(USN) – FOR NEARLY FOUR YEARS of the Trump presidency, the question to Republican lawmakers and leaders has been: Where would you draw the line when it comes to supporting President Donald Trump? The nasty tweets, the thousands of misstatements, the promotion of his business interests while in office? Maybe separating children from their parents when they came over the border illegally or threatening to withhold aid from states and governors he doesn’t like?
Turns out, the line came as Trump faced the reality that he might lose the election, as mail-in ballot counting started to take must-win states out of Trump’s reach. Even as millions of votes remained to be counted, Trump boasted of a victory early Wednesday. All week, Trump and his campaign have been insisting on social media that the president had won states like Pennsylvania and Georgia that had yet to be called.
That did it for a wide array of Republicans, and not just those who had already separated themselves from Trump. The idea that the leader of the free world would simply declare himself the winner – something Americans criticize in other countries and even punish other nations for doing – jarred the most loyal of Republican stalwarts.
Even as Trump’s team filed a frenzy of lawsuits Wednesday and Thursday, Republicans mostly kept their distance, with just hard-core loyalists like former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Trump’s children being the public face of the legal fight.
The absence of a rally-round-the-president movement clearly has annoyed Team Trump.
“The total lack of action from virtually all of the ‘2024 GOP hopefuls’ is pretty amazing,” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted Thursday. “They have a perfect platform to show that they’re willing & able to fight but they will cower to the media mob instead.”
“Don’t worry @realDonaldTrump will fight & they can watch as usual!” the president’s son said in the tweet.
The GOP rebuff started after Trump, in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, told supporters at the White House he had won the election and Democrats were trying to steal it from him.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida – a harsh critic of Trump during the 2016 GOP primary campaign who became a dutiful ally of Trump’s after that election, was blunt in his response. “The result of the presidential race will be known after every legally cast vote has been counted,” Rubio tweeted.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has remained entangled with the Trump team, including serving on Trump’s debate preparation crew, also pushed back on the president’s claim that the vote count should stop and that widespread election fraud had occurred.
“There’s just no basis to make that argument tonight. There just isn’t,” Christie said on ABC.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania called himself “very distressed” by what Trump said. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was a helpful executor of Trump’s agenda on the Hill – especially when it came to judicial appointments – put the brakes on Trump’s train.
“It’s not unusual for people to claim they’ve won the election. I can think of that happening on numerous occasions,” McConnell told reporters after winning his own race against Democrat Amy McGrath. “But claiming you win the election is different from finishing the counting. And what we’re going to see here in the next few days, both in the Senate races and in the presidential race, is each state will ultimately get to a final outcome.”
Even Ben Shapiro, a conservative speaker popular among Trump supporters, drew the line at refusing to let the democratic process play out. “No, Trump has not already won the election, and it is deeply irresponsible for him to say he has,” Shapiro tweeted.
During Trump’s presidency, Republicans were often reluctant to publicly criticize him, wary of poking a political bear who had made it clear he would retaliate, sometimes by supporting an incumbent Republican’s primary opponent.
But with Trump’s path to reelection slipping, Republicans started breaking away. Having already gotten from Trump what they wanted in a Republican president – three Supreme Court justices and a big tax cut – Capitol Hill Republicans were not rushing to Trump’s side as he blustered about an unearned win and threatened lawsuits in places where he was losing.
“First, the electoral count is not favoring him at the moment, and the possibility that they’re aboard a sinking ship could embolden Republicans to speak out, especially those who have not been happy with his behavior,” says Shauna Shames, a political science professor at Rutgers University-Camden.