PIERRE, SD (AP) – U.S. Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota has told people over the past year that the 2020 election was fair, but this week he did something few other Republicans have dared – tell a national audience.
Now he wants more Republicans to join him.
Rounds, who is in his second Senate term, has told local newspapers, radio programs and Rotary clubs in South Dakota that he checked the allegations of election fraud made by former President Donald Trump, and although there were some “irregularities”, they all came up blank for anything that could counter the truth that Trump lost. So when ABC News’ “This Week” asked the senator to appear in their Sunday broadcast to discuss the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2020, Rounds said his decision was simple: “Well, of course I want to.”
But setback from speech was fast. Rounds said he was not looking for a fight with Trump, but that was exactly what happened. The former president called the Rounds a “jerk” in a statement. Rounder stood by what he said, arguing that there are many more Republicans like him – and they need to speak up.
“If we want to keep the trust and win the trust of more people who are wondering, we have to say it a little louder and in more places where many of us usually either are not invited to talk or have chosen not to get into the fight, said Rounds to the Associated Press in an interview this week.
Rounds was backed after Trump’s attacks by several high-profile Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other South Dakotan Senator John Thune, who have had his own run-ins with Trump. But with the GOP still largely in the grip of the former president, it is not clear whether Rounds’ defiance represents a slippage in that grip, or whether he is a lone voice in the party.
Republicans have largely avoided public speaking of the deadliest domestic attack on Congress in the nation’s history, called memorials and investigations into the uprising “politicized.” And Trump has stuck to the notion that the election was stolen from him. In an interview on Tuesday with National Public Radio, the former president said it was an “advantage” for Republicans to keep alleging fraud and that the Rounds were “completely wrong.”
Some Republicans have worried that Trump’s attacks will end up hurting the party, suppressing the Conservatives’ turnout and hurting them in future elections.
That’s one point the rounds made. He wants to move on from Trump’s baseless allegations of electoral fraud, but not until he has made it clear that Trump lost – fairly. He said the party risks losing credibility and voters if Trump is allowed to undermine confidence in the democratic process.
“We need to be more aggressive in reassuring conservatives that their vote counts,” Rounds said, adding “to give them reassurance that they can trust us and that we will speak the truth. And even that is the hard truth that is hard to swallow, then we will not lie to them. ”
In South Dakota, the response to Trump’s attacks on the Rounds has so far been subdued counter-reaction Thune faced last year when Trump slammed after him for saying the attempt to overthrow the election would “go down like a shot dog” in the Senate.
Gov. Kristi Noem, who has put herself closer to Trump than any other South Dakota politician, said Tuesday she was not aware of the exchange between Rounds and Trump. And Jeff Holbrook, chairman of the Pennington County GOP, one of the state’s largest county parties that held “Stop the Steal” rallies in support of Trump after the 2020 election, said he had seen little reaction to Trump’s attack on the Rounds.
Rounds said he has heard a lot about the exchange, acknowledging that some reactions were negative, but he said “the vast majority” were from people who thanked him for speaking up.
Trump encountered the Rounds by saying that he only had the courage to make these remarks because he does not face re-election before 2026, and he promised that he would never support the Rounds again.
Rounds acknowledged that some Republicans facing previous primary elections would not “disappoint a section of the base that really has a loyalty to the former president.”
But he argued that it could be done, pointing to Thune, who had recently considered retirement before announced last week that he would seek a new term. Although Thune has a large campaign fund and a seemingly clear path to re-election, he has drawn a handful of primary challenges from a rebel group of conservatives seeking to oust anyone who has not bought into the Trump brand of politics.
“He’s not looking for a fight,” Rounds said of Thune. “He just wants to be honest with the people.”
One of Thune’s challengers, Bruce Whalen, had warning words to the Rounds.
“He needs to remember that South Dakota is predominantly MAGA, and there are just so many angry people out there right now,” Whalen said.