Republicans plow forward with election challenges

Republicans are marching forward with plans to challenge the 2020 election, undeterred by the outcome of the controversial audit in Arizona that reaffirmed President BidenJoe BidenJill Biden campaigns for McAuliffe in Virginia Fill the Eastern District of Virginia  Biden: Those who defy Jan. 6 subpoenas should be prosecuted MORE’s victory in the state’s largest county.

The months-long audit in Maricopa County ended on Friday with a report showing Biden in fact slightly expanded his margin of victory over former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits Biden: Those who defy Jan. 6 subpoenas should be prosecuted Hillicon Valley — Presented by LookingGlass — Hackers are making big money MORE. 

But proponents of Trump’s false claims about a rigged election have so far ignored those findings. Republicans in states like Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin are pressing forward with extensive reviews of the 2020 election results at the behest of Trump.

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“I think the biggest takeaway is that that election should have never been certified as it was counted, and the movement is really not going to go away, it’s just going to build and become stronger,” one Trump aide said.

Instead of conceding that Biden won both Maricopa County and Arizona, Trump’s allies have seized on other factors — that some 23,000 mail-in ballots may have come from addresses other than a voters’ current address, for instance — to insist that the election results cannot be trusted.

Republicans in the Arizona state Senate are hoping to use the findings of the audit as a jumping-off point for new election-related legislation. Meanwhile, some Republicans are demanding that officials expand the scope of the election reviews. 

Mark Finchem, a Republican candidate for secretary of state, called on Friday for an audit of the 2020 vote in Pima County, where Tucson is located.

“Now that the audit of Maricopa is wrapping up, we need to Audit Pima County — the 2nd largest county in AZ,” Finchem tweeted. “There are 35k votes in question from multiple sources & I want answers.”

Keith Naughton, a veteran Republican strategist, said that part of the reason GOP officials and candidates are pushing forward with their calls to reexamine the election results is that they likely have more to lose by not supporting additional audits.

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“There’s still pressure from their primary voters who want to see this review,” Naughton said. “At the end of the day, everyone’s in their own silos. If you’re consuming that conservative media, you’re not getting the message that [the Arizona audit] was this unambiguous endorsement of Biden’s win. Plus, Trump’s never going to admit that he lost.”

Republicans in other states don’t appear to be taking any lessons away from the election audit in Maricopa County, which dragged on for months longer than expected and drew intense scrutiny throughout its lifetime.

Last week, hours after Trump publicly demanded that Texas Gov. Greg AbbottGreg AbbottOn The Money — Big businesses side with Biden in Texas vaccine standoff The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by The Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations - US opens to vaccinated visitors as FDA panel discusses boosters Chicago sues police union over refusal to comply with vaccine mandate MORE back legislation to launch a “forensic audit of the 2020 election,” the Texas secretary of state’s office announced a “comprehensive forensic audit” of the election results in four of the state’s largest counties. 

The audit was one of the first times such a review has been launched in a state the former president won. While Republicans had pushed for audits in swing states that handed Trump defeats, such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Trump won Texas by about 6 points.

Abbott defended his state’s decision to review the results of the 2020 election, saying that it has nothing to do with Trump. Rather, he said the audits would be conducted out of “a responsibility to ensure the integrity of and confidence in the elections in the state of Texas.”

“There are audits of every aspect of government,” Abbott said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We have a state auditor, there’s a federal auditor for the way the government operations work. Businesses that are public companies are subject to an annual audit. Why do we audit everything in this world, but people raise their hands in concern when we audit elections, which is fundamental to our democracy?”

But despite that assertion, there are well-known political risks for Republicans who break with the former president. One Republican strategist who has worked on races in Texas pointed to Trump critics like Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger as a cautionary tale. 

Raffensperger, a Republican, drew Trump’s ire after he defended the accuracy of the 2020 election in Georgia, which Biden narrowly won. Since then, Trump has vowed to campaign against Raffensperger and has endorsed Rep. Jody HiceJody Brownlow HiceRepublicans plow forward with election challenges Trump says Stacey Abrams 'might be better than existing governor' Kemp Trump stokes GOP tensions in Georgia MORE (R-Ga.), who is running to replace him next year.

“You see what happens when you criticize the election fraud stuff. Look at Brad Raffensperger,” the strategist said. “The grassroots is still with President Trump and if he says the election was stolen, a lot of people are going to believe the election was stolen.”

Trump is expected to keep applying pressure to have similar audits conducted as he continues to stew over his 2020 defeat and mulls a comeback bid in 2024. And even without examples of widespread fraud or irregularities, his repeated claims of wrongdoing are inserting enough confusion that Republicans say that audits are useful regardless of the available evidence.

“He definitely is going to keep pushing this,” the Trump aide said. 

“The big thing that was missing in Arizona, that I think really needs to be done not just in swing states but really just to give voters a peace of mind about their registration rules in their election processes, they should have audits and canvasses in any state, just to make sure, take a second look, because there’s so many questions about how our elections have been administered,” the aide continued.

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That argument is emerging as a main driver of both conspiracy theories broadly and the specific pushes for audits in key states, particularly in states where Democrats with footholds in the government push back on the GOP efforts.

In an interview Friday, just hours before the Arizona results were released, Pennsylvania state Sen. Jake Corman (R) pounced on state Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) for suing to stop state Republicans from subpoenaing personal information of millions of voters.

“If there’s nothing there, as they claim, then we’ll be spending a lot of our time doing this and not finding anything,” Corman said on former Trump strategist Stephen Bannon’s podcast. “Here’s the sad part about it. Let’s say hypothetically they were successful in court and they stop this. That just adds to the conspiracy, that just adds to people’s doubts about the system.”

Not every Republican is confident that conducting the audits presents the GOP with a winning message heading into the midterm elections.

Elevating conspiracy theories about voter fraud runs the risk of both turning off the same moderates who rebuked Trump in 2020 and drawing attention away from Biden, whom Republicans view as a potent foil in the midterms amid a slew of crises, including the coronavirus, the economy and the messy withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“I think the whole audit effort is extremely counterproductive. We need to stop looking backwards and start looking forwards as a party,” said one national GOP strategist. 

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“And in places like Arizona and Georgia, these are highly competitive races, and if they’re fought along the battle lines of whether or not the Biden administration has the country moving in the right direction, then Republicans have a really good chance to win,” the person said, referencing two purple states with Senate and gubernatorial races next year. “But if the next campaign is really about the last campaign, then I think it’s detrimental to the cause.”

Still, Trump wields the largest megaphone in the GOP, and with Republicans fearful of crossing him, the party is expected to keep pushing the audits.

When asked if he had any hope that the audits would be dropped given Trump’s vocal support for him, the national strategist simply replied, “It certainly makes it more difficult to do so.”