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Some GOP Testing Loyalty to Trump      01/16 09:54

   Mike Rounds, the generally unassuming senator from South Dakota, was perhaps 
the boldest in acknowledging the reality that the election was in fact fair. 
Instead of being shunned, he was supported by his GOP colleagues, including 
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. Rounds later said the party needed to 
get " louder " in telling voters the truth about the 2020 campaign.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Former President Donald Trump stepped up his 
election-year effort to dominate the Republican Party, holding a rally in 
Arizona on Saturday in which he castigated anyone who dares to question his lie 
that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, including the state's GOP 
governor, Doug Ducey.

   But 2,000 miles to the east in Washington, there are small signs that some 
Republicans are tiring of the charade. Mike Rounds, the generally unassuming 
senator from South Dakota, was perhaps the boldest in acknowledging the reality 
that the election was in fact fair. Instead of being shunned, he was supported 
by his GOP colleagues, including Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. 
Rounds later said the party needed to get " louder " in telling voters the 
truth about the 2020 campaign.

   Meanwhile, top Republicans in Washington have engaged in a behind-the-scenes 
effort to encourage Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, one of Trump's most vocal 
antagonists in the party, to run for a Senate seat. And on Saturday, Glenn 
Youngkin became the first Republican since 2010 to be sworn in as Virginia's 
governor after running a campaign that kept Trump at arm's length.

   Less than two months before the 2022 primary season begins, Trump remains 
the most popular figure among the voters who will decide which Republicans 
advance to the fall general election. But the recent dynamics bring new clarity 
to the debate that will likely animate the GOP all year: how closely candidates 
should align themselves with Trump and his election lie.

   "I was very encouraged by the response from a number of different senators 
supportive of Sen. Rounds," said former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has 
been a rare Republican urging the party to move on from Trump and his election 
obsession.

   There is no evidence to support Trump's claims that the election was stolen. 
Elections officials and his own attorney general rejected the notion. Trump's 
arguments have also been roundly dismissed by the courts, including judges 
appointed by the former president.

   Still, dissent from Trump's election lie within the GOP remains rare. From 
Ohio to Georgia and Arizona, candidates running for Senate, governor and 
attorney general have fully embraced Trump's falsehoods as they have tried to 
win over his endorsement, deflect his fury or win over his base. Those efforts 
were on full display in Arizona Saturday night as Trump-endorsed candidates 
falsely declared the election had been stolen and Trump the duly elected 
president.

   In the short term, such positioning may help Republican candidates come out 
on top in primary fields that are often crowded. But there are concerns that it 
could hurt the party in the fall, especially among suburban voters who have 
become increasingly decisive in recent campaigns. The further to the right that 
Republicans go now, the easier it could become for their Democratic rivals to 
portray them as extreme in a general election.

   And any time candidates spend looking backward is time not spent attacking 
President Joe Biden, who is seen as particularly vulnerable due to rising 
inflation and coronavirus cases.

   "It's one of those issues that's quintessentially popular in a primary and 
unpopular in a general," said Chris DeRose, a Republican attorney and former 
clerk of the superior court in Arizona's Maricopa County.

   He said candidates, who often privately acknowledge the election was fair, 
were clearly courting the former president by expressing skepticism about the 
2020 election.

   "Donald Trump's obviously the most sought-after endorsement among Republican 
candidates," he said. "That can make all the difference in a Republican 
primary."

   John Shimkus, a Republican and former Illinois congressman, said it was easy 
for "armchair quarterbacks" who aren't on the ballot to judge candidates doing 
what they can to win their primaries.

   "All the races are going to be fought by Trump and highlighted on Fox. So 
these candidates have to be very, very careful. They have to win the primary to 
win the general," he said.

   The risk, however, is clear in Arizona's Senate race. In a year favoring 
Republicans, the state should be a relatively attainable pickup and some in the 
party are eager for Ducey to enter the race against Democratic incumbent Mark 
Kelly. But Trump's repeated attacks on Ducey, who has refused to back election 
conspiracies, could make it hard for him to succeed in a GOP primary.

   Before his trip, Trump, who continues to tease another run for president in 
2024, issued a statement that he would never endorse Ducey. And he continued to 
rail against him at the rally, which was dominated by his grievances over the 
election that was held more than 14 months ago.

   "He's a disaster," said Trump. "Ducey has been a terrible, terrible 
representative of your state."

   Whichever Republicans emerge on top in Arizona and other critical races will 
have to convince voters that they should participate in an election system 
Trump has spent years deriding as rigged.

   Many Republicans still blame Trump for the party's loss of Georgia's two 
Senate runoff elections in 2021, arguing he depressed turnout by undermining 
confidence in the voting system, denying them control of the Senate. (Trump has 
argued that further investigation is the only way to instill confidence in 
future elections.)

   "Trump still has this outsized voice and influence and too many candidates 
fear his wrath," said Charlie Dent, a former Republican congressman from 
Pennsylvania and Trump critic. "We know Donald Trump will use his megaphone to 
condemn those who don't buy his lies and his false narrative on the 2020 
election. So these candidates are put in a bind: If they tell the truth, they 
run the risk of losing their primaries and incurring the wrath of Trump, and if 
they acquiesce and go along with this nonsense, they run the risk of alienating 
a lot of voters."

   Still, DeRose said he has no concern that the issue will depress turnout, 
despite what happened in Georgia.

   "The Republican base is quite enthusiastic," he said, predicting turnout on 
par with 2010, when Republicans made historic gains in the House. With soaring 
inflation, ongoing criticism over Biden's pullout from Afghanistan, he said, 
"Things aren't going well in this country and I think you're going to see this 
enormous blowback."

   Others disagreed. Barbara Comstock, a Trump critic and former GOP 
congresswoman from Virginia, warned Republicans risked nominating fringe 
candidates who would go on to lose in the general.

   "Republicans feel like they're going to win no matter who's on the ticket. 
And I don't agree with that thesis," she said, pointing to Ohio, where Senate 
candidates have been trying to desperately out-Trump one another. "I think you 
really are taking a chance in blowing reliable races."

   Nonetheless, Trump remained fixated on the issue on Saturday in Florence, 
Arizona, a Republican stronghold about 70 miles southeast of Phoenix. It's the 
first of what aides say will be a brisker pace of Trump events in the coming 
months. Trump on Friday announced another rally later in January in Texas, 
where the March 1 primary formally ushers in the midterm campaign.

 
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