How a nice-guy South Dakota senator fell into a Trump storm

Sen. Mike RoundsMike RoundsSome in GOP begin testing party's lockstep loyalty to Trump Trump to make election claims center stage in Arizona Fed's Brainard faces GOP pressure on climate stances MORE (R-S.D.), a lawmaker who doesn't often make news, found himself in the midst of a political firestorm this week after he told ABC’s George StephanopoulosGeorge Robert StephanopoulosAlec Baldwin turns over cell phone in 'Rust' probe How a nice-guy South Dakota senator fell into a Trump storm GOP senator says he would 'take a hard look' at another Trump run MORE that President BidenJoe BidenCarville advises Democrats to 'quit being a whiny party' Wendy Sherman takes leading role as Biden's 'hard-nosed' Russia negotiator Sullivan: 'It's too soon to tell' if Texas synagogue hostage situation part of broader extremist threat MORE fairly won the 2020 election.  

Rounds also speculated that Trump could be subject to prosecution by the Department of Justice for his role in allegedly encouraging the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, arguing the former president lost his “shield” of legal immunity once he stepped down from office.  

The comments thrust Rounds into the spotlight, and Trump responded with an angry attack, accusing Rounds of going “woke” and pledging he “will never endorse this jerk again.”  

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Rounds, who served two terms as his state’s governor and usually keeps a low profile, is known as one of the nicest guys in the Senate and said Trump’s attack was only the second time he can ever remember being called a jerk.  

“My daughter called me a jerk one time when she was in junior high,” he said. “That just meant she didn’t get a car for another year.” 

But he said he wasn’t surprised that Trump lashed out in the way that he did.  

“It’s to be expected. He only has certain ways of fighting and one of them is he attacks. If you’re going to disagree with him, he’s going to attack and you just expect that. That’s life,” he said. 

Rounds felt he had to make a definitive statement at a time when Trump’s claim that the election was stolen is gaining more and more traction with Republican voters.  

A University of Massachusetts at Amherst poll conducted by YouGov last month found that only 21 percent of Republicans say Biden’s victory was legitimate. The survey found that 71 percent of Republicans think Biden’s victory was probably or definitely not legitimate.  

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Rounds said Republicans who are being fed stories about a stolen election are being manipulated and it could come back to hurt the GOP if their voters distrust the integrity of elections.   

“I think we owe them to tell them what we believe to be the truth,” he said. “This is about honesty, and this is about integrity, and this is about whether or not people can trust their elected leaders to tell them the truth, even if it’s the hard truth."

“It’s awfully easy to just look at conspiracy theories,” he added. “These are local officials who work really hard to do a good job and I really believe that local control of elections is critical."

Rounds’s comments put the low-key senator firmly in the camp of Republican lawmakers who reject Trump’s narrative that he lost because of widespread cheating, which he and his legal team have failed repeatedly to back up with evidence in court.  

Rounds suffered a personal tragedy in November when his wife, Jean Rounds, with whom he had four children, died of cancer.

He thought at one point about not running for reelection in 2020 because of his wife’s health problems.  

“She made it clear, you need to do that. It’s important,” he said of his decision to run for a second term.  

“If you’re going to ask for the public’s trust, then you better be able to stand up and tell them what you believe. And so for me that’s what this is about,” he said.  

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnell​​Democrats make voting rights push ahead of Senate consideration Hogan won't say if he will file to run for Senate by Feb. 22 deadline Voting rights, Trump's Big Lie, and Republicans' problem with minorities MORE (R-Ky.) told CNN Tuesday that “Rounds told the truth about what happened in the 2020 election,” adding, “I agree with him.”  

And Senate Minority Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSinema scuttles hopes for filibuster reform How a nice-guy South Dakota senator fell into a Trump storm Democrats: Don't reject GOP offer to fix electoral count law MORE (R-S.D.), who himself became a target of Trump’s wrath after lobbying his colleagues not to object to the Electoral College tally of Biden’s victory, sympathized with Rounds over the tongue-lashing.  

“I’d say to my colleague, ‘Welcome to the club,’” he quipped, alluding to his status as persona non grata in Trump’s world.  

“I don’t think that relitigating or rehashing the past is a winning strategy,” he said, reiterating his view that Trump’s repeated claims that the 2020 election was stolen isn’t likely to help Republicans win in the November midterms.  

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“If we want to be a majority in January 2023, we got to get out and articulate what we’re going to do with respect to the future of the American people and the things that they care about when it comes to economic issues, national security issues,” he said. “Rehashing 2020 isn’t going to get us there.” 

Other Republican senators, however, pushed back on Rounds.

“I would question why you maybe make a statement on that, unsolicited anyway, given what it’s going to generate in terms of a counterpunch,” Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunThe Memo: Supreme Court, Sinema deliver twin blows to Biden How a nice-guy South Dakota senator fell into a Trump storm McConnell will run for another term as leader despite Trump's attacks MORE (R-Ind.) said when asked about Rounds’s comments about the 2020 election.  

Rounds made his statement in response to a question from Stephanopoulos. 

Braun said “everybody’s got a different opinion” on whether Biden is the legitimate winner of the presidency, noting, “You got a large part of the country that still feels uncomfortable with the fact that you changed the rules based upon COVID when there were no complaints about issues prior to COVID and now you want to put them permanently in place.”  

He said “you may not know how extensive it was” when asked about whether there was widespread fraud in 2020.

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The 2020 contest saw record voting by mail because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) has sponsored a bill with Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHow a nice-guy South Dakota senator fell into a Trump storm Republicans threaten floor takeover if Democrats weaken filibuster  Democrats must close the perception gap MORE (R-Fla.) and Kevin CramerKevin John CramerHow a nice-guy South Dakota senator fell into a Trump storm Senate Minority Whip Thune, close McConnell ally, to run for reelection In their own words: Lawmakers, staffers remember Jan. 6 insurrection MORE (R-N.D.) directing the comptroller general of the United States to submit a state-by-state report on whether increased unsolicited mail-in balloting and changes to mail-in voter verification procedures occurred during the 2020 election and how such changes to election procedures were authorized.  

Asked about Rounds’s comments about the fairness of the election, Hagerty noted that he “put forward legislation to get the bottom of it.” 

“It actually requires an audit of every state at any point where the Constitution was violated, and I believe that it was in several states. Those states are going to be subject to defunding. The funds that are made available to them for their elections will be withheld until they correct the errors that occurred in 2020,” he said.

Rounds, however, believes the majority of fellow Republicans know in their hearts that Biden really won the election.

“Any of us, if we want to be honest, if we see something that’s not correct in terms of a manipulation of public thought, you kind of got to stand up and say, ‘Time out. It’s time to take a hard look at what you’re being told and whether or not it’s accurate,’” he said.   

“And if I don’t have the ability to turn to my own party and say you need to reconsider what you’ve been told...” he said, implying that being straight with your base voters is a crucial element of representing them in Washington.