Republicans divided on pledging to accept 2024 election results

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Refusing to commit to accepting the results of the 2024 election has become a litmus test for Republicans jockeying to become former President Trump’s running mate, but that’s making their Senate GOP colleagues uncomfortable about the prospect of another Jan. 6-style standoff if Trump loses.

A group of Senate Republicans are rejecting the idea that a victory for President Biden in November would likely be the result of fraud, sending a clear message to Trump and his allies that any attempt to challenge the results without clear evidence of misconduct won’t find much support in Washington.

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While Trump has refused to accept the election results in advance, many GOP lawmakers aren’t willing to go down that same road — except for a handful who are trying to rise to the top of his VP shortlist.

And these ambitious Republicans jockeying to ingratiate themselves with Trump are putting themselves on an island within the GOP.

“What happened in 2020 was something that most people never thought was possible — not only challenge the outcome of the election, question the legitimacy of the president and then work to stop the certification,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said about lingering anxiety from the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

She said Republicans are being asked whether they will accept the results of November’s election because of how Jan. 6 still weighs on the nation.

“It’s not a question that’s out of the blue. It’s something that’s important for people to know,” she said.

Murkowski and other Republicans say Trump or Biden have the right to challenge the election results in court, but that once a court rules and without clear and compelling evidence of widespread fraud, the losing candidate must accept the outcome.

“I want us to be in a place where we accept the outcome of fair and legitimate elections,” she said. “What I don’t like is the suggestion months and months and months prior to an election that there might be something nefarious at play.”

Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.), who helped lead the opposition to Trump’s effort to block the certification of Biden’s victory on the Senate floor, said this week he would accept the results if they are validated by the courts — taking the same position he and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) took after the 2020 election.

“I’m all for, in any election, if there are concerns about the election, whether or not there were fraudulent aspects to it, to allow all the mechanisms under the law — whether it’s recounts or audits or lawsuits, etc. — but when those are all done and settled, it’s over,” Thune said.

Thune famously predicted that an attempt to block the certification of the 2020 election on the Senate floor would go down “like a shot dog.”

That was after Trump’s own attorney general, William Barr, announced in December 2020 that the Justice Department had found no evidence of widespread fraud in the election, and multiple challenges by Trump’s allies to overturn state results failed in court.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said he’s going to look carefully at the election results and claims of fraud, but he expects to certify the election results like he did in 2021.

“I’m going to follow the same process I have in the elections of the past. I’m going to look at the process … And I would expect more likely than not I’m going to vote to certify the election results like I did in 2020,” Tillis said.

Tillis said he called legislative leaders in 2020 to follow up on fraud claims and felt reassured there was not widespread fraud, despite Trump’s claims at the time.

Asked whether he would accept the results of the 2024 election, Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) answered simply, “I don’t know why you wouldn’t.”

“The results are the results,” he said.

But Trump is now again regularly raising doubts about the fairness of the 2024 election — about once a day, according to an analysis by The New York Times published Friday.

And the tactic is being copied by Republican senators vying to be his running mate or trying to appeal to the GOP base for their own reelection races.

Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who are said to be on Trump’s vice presidential shortlist, have declined in nationally televised interviews to commit to accepting the election results.

Scott, who is viewed as a front-runner for the VP slot in the Senate GOP conference, repeatedly declined to make any commitment when “Meet the Press” moderator Kristen Welker asked him six times whether he would accept the results of the November election.

Rubio deflected a question on NBC’s “Meet the Press” this month about accepting the results of the election by insisting, “You’re asking the wrong person.”

“You have Democrats now saying they won’t certify 2024 because Trump is an insurrectionist and ineligible to hold office. So you need to ask them,” he said.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is up for reelection and led a push to delay the certification of the 2020 election results, bristled when asked in a CNN interview last week whether he would accept the election results, calling it a “ridiculous question.”

“If the Democrats win, I will accept the result, but I’m not going to ignore fraud,” he said.

Cruz still claims there was “significant voter fraud in 2020.”

Sen. JD Vance (R-Ohio), a possible VP pick in the GOP conference, said he would have declined to certify Biden’s victory in January 2021 if he was serving in the Senate at the time. He didn’t come to the upper chamber until January 2023.

Vance hedged slightly when asked recently whether he would commit to accepting the upcoming election results, qualifying his pledge to accept the results if the election is “free and fair.”

“If it’s a free and fair election, Dana, I think every Republican will enthusiastically accept the results,” he told CNN’s Dana Bash. “And again, I think those results will show that Donald Trump has been elected president.”

Vance, however, cautioned that if there are claims of fraud, “you have to be willing to pursue those problems and prosecute the case.”

“Certainly, if we have a free and fair election, I’ll accept the results,” he said.

Cramer said colleagues who are declining to commit to accepting the election results are sending a message to Trump, possibly in hopes of being tapped for the ticket.

“I imagine they’re messaging to the person who will make the decision about who the running mate is,” he said.

“The results are the results. Short of some catastrophic or obvious case of fraud or abuse, I’m not much for fighting the election results beyond the legal norms,” he explained.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who is challenging Thune to succeed McConnell as Senate GOP leader in 2025, said he would defer to the courts if the election results are challenged.

“There’s a process by which any irregularities can be challenged, and that is typically in court, and I’ll inspect the final judgment of the court if there’s any kind of contest,” he said.

Cornyn said “a lot of states have come a long way in tightening things up, but I think it’s still an issue,” referring to the concerns that many Republican politicians, pundits and voters had about state election law changes during the pandemic to make it easier to vote by absentee ballot.

Cornyn has worked to appeal to conservative colleagues such as Cruz and other conservative members of the Senate Steering Committee in his leadership campaign.

Several states, including Georgia, North Carolina and Texas, have since tightened their absentee voting rules. Georgia, for example, has passed a law to curtail the mass mailing of absentee ballots, and North Carolina has passed a new law requiring mail-in ballots to be received by Election Night.

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