican leaders have been broadly supportive of letting the legal process play out, noting that the 2000 Florida recount, contested all the way to the Supreme Court by Al Gore’s Democratic presidential campaign, took 37 days to resolve. Many of these officials share Trump’s skepticism of mass mail-in balloting and have concerns about voter fraud in large Democratic-run cities, even if they did not necessarily expect to see the results overturned.
Thursday’s press conference featuring Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell as attorneys for the Trump campaign raised new concerns. Powell in particular alleged, “The massive influence of communist money through Venezuela, Cuba, and likely China in the interference with our elections here in the United States” and implied voting software changed Trump votes to Biden.
“President Trump won by a landslide,” Powell said. “We are going to prove it.” A third Trump attorney, Jenna Ellis, exhorted the assembled reporters to be open to their evidence. But Tucker Carlson, whose prime-time Fox News show is highly influential in Trump World, expressed reservations.
“We would have given her the whole hour,” Carlson said. “But she never sent us any evidence, despite a lot of requests, polite requests. Not a page. When we kept pressing, she got angry and told us to stop contacting her. When we checked with others around the Trump campaign, people in positions of authority, they told us, Powell has never given them any evidence either, nor did she provide any today at the press conference.”
There nevertheless remain widespread grassroots GOP misgivings about the results. An unprecedented number of harvested mail-in ballots were tallied this year due to the pandemic. The counts in some contested states stopped on election night while Trump was still ahead, and the leads flipped to Biden sometime after they were resumed. Rejection rates for these ballots appear to be lower than Democrats feared. And even with these issues, the election turned out to be closer than the public polling predicted.
Then, there are the Trump team affidavits alleging various irregularities. “Those allegations need to be answered,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, told reporters. Or at least, some Republicans say, given the same attention the Steele dossier and various Russia-related accusations against the 2016 Trump campaign received. It is an argument expected to be made to Republican-controlled state legislatures in the disputed battlegrounds, with a possible eye toward contesting the states’ Electoral College slates.
“The president has done a great service in not cowering to the demands of Democrats until now to concede,” said Republican strategist Bradley Blakeman. “Had he done so, the press would have never focused on the voting irregularities, incompetence, negligence, and fraud that had taken place in many jurisdictions.”
But to many, the answer is voting reforms rather than continuing to dispute this election.
“I believe that although the system is flawed, the ultimate result was that Biden was elected,” Blakeman said. “Now is the time to concede and move the country forward in transition.”