Reuters today have published the results of a survey they’ve taken of Republican House Representatives to try and determine whether they believe the narrative that Joe Biden somehow stole the election. As a reminder, on 6 January, only hours after the deadly insurrection at the US Capitol, 147 Republican lawmakers voted the way then-president Donald Trump and the rioters had demanded – to overturn his election loss.
A month later, Reuters report, the Republican party remains paralyzed by that false narrative. Fully 133 of those lawmakers, or 90%, are now declining to either endorse or repudiate Trump’s continuing insistence that he was cheated by systemic voter fraud.
Just two of those lawmakers told Reuters they believed the election was stolen through fraud; two others who did not respond to repeated inquiries made similar public statements previously. Ten of the 147 lawmakers told Reuters they do not believe the stolen-election narrative; they cited unrelated reasons for their failed attempt to invalidate millions of votes.
The refusal by the vast majority of the 147 lawmakers to take a firm stand on the truth of Trump’s central claim underscores the political peril they face as they struggle to appease voters on both sides of a rift in the Republican Party.
Many Republican lawmakers believe they can’t survive challenges in party primary elections without the votes of Trump supporters who are enraged at any suggestion that he lost a fair election to Democrat Joe Biden, Republican strategists said. The lawmakers also fear losing general elections against Democrats without the votes of more moderate Republicans and independents who are repelled by Trump’s false fraud claims and incitement of the Capitol insurrection.
The Reuters survey illuminates a semantic sleight-of-hand many Republican lawmakers have adopted to avoid taking a firm position on stolen-election claims that were discredited by judges in more than 60 lawsuits that failed to overturn the election result. Many lawmakers tried instead to thread a rhetorical needle – saying, for instance, that they would “stand with” Trump to protect “election integrity” or “the Constitution” – while avoiding any mention of Trump*s debunked fraud claims, the Reuters review of their public statements reveals.
Most lawmakers cited legal arguments that some states’ expansions of mail-in or early voting during the coronavirus pandemic violated the US Constitution – a contention rejected by multiple courts in Trump*s failed challenges to the election result.
The lawmakers who declined to provide a yes-or-no answer to the Reuters survey included some of the most strident backers of Trump’s bid to overturn the election, such as Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama. Brooks spoke at Trump*s rally before the Capitol riots and encouraged “patriots” in attendance to start “taking down names and kicking ass.”
In a 4 January public statement explaining his vote to overturn the election results, Brooks railed against “the largest voter fraud and election theft scheme in American history.” But when asked directly by Reuters if Trump lost because of fraud, Brooks avoided a clear answer. He instead relied on technical arguments involving some states’ voting process changes, saying in a statement that Trump lost because some votes, in his view, were not “Constitution-compliant” and “lawful.”
While the vast majority of the 147 lawmakers never endorsed Trump’s outlandish fraud allegations, their support of his bid to overturn the election played a crucial role in perpetuating the stolen-election myth that has become a central flashpoint in American politics. The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll on the subject, taken 20-21 January, shows that 61% of Republicans still believed Trump lost because of election-rigging and illegal voting.
The lawmakers’ attempt to appease newly polarized camps of voters within the Republican Party “won’t fly” with voters on either side of that divide, said Gabriel Sterling, a top Georgia election official – and a Republican – who has been debunking what he called “nonsensical” election fraud claims since the 3 November.
“They were trying to have their cake and eat it, too,” he said of the lawmakers.
That won’t work, Sterling said, because future voters will form their opinions on the lawmakers’ actions – their vote to overturn the election – rather than their words explaining their reasons. Both pro- and anti-Trump voters, he said, are going to see “147 people who agree with Trump that the election was stolen.”