Republicans back Trump challenge to Biden election victory

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Donald Trump’s resolve not to accept the result of the presidential election appeared unshaken on Sunday, as he continued to promote conspiracy theories about the vote, with little outward sign that anyone in his inner circle was prepared to talk him into conceding.

CNN cited White House sources saying that the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, had broached the subject of concession, and that his wife, Melania, was also advising that “the time had come for him to accept the loss”. But other outlets contradicted CNN’s reports, and the first lady tweeted in support of her husband, implying “illegal votes” had been counted.

Trump continued to tweet false claims that the election had been stolen, and the only public statements from those close to him were adamantly in favour of staying.

Top Republicans either amplified Trump’s baseless claims of widespread vote rigging or remained silent, with only a tiny number of moderates following tradition and congratulating Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, along with the former president George W Bush.

“Keep fighting for every legal and live vote,” South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham, a close ally of the president, advised him on Fox Business, pointing to a variety of legal challenges Trump’s lawyers were planning to launch on Monday.

“If we don’t fight back in 2020, we’re never going to win again presidentially. There is a lot at stake here.”

Legal challenges are routine in the aftermath of an election, as are recounts where margins are small. There will be a recount in Georgia. But there is no modern precedent for such processes leading to major changes in the results. International and US observers, and Republican state officials, have said there is no evidence of widespread irregularities despite the challenges of holding an election at the height of a pandemic.

Even after congratulations to Biden flooded in from almost every foreign government, Republican loyalists lined up on Fox News – which has called the election for Biden – to portray the result as a media construct.

“The media is desperately trying to get everyone to coronate Joe Biden as the next president, but that’s not how it works,” Texas senator Ted Cruz said. “The media does not get to select our president. The American people get to elect our president.

“I believe President Trump still has a path to victory and that path is to count every single legal vote that was cast, but also not to count any votes that were fraudulently cast.”

Former president Bush broke his silence on the conduct of the election on Sunday, congratulating Biden and Harris. In 2000, he emerged victorious from a contentious vote count in Florida that was ultimately decided by the US supreme court. It is an election that Trump loyalists have pointed to as a precedent for their current challenge, but the margin in 2000 was ultimately 537 votes in one state. Biden leads Trump by tens of thousands of votes in Pennsylvania, Nevada and Arizona, and about 10,000 in Georgia, with a 4.5m lead in the nationwide popular vote.

“I extended my warm congratulations and thanked him for the patriotic message he delivered last night. I also called Kamala Harris to congratulate her on her historic election to the vice-presidency,” Bush said in a statement.

“Though we have political differences, I know Joe Biden to be a good man, who has won his opportunity to lead and unify our country. The president-elect reiterated that while he ran as a Democrat, he will govern for all Americans.”

Only two incumbent Republican senators have so far sent their congratulations to the president elect: former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. She said honouring Americans’ choice “in who leads us has always defined us and is the source of our exceptionalism. We must uphold that legacy.”

Speaking to NBC’s Meet the Press, Romney referred to Biden as “president-elect”, something other Republicans have avoided. But he said he was not even going to try to talk Trump down from his insistence that he won the election.

“You’re not going to change the nature of President Trump in these last days, apparently, of his presidency. He is who he is and he has a relatively relaxed relationship with the truth, and so he’s going to keep on fighting until the very end.”

However, Romney acknowledged the harm the president’s obduracy was doing.

“Look, I know the eyes of the world are on us. The eyes of our own people are on the institutions that we have. The eyes of history are on us,” the Utah senator said.

Most Republican members of Congress remained silent on the question of the president’s concession, well aware that even after Trump leaves the White House, he and his supporters could unleash their wrath anyone seen as disloyal.

Lindsey Graham speaks at his election night party in Columbia, South Carolina on Tuesday.
Lindsey Graham speaks at his election night party in Columbia, South Carolina on Tuesday. Photograph: Sam Wolfe/Reuters

“I’m sure the great majority of them would like the president to acknowledge reality and accept the results, but it’s also part of a pattern that they’re afraid to say anything publicly,” Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, told the Guardian.

“And it’s a pretty sad statement that even when the president is clearly going to lose, they still can’t find the courage to speak out. And then you’ve got people like Lindsey Graham, who are just piling on the president’s fraud.”

On Saturday, Fox News followed the other television networks in calling the election for Biden after the vote count in Pennsylvania piled up in an insurmountable lead.

However, the network’s Sunday morning hosts ignored the call, lambasting “the media” in general.

The guests on Sunday Morning Futures, on Fox Business, were the president’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, senators Graham and Cruz, and House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, all of whom suggested a conspiracy to steal the election, without challenge from the interviewer.

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