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It was dangerous. It was disturbing. It inflamed without informing the public. Those aren’t our words, though we agree with them. Those words are from Republican officials, and not just from so-called “Never Trumpers.” One of them is even a longtime Trump advisor.
“If this stuff is going on that the president is talking about, all of us want it ferreted out, because it would undercut everything we believe in in our system. But as a prosecutor, that’s like asking me to indict someone without showing me any evidence,” former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, a Trump ally and advisor, said Thursday on ABC News. “If you’re gonna say those things from behind the podium at the White House, it’s his right to do it, it’s his right to pursue legal action. But show us the evidence. We heard nothing today about any evidence.”
Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania stressed to CBS News on Friday morning that, while there have been instances of corruption in Pennsylvania politics in the past, and while he does see some irregularities and bad decisions from Pennsylvania courts and Philadelphia election officials, that does not amount to evidence of the widespread fraud or corruption that Trump is alleging. Toomey also stressed the need to let the election process play out.
“The president’s speech last night was very disturbing to me because he made very, very serious allegations without any evidence to support it,” said Toomey, who emphasized that he endorsed and voted for Trump.
Trump, like any other candidate for president, has rights and legal avenues to contest election results. It looks very likely that we’ll see recounts in several states, in accordance with the laws in those states, and that we’ll continue to see lawsuits filed by the Trump campaign. Judges have already dismissed lawsuits from the Trump campaign in multiple states. A judge also sided with the Trump campaign and ordered Philadelphia to allow election observers closer to ballot counting.
In the court of public opinion, the case Trump is trying to make crumbles quickly due to a lack of supporting evidence. One of the stronger, quicker rebukes of Trump’s comments Thursday night came from former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a CNN contributor who has supported Trump in the past. Santorum pushed back against much of Trump’s address, particularly the assertion about fraud.
“We don’t know that right now, and for the president to go out there and claim that without any evidence of that is dangerous,” Santorum said. He also pointed out the hypocrisy of Trump calling for voting to stop in states like Pennsylvania that were trending Thursday toward Biden while not applying that to Arizona, which looked like it could possibly break back Trump’s way.
“I sat there, I listened to him talking about the votes being taken away from him, and then he shifted to Arizona and said hey, ‘I win this thing if they count the votes.’ Well, how can you say we have to wait and count the votes in Arizona and I can win this thing, but if you count the votes in Philadelphia you’re stealing them?” Santorum said. “The reality is, in Pennsylvania Democrats voted by mail and Republicans voted — in person and it’s because [Trump] asked them to do so.”
“Counting absentee ballots and counting mail-in ballots is not fraud,” Santorum added.
In a statement issued Friday morning, Maine’s newly reelected Repubican Sen. Susan Collins took a more neutral position in the conversation about vote counting, rightly encouraging respect for election outcomes but failing to highlight the danger of Trump’s remarks (or directly address them at all).
“States have the authority to determine the specific rules of elections,” Collins said. “Every valid vote under a state’s law should be counted. Allegations of irregularities can be adjudicated by the courts. We must all respect the outcome of elections.”
Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland who has not shied away from criticizing the president and whose endorsement of Collins was touted by her campaign, went much further Thursday night.
“There is no defense for the President’s comments tonight undermining our Democratic process. America is counting the votes, and we must respect the results as we always have before,” Hogan said in a tweet. “No election or person is more important than our Democracy.”
“This kind of thing, all it does is inflame without informing,” Christie added in his criticism of Trump’s comments. “And we cannot permit inflammation without information.”
“Inflammation without information” might as well have been a Trump campaign slogan. This attempt to flood the zone with legal challenges and unsubstantiated claims of fraud comes as no surprise given Trump’s past actions and arguments, but that doesn’t make it any less disturbing or dangerous. It deserves resounding criticism from other elected officials and overwhelming skepticism, if not outright rejection, from the American people.