The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

GOP officials overwhelmingly side against Trump’s voter fraud claims — when forced to decide

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), left, gives a fist bump to elections official Gabriel Sterling (R) after speaking a news conference denouncing attacks on Georgia's election integrity. (Erik S. Lesser/EPA-EFE-Shutterstock)

It’s “safe harbor” day, which means every state is supposed to have resolved any outstanding election challenges and certified its results. The deadline is another setback in President Trump’s and his allies’ resoundingly failing efforts to overturn the election result.

Not that all Republicans are deterred. Lawsuits persist. Trump promises to keep fighting. And there is a nascent movement by some congressional Republicans to try to prevent President-elect Joe Biden’s win from being made official by the electoral college come Jan. 6.

It’s a fanciful effort, for which GOP support remains unclear. But a big reason that level of support is unclear is that the vast majority of Republicans refuse to comment on the situation. The Washington Post surveyed every Republican in Congress, but just 27 — about 1 in 10 — would say Biden is president-elect.

It seems the courage to take a position, as is often the case in politics, is in short supply.

But not everyone has had the luxury of keeping their powder dry. And in this moment, it’s worth emphasizing that the vast majority of Republicans who have actually had to decide have gone against Trump.

It’s not just the conservative governors who have earned his ire — Arizona’s Doug Ducey (R) and Georgia’s Brian Kemp (R) — but plenty of others, down to the lower-ranking officials tasked with certifying results. Over and over again, when they’ve actually had to decide, they’ve spurned Trump’s wishes. While much has yet to play out, the current verdict on the results from his own party is overwhelmingly against Trump.

In Arizona, Ducey has certified his state’s election results and defended his state’s election. Before he did that, though, four Republicans on the 4-to-1 GOP-controlled Maricopa County board of supervisors certified the results in the county that includes Phoenix, which includes about 6 out of every 10 Arizona voters. GOP Chairman Clint Hickman said efforts to claim fraud had “fallen flat.”

Nor is Ducey the only high-ranking Republican in the state to play up the success of his state’s election. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) has denounced questions about his state’s election by calling them “partisan” and said early on, “There is no evidence, there are no facts that would lead anyone to believe that the election results will change.”

Republicans also voted to certify the results in Michigan, over the Trump team’s objections. Two of them did so in Wayne County, where Detroit is located — albeit after initially voting against certification. The evenly split 2-2 board ultimately unanimously certified the results. (The Republicans later attempted to reverse course, but the damage to Trump’s cause was done.)

At the statewide level, another Republican, Aaron Van Langevelde, voted to certify as his GOP colleague abstained, resulting in a 3-to-0 vote.

Similarly, the GOP leaders of both Michigan state legislative chambers have downplayed the evidence of fraud — even while choosing their words carefully. After meeting with Trump last month, state House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R) and state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R) issued a joint statement saying, “We have not yet been made aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election in Michigan.” While they have very carefully left open the possibility of entertaining the allegations, they have also said they wouldn’t step outside the normal process, which seems to be complete now.

In Pennsylvania, the state GOP seems less decided about what to do moving forward — and their leaders are receiving pressure from Trump himself to overturn the results.

But the two elected Republican state Supreme Court justices there effectively said that overturning the results of the state’s 2020 election was a bad idea. Even in dissenting from the state’s five Democratic justices in a recent case, they said they would like to consider the case but only for future elections. And despite Trump’s repeated calls, as first reported by The Washington Post’s Amy Gardner, Josh Dawsey and Rachael Bade, the office of state House Speaker Bryan Cutler (R) has said he told Trump they will abide by legal rulings, which have gone almost uniformly against Trump, and that the state legislature had no power to overturn the state’s chosen electors.

The gap between Trump and top state officials, though, is arguably the biggest in Georgia. Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan (R) and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) have all sided against Trump’s claims of fraud. That’s particularly striking in the cases of Kemp and Raffensperger, both of whom had campaigned hard against voter fraud when seeking office and serving as secretaries of state. Both have certified the state’s results.

Duncan has also emerged as a strong opponent of the voter fraud claims, calling Trump’s attacks on his colleagues “disgusting” and warning that the continued voter-fraud push was harming GOP candidates in the state’s upcoming Senate runoff elections. He’s been joined on the latter count by the Republican state elections official, Gabriel Sterling, who last week warned that the lack of a condemnation of violent rhetoric from Trump and his allies was “inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence.”

Duncan and Sterling have no formal role in making their state’s election results official. But all of the above-mentioned Republicans do. And overwhelmingly in recent weeks, the Republicans who have been forced into a time for choosing have chosen against Trump.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be a significant defection in Trump’s favor among Republicans in the weeks to come. Many of the above-mentioned officials, it’s worth emphasizing, are faced with defending their own elections systems, which isn’t as much of a consideration for congressional Republicans.

But just as notable as the lack of Republicans willing to say Biden is the president-elect is the lack of buy-in on Trump’s claims from other Republicans. They might soon have a choice to make if their colleagues press the issue, meaning they can’t keep their powder so dry forever. But pretty much everyone who has come before them from their own party and who has actually been forced to take a stand hasn’t sided with Trump.

And that’s significant — both when it comes to what they did (however forcefully they did it) and when it comes to Republicans from other states who would have to second-guess them to fall in line with Trump.