Republicans can't quit Trump, despite his election rhetoric
Republican leaders are quick to assert that Joe Biden is the duly elected president, and that their main goal now is to propose bold political ideas that will help them win back control of the Senate and House of Representatives next year.
WASHINGTON, United States - With fidelity to former President Donald Trump all but solidified, America's Republican Party is tilting towards an outright embrace of an unsettling falsehood: that Democrats stole the 2020 election.
Republican leaders are quick to assert that Joe Biden is the duly elected president and that their main goal now is to propose bold political ideas that will help them win back control of the Senate and House of Representatives next year.
But in the halls of Congress, talk keeps circling back to Trump, and whether allegiance to the former president above all else is the smart play for Republicans despite his persistent deceit about last November's vote.
Asked on Tuesday by AFP if Trump's relentless claims of voter fraud will hurt Republicans in next year's midterm elections, GOP Senator John Cornyn dismissed the suggestion.
"I think that's behind us," Cornyn stressed as he stepped into a Senate elevator, turning to say it is the media, and not Trump, that "keeps talking about" the election.
But six months on, the man whom millions of Republicans still look to as their leader repeats his baseless claim that Biden prevailed because of fraud.
"Look at the facts and the data," Trump urged Americans in a startling statement on Sunday. "There is no way he won the 2020 Presidential Election!"
The pronouncements by the brash billionaire -- who has lost his powerful social media megaphone on Twitter and Facebook but still lobs fiery statements from his Mar-a-Lago club -- appear to be having an effect.
A CBS News poll released last weekend found that 67% of Republican voters believe Biden is not the legitimately elected president.
Republicans last week elevated staunch Trump defender Elise Stefanik, who opposed certifying the election results from some swing states won by Biden, into House leadership.
They booted conservative stalwart Liz Cheney from the post for refusing to bolster what she calls Trump's "big lie" of election fraud.
Cheney, who blames Trump for inciting the deadly insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6, warned that the party was headed down a "dangerous" road promoting Trump's claims because it would undermine public confidence in America's democratic system.
But while top House Republican Kevin McCarthy last week may have disingenuously stated that no Republicans were "questioning the legitimacy of the election," some lawmakers were proving him wrong.
"There was definitely fraud in the election, and that's what we need to find out in places like Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and others so that it can be fixed," House Republican Louie Gohmert told AFP.
"Because if it's not fixed, elections are going to be meaningless."
In Arizona's Maricopa County, the Republican Party is backing an unofficial, partisan audit of the election results, months after authorities there conducted formal recounts and courts threw out election fraud cases.
Such refusal to accept defeat has worried Republicans like Bill Gates, a member of Maricopa County's board of supervisors who warned the party could be "overtaken" by conspiracy theorists.
"Now, only one thing matters to many Republicans: Adherence to any and all theories that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump," Gates wrote Friday on the news website AZCentral.
For some, the constant Trump refrain is an unwanted distraction, even if they know the key to high Republican voter turnout is to motivate Trump's fiercely loyal base.
Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell famously broke with Trump over the election claims, but in recent weeks McConnell has largely declined to further antagonize the party's de facto leader.
Some rank-and-file Republicans appear eager to avoid discussing Trump too, including House lawmaker Byron Donalds who said he has not seen Trump's latest election rant.
"We're focused on retaking the house in '22," Donalds said.
But Trump has plenty of backers in Congress who support deep dives into last year's election.
"I don't see any problem in investigating and getting all the information that we can for the American people," said conservative congressman Jim Jordan.
As for Trump campaigning for Republicans in next year's fight for control of Congress, Jordan described it as a sure bet.
"Of course, yeah," Jordan said with a knowing chuckle. "He's definitely going to be involved."