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Some in GOP begin testing party’s lockstep loyalty to Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former President Donald Trump stepped up his election-year effort to dominate the Republican Party, holding a rally in Arizona on Saturday in which he castigated anyone who dares to question his lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, including the state’s GOP governor, Doug Ducey.

“Ducey has been a terrible, terrible representative of your state,” Trump said.

But 2,000 miles to the east in Washington, there are small signs that some Republicans are tiring of the charade. Mike Rounds, the generally unassuming senator from South Dakota, was perhaps the boldest in acknowledging the reality that the election was in fact fair. Instead of being shunned, he was supported by his GOP colleagues, including Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. Rounds later said the party needed to get “louder” in telling voters the truth about the 2020 campaign.

Meanwhile, top Republicans in Washington have engaged in a behind-the-scenes effort to encourage Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, one of Trump’s most vocal antagonists in the party, to run for a Senate seat. And on Saturday, Glenn Youngkin became the first Republican since 2010 to be sworn in as Virginia’s governor after running a campaign that kept Trump at arm’s length.

Less than two months before the 2022 primary season begins, Trump remains the most popular figure among the voters who will decide which Republicans advance to the fall general election. But the recent dynamics bring new clarity to the debate that will likely animate the GOP all year: how closely candidates should align themselves with Trump and his election lie.

“I was very encouraged by the response from a number of different senators supportive of Sen. Rounds,” said former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has been a rare Republican urging the party to move on from Trump and his election obsession.

There is no evidence to support Trump’s claims that the election was stolen. Elections officials and his own attorney general rejected the notion. Trump’s arguments have also been roundly dismissed by the courts, including judges appointed by the former president.

Still, dissent from Trump’s election lie within the GOP remains rare. From Ohio to Georgia and Arizona, candidates running for Senate, governor and attorney general have fully embraced Trump’s falsehoods as they have tried to win over his endorsement, deflect his fury or win over his base.

In the short term, such positioning may help Republican candidates come out on top in primary fields that are often crowded. But there are concerns that it could hurt the party in the fall, especially among suburban voters who have become increasingly decisive in recent campaigns. The further to the right that Republicans go now, the easier it could become for their Democratic rivals to portray them as extreme in a general election.

And any time candidates spend looking backward is time not spent attacking President Joe Biden, who is seen as particularly vulnerable due to rising inflation and coronavirus cases.

Many Republicans still blame Trump for the party’s loss of Georgia’s two Senate runoff elections in 2021, arguing he depressed turnout by insisting the election would be rigged, denying them control of the Senate. (Trump has argued that further investigation is the only way to instill confidence in future elections.)

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press.

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