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Two senators help capture the GOP's post-election troubles

Following Trump's election attacks, disparate groups of congressional Republicans have emerged. Rand Paul and Roy Blunt represent distinct contingents.
Image: Sen. Rand Paul. R-Ky., during a hearing at the Capitol
Sen. Rand Paul. R-Ky., during a hearing at the Capitol on Sept. 23, 2020.Alex Edelman / Pool via Reuters

After weeks of Donald Trump's attacks on his own country's electoral system, three groups of congressional Republicans have emerged. The first contingent is made up of GOP lawmakers who've acknowledged the outgoing president's defeat, discarded the crackpot conspiracy theories, and recognized President-elect Joe Biden's victory.

This is, incidentally, the smallest of the party's three factions.

The second group is comprised of congressional Republicans who genuinely seem to believe the crackpot conspiracy theories have merit. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), for example, yesterday took a break from saying unfortunate things about the coronavirus pandemic to instead say unfortunate things about the election. Newsweek noted:

Rand Paul has been criticized for suggesting that "fraud" may be the reason Donald Trump lost to Joe Biden in key election states because of "data dumps" which occurred during a five-hour period. The Kentucky Senator tweeted about disputed claims of voter fraud which were made in a lengthy blog post entitled "Anomalies in Vote Counts and Their Effects on Election 2020."

In the Kentucky senator's tweet, Paul referenced Trump's "defeat" in scare quotes -- as if the outgoing president didn't actually lose -- before referencing the possibility of "fraud" that Team Trump has failed spectacularly to prove. "Look at the evidence and decide for yourself," Paul concluded.

The Lincoln Project responded soon after, "Is Rand Paul a moron? Look at the evidence and decide for yourself."

And while that's obviously impolite, the larger point is that Trump isn't alone in peddling baseless nonsense about non-existent "fraud." The outgoing president may have the loudest megaphone, but he also has partisan allies playing an active role in spreading conspiracy theories that the Republican base is eager to embrace.

But then there's the third group of congressional Republicans, who know Trump lost, who know better than to believe conspiratorial nonsense, and who may not be altogether comfortable with the outgoing president's autocratic tactics designed to nullify election results he doesn't like, but who can't quite muster the courage to fully acknowledge reality. The Washington Post took a look at Sen. Roy Blunt's (R-Mo.) appearance yesterday on CNN.

Asked whether Joe Biden is the president-elect, Blunt dodged the question time and again. He first tried to hide behind the fact that "there is no official job of president-elect." (That's technically true, but it didn't stop Blunt from applauding "President-elect Trump" four years ago.) Then Blunt blamed the media for setting up a "straw man." He finally admitted that Trump's lawyers haven't presented any proof of voter fraud "in a way that was acceptable to any court." But then he offered his own opinion: "I think there was some element of voter fraud."

As we discussed a couple of weeks ago, if any Senate Republicans can be expected to take a responsible line on the 2020 elections, it's Roy Blunt. He chairs the Senate committee with jurisdiction over federal election laws; he's a former Missouri secretary of state with experience administering elections; and his panel is responsible for overseeing the 2021 presidential inauguration.

When Blunt talked to ABC News' George Stephanopoulos the weekend after Election Day, the host asked the Missouri Republican why he couldn't bring himself to acknowledge Biden's success. If we're grading on a curve, Blunt's answer was almost reasonable: he said it was time for Trump's lawyers to present evidence, and he conceded that any possible changes to vote totals in the coming days were "unlikely" to "make a difference."

But as Trump's offensive against his own country's democracy intensified, Blunt regressed, to the point that he recently questioned the legitimacy of the outgoing president's defeat.

Neil King, a longtime journalist, wrote in response to the senator's interview yesterday, "This just shows what Trumpism has done to the once rational, once balanced Republican brain. Because Roy Blunt is no fool. We should be alarmed by this lack of decency and standards."