Republicans in Washington have trod gently around President Trump’s allegations of voter fraud. Most of them have refused to acknowledge Joe Biden’s status as president-elect, but generally they’ve said things like “There’s no harm in making sure the results are accurate” rather than subscribing to Trump’s baseless charges.

But the dam is beginning to sprout a few holes — and few things epitomize that like Karl Rove’s op-ed Wednesday night.

Writing for the Wall Street Journal in a piece titled “This Election Result Won’t Be Overturned,” Rove essentially said the effort is for naught because of the size of Biden’s win.

“The president’s efforts are unlikely to move a single state from Mr. Biden’s column, and certainly they’re not enough to change the final outcome,” Rove writes. He adds: “To win, Mr. Trump must prove systemic fraud, with illegal votes in the tens of thousands. There is no evidence of that so far.”

What’s particularly striking about Rove’s plea is not just that he’s a Fox News favorite and GOP strategist of significant renown — having guided George W. Bush to victory — it’s also that, in another time, he was a commander in the GOP’s voter fraud crusades.

The firings of several U.S. attorneys shortly after the 2006 midterm elections quickly turned into a scandal. It became evident over time that the decisions involved the White House — and Rove — more than initially claimed. Emails revealed in 2009 showed that Rove and aides were particularly upset about New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias’s lack of voter fraud prosecutions.

Before then, Rove repeatedly cited voter fraud as a significant issue in U.S. elections.

On the eve of Bush’s 2004 reelection, Rove appeared on Fox News and said: “We know particularly in Ohio, but in a lot of the other key battleground states, there has been a lot of voter registration fraud. We don’t want that to turn into voter fraud on Election Day.”

He added: “There are multiple registrations on the rolls. There are felons who are ineligible to vote who are registered on the rolls.”

At another point, he cited Pennsylvania and the ACORN controversy: “There were a bunch of workers for a very highly partisan group carrying a bunch of prisoner ballots out of the prison illegally and attempting to vote them.”

Going back further, Rove also had experience in engineering the overturning of an election result while pushing allegations of malfeasance. Early in his political career — in 1994 — he worked for a candidate for chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Perry Hooper. As Joshua Green expertly documented a decade later, Hooper trailed by about 300 votes in unofficial tallies. His opponent declared victory, but Rove went to work:

Rove had other plans, and immediately moved for a recount. “Karl called the next morning,” says a former Rove staffer. “He said, ‘We came real close. You guys did a great job. But now we really need to rally around Perry Hooper. We’ve got a real good shot at this, but we need to win over the people of Alabama.’ ” Rove explained how this was to be done. “Our role was to try to keep people motivated about Perry Hooper’s election,” the staffer continued, “and then to undermine the other side’s support by casting them as liars, cheaters, stealers, immoral — all of that.” (Rove did not respond to requests for an interview for this article.)
The campaign quickly obtained a restraining order to preserve the ballots. Then the tactical battle began. Rather than focus on a handful of Republican counties that might yield extra votes, Rove dispatched campaign staffers and hired investigators to every county to observe the counting and turn up evidence of fraud. In one county a probate judge was discovered to have erroneously excluded 100 votes for Hooper. Voting machines in two others had failed to count all the returns. Mindful of public opinion, according to staffers, the campaign spread tales of poll watchers threatened with arrest; probate judges locking themselves in their offices and refusing to admit campaign workers; votes being cast in absentia for comatose nursing-home patients; and Democrats caught in a cemetery writing down the names of the dead in order to put them on absentee ballots.
As the recount progressed, the margin continued to narrow. Three days after the election Hooper held a press conference to drive home the idea that the election was being stolen. He declared, “We have endured lies in this campaign, but I’ll be damned if I will accept outright thievery.” The recount stretched on, and Hooper’s campaign continued to chip away at Hornsby’s lead. By November 21 one tally had it at nine votes.

Ultimately, after battles over absentee ballots concluded nearly a year after Election Day, Hooper won the race by 262 votes.

In other words, Rove is the very rare Republican whose claims of voting problems changed the result of a race, yet not even he sees any merit in Trump’s trying to overturn losses of tens of thousands of votes in the decisive states.

But Rove is not alone in shunning Trump’s effort despite a past focused on rooting out alleged fraud. Iglesias has described himself previously as a voter fraud “true believer,” but last week he called Trump’s claims “fantasy.”

“As somebody who has been a registered Republican for virtually his entire adult life, I can tell you it smells of desperation,” Iglesias told HuffPost’s Ryan J. Reilly. “It appears to me he’s grasping at straws, and straws will not resuscitate this.”

Similarly, a Republican county commissioner in Philadelphia who has spent his career rooting out voting irregularities has dismissed the claims of Trump and his allies, calling them “deranged."

“It’s people making accusations that we wouldn’t count those votes or people are adding fraudulent votes or just, coming up with, just, all sorts of crazy stuff,” Al Schmidt told CBS News’s “60 Minutes” in an interview that aired over the weekend.

For his trouble, Schmidt earned a rebuke from Trump, who tweeted Wednesday that Schmidt was a RINO — i.e., “Republican In Name Only” — who “refuses to look at a mountain of corruption & dishonesty.”

Except the White House hasn’t always been so skeptical of Schmidt. Just last week, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany cited a Philadelphia judge’s voter fraud conviction, along with the indictment of a former congressman who allegedly took part in the scheme — citing these cases as evidence that voter fraud is real. The man who played a key role in uncovering the fraud: Schmidt.

The fact that even folks like him and Rove would cast Trump’s effort as fanciful and without real and sufficient evidence would sure seem to say something about its merit.