The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

GOP splits over Trump’s false election claims, unfounded fraud allegations

Following President Trump's baseless claims of voter fraud on Nov. 5, some members of the GOP stood with the president while others denounced his statement. (Video: The Washington Post)
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President Trump questioned the presidential election results Thursday night in a speech so riddled with false and unfounded claims that many major news networks, including MSNBC, CBS and ABC, cut away to fact-check the Republican incumbent in real time.

Trump’s broadsides have exposed tensions within his party, splitting GOP officials who spoke publicly on Thursday night into warring camps: those who defended the president and those who defended the U.S. election process. Many others have stayed silent.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has not addressed Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud. But in a Friday tweet, he wrote, "Every legal vote should be counted. Any illegally-submitted ballots must not. All sides must get to observe the process. And the courts are here to apply the laws & resolve disputes.

“That’s how Americans’ votes decide the result.”

Susan Collins (R-Maine) also encouraged voters to respect the counting process and the outcome.

“States have the authority to determine the specific rules of elections," Collins said in a statement Friday morning. "Every valid vote under a state’s law should be counted. Allegations of irregularities can be adjudicated by the courts. We must all respect the outcome of elections.”

Trump’s loyalists, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), echoed Trump’s evidence-free claims of widespread fraud in Pennsylvania and other swing states that have been trending toward former vice president Joe Biden as more votes are counted.

“President Trump won this election,” McCarthy falsely claimed to Fox News host Laura Ingraham on Thursday night. He followed up his on-air comments with a tweet proclaiming: “Republicans will not be silenced. We demand transparency. We demand accuracy. And we demand that the legal votes be protected.”

GOP senators similarly echoed false and misleading claims that Trump has made about the vote-counting process in Pennsylvania.

“Philadelphia elections are crooked as a snake,” Graham told Fox’s Sean Hannity. “Why are they shutting people out? Because they don’t want people to see what they’re doing.”

Strong rebukes also flew in, mostly from regular GOP critics of Trump such as Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and from Republican politicians who are leaving office.

“A sitting president undermining our political process & questioning the legality of the voices of countless Americans without evidence is not only dangerous & wrong, it undermines the very foundation this nation was built upon,” Rep. Will Hurd (R-Tex.), who will retire when his term ends in January, said in a tweet. “Every American should have his or her vote counted.”

At least one person from Trump’s inner circle has been pushing back publicly on the president’s claims. Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, a close Trump ally who helped him campaign, also turned against the false and misleading claims coming from the White House. Christie denounced Trump’s premature victory claim early Wednesday, when millions of votes remained to be counted, and on Thursday he said the president was sowing discord.

“Show us the evidence. We heard nothing today about any evidence,” Christie said on ABC. “This kind of thing — all it does is inflame without informing.”

The president has called for vote counting to stop in Pennsylvania, where he was narrowly ahead early Friday but has been losing ground as poll workers process mail-in ballots from parts of the state that heavily favor Biden. Meanwhile, Trump has urged counting to continue in Arizona, where Biden’s lead has been shrinking as Maricopa County continues to tally votes.

Hannity on Thursday night suggested that the tight race in Pennsylvania has been sabotaged because election officials in Philadelphia blocked Republican observers from ballot counting. (In fact, observers from both political parties are allowed to watch poll workers count ballots in Pennsylvania, and the counting process is live-streamed online. A court order on Thursday also granted a Trump campaign request to move observers closer, within six feet of poll workers.)

Then, Hannity asked Cruz whether Pennsylvania’s GOP-controlled legislature should “invalidate” the results and hold a “do-over” election.

“Look, that’s exactly right,” Cruz said. “Now, that’s a big cannon to use. I can tell you during Bush v. Gore we were having very explicit conversations about that, as we were seeing an effort to steal that election. The answer that I want to see, the outcome that I want to see, is to count every vote that was legally cast and for the president to win.”

Tommy Tuberville, the Republican senator-elect in Alabama and former college football coach, also questioned the shifting election results as votes continue to be counted.

“The election results are out of control,” Tuberville said in a tweet following Trump’s speech. “It’s like the whistle has blown, the game is over, and the players have gone home, but the referees are suddenly adding touchdowns to the other team’s side of the scoreboard.”

Election officials and candidates knew that the final vote counts would not be available on Election Day. The coronavirus pandemic led many states to encourage voting by mail, and some states did not allow poll workers to tally those ballots until after polls closed Tuesday. A large number of mail-in ballots, combined with an extremely tight presidential contest, resulted in races too close to call in five states Thursday night.

As Trump’s closest allies backed his unfounded claims, some other Republicans defended the election process and the poll workers who are still counting hundreds of thousands of legally cast ballots.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who did not vote for Trump, said there was “no defense” for the president’s misleading speech.

“America is counting the votes, and we must respect the results as we always have before,” the Republican governor said in a tweet. “No election or person is more important than our Democracy.”

Romney said in a statement that “counting every vote is at the heart of democracy.”

“That process is often long and, for those running, frustrating,” he added. “The votes will be counted. If there are irregularities alleged, they will be investigated and ultimately resolved in the courts. Have faith in democracy, in our Constitution, and in the American people.”

Reps. Denver Riggleman (R-Va.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) called for the president to present evidence of his claims and “respect the democratic process that makes America great.”

“STOP spreading debunked misinformation,” Kinzinger tweeted. “This is getting insane.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) similarly reassured the public that continuing to count legally cast ballots is “NOT fraud,” although he also suggested that Trump was within his rights to challenge any votes “cast after the legal voting deadline.” (No evidence of late voting has been publicly disclosed.)

Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) offered a more tempered stance but still raised the specter of election irregularities.

“All votes that comply with Pennsylvania law must be counted, regardless of how long the process takes,” Toomey said in a statement Thursday, adding that a recount “should be immediately granted” if the vote count meets the threshold for one.

“Once a final count is reached and certified, all parties involved must accept the outcome of the election regardless of whether they won or lost,” he added.

Many other Republicans, including some former governors and governors-elect in states still counting votes, also urged the public to remain patient and ignore unfounded allegations.

Brittany Shammas contributed to this report.