It was more than a year too late, but several Senate Republicans made an effort this week to tell the truth about the 2020 election: Trump lost.
"The election was fair, as fair as we have seen. We simply did not win the election, as Republicans, for the presidency," Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota told ABC News last Sunday.
For Donald Trump, that was a bridge too far away from his alternative lie-laden universe.
Trump lampooned Rounds in a statement, saying he "went woke" despite the "massive evidence" of fraud. (Evidence that has actually never materialized.)
"Is he crazy or just stupid?” Trump wondered. “Even though his election will not be coming up for 5 years, I will never endorse this jerk again,” Trump added of Rounds, who's up for reelection in 2026.
Rounds responded Monday with a lengthy statement.
"I stand by my statement. The former president lost in the 2020 election," Rounds wrote. "This isn't new information. If we're being honest, there was no evidence of widespread fraud that would have altered the results of the election."
This is the truth that nearly every congressional Republican has glossed over for a year. Senate Republicans, in particular, have tried to skip right past Trump's fixation on 2020 while laughably claiming their 2022 message would be about the future, not the past.
Rounds made a similar argument toward the end of his statement, but at least he dared to tell the truth about Trump's rabid lies.
“As a Republican Party, our focus should be on what lies ahead, not what's in the past," Rounds wrote. "Elections are about growing support for your party, not further dividing it. Attacking Republicans certainly isn't gong to result in a winning formula. Neither is telling citizens not to vote."
Winning is about addition, not subtraction. Believe it or not, that is a revelatory concept for the present-day GOP, which has spent more than a year rigging elections at the state level to be about both subtraction and subversion.
Rounds' line about "telling citizens not to vote" being a liability is also illuminating. For the past year, Senate Republicans have gambled that they could have their cake and eat it too by entertaining Trump and his lies to win over his cultists while still avoiding his many liabilities. Both he and his message are toxic. For one, you can't tell people the system is rigged against them and then expect them to bother voting. In fact, that's precisely the messaging that helped lift Democrats to victory in two Senate runoffs last January.
Perhaps Senate Republicans are concluding that whatever upsides Trump carries might not outweigh the downsides. After all, if the cultists don't turn out because they don't trust the system and the GOP's fealty to Trump kills them in the must-win suburbs, that's a disastrous mix in a statewide race.
And Rounds wasn't entirely out on an island. As the row ensued, several Senate Republicans rallied to his side, as CNN noted.
- Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky: "I think Sen. Rounds told the truth about what happened in the 2020 election. And I agree with him."
- Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota: "I've always said I agree that the election was not stolen -- at least to the degree that it was illegal theft ... I've moved on a long time ago, and most members of Congress have, including Mike."
- Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia: "I take great exception to anybody that calls Mike Rounds a jerk. Because he's one of the kindest, nicest, most sincere members that we have."
- Sen. John Thune of South Dakota: "I say to my colleague, welcome to the club ... I don't think re-litigating or rehashing the past is a winning strategy. If we want to be a majority in 2023, we've got to get out and articulate what we're going to do with respect to the future the American people are going to live and the things they're going to care about when it comes to economic issues, national security issues."
For the present-day GOP, that's a lot of push back against the elephant in room they've been tip-toeing around.
Thune, who's up for reelection this year and has already faced the wrath of Trump for opposing efforts to overturn the election, is surely glad to welcome his South Dakota counterpart into the fold. In fact, Rounds' latest revelations clearly provide some cover for Thune, who will continue to draw Trump's ire throughout the year.
In fact, Trump—who lacks a social media outlet through which he can draw immediate blood—felt desperate enough about the whole episode that he agreed to an interview with NPR more than six years after the outlet initially requested the interview back in 2015, after Trump announced his presidential bid. Seriously: Trump was that desperate.
According to NPR's Steve Inskeep, the interview was scheduled to be 15 minutes but lasted just nine minutes and 21 seconds before Trump hung up in a huff. Alongside spewing the myriad conspiracies that have infected his brain, Trump also took at shot at McConnell.
When Inskeep asked why some Senate Republicans aren't standing behind Trump's 2020 lies, Trump responded, "Because Mitch McConnell is a loser," before quickly pivoting to more lies about the free and fair election he lost.
Senate Republicans seem to be cluing in to the fact that Trump isn't a net plus for them more nearly a year after 43 of them breathed new life into Trump's political future by voting against convicting him for inciting the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Senate Republicans are fittingly reaping what they sowed.