| Associated Press
PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota has been telling people for the last year that the 2020 election was fair, but this week he did something few other Republicans have dared — tell a national audience that.
Now he wishes more Republicans would join him.
Rounds, who is in his second Senate term, has been telling local newspapers, radio shows and Rotary clubs in South Dakota that he checked out the allegations of election fraud made by former President Donald Trump and, while there were some “irregularities,” they all came up empty of anything that could counter the truth that Trump lost. So, when ABC News’ “This Week” asked the senator to appear on its Sunday show to discuss the Jan. 6, 2020, attack on the Capitol, Rounds said his decision was simple: “Well, of course I will.”
But the backlash from speaking was swift. Rounds claimed he was not looking to fight Trump. But that’s exactly what happened. In a statement, the former president called Rounds “jerk”. Rounds stood behind what he said, and claimed that there are many other Republicans who think like him. They need to speak out.
” “If we want to maintain the trust and win the trust of more people who are curious, we will probably have to say it a bit louder and more often than many of us usually are invited to speak or choose not to participate in the fray,” Rounds said to The Associated Press during a recent interview.
Rounds got backup after Trump’s attack from several high-profile Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and fellow South Dakotan Sen. John Thune, who has had his own run-ins with Trump. It’s unclear if Rounds’ defiance is a slip in Trump’s grasp, or if he’s just a voice within the party.
Republicans have mostly avoided public talk of the deadliest domestic attack on Congress in the nation’s history, calling memorials and inquiries into the insurrection “politicized.” And Trump has clung to the notion that the election was stolen from him. In an interview Tuesday with National Public Radio, the former president said it was an “advantage” for Republicans to keep alleging fraud and that Rounds was “totally wrong.”
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Some Republicans have worried that Trump’s attacks will wind up hurting the party, depressing turnout by conservatives and damaging them in future elections.
That’s a point Rounds made. Rounds wants to forget Trump’s false election fraud claims but not before stating that Trump has lost. He stated that Trump’s attempts to undermine the democratic process could lead to the party losing its credibility and voters.
“We have 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 if it’s the hard truth that’s hard to swallow, we’re not going to lie to them.”
In South Dakota, the reaction to Trump’s attack on Rounds has so far been muted compared to the backlash Thune faced last year when Trump lashed out at him for saying that the attempt to overturn the election would “go down like a shot dog” in the Senate.
Gov. Kristi Noem, a South Dakota politician who aligns herself with Trump more than any other politician, claimed Tuesday that she wasn’t aware of Rounds’ exchange with Trump. And Jeff Holbrook, the chair 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 Rounds.
Rounds said he has heard plenty about the exchange, acknowledging that some reaction was negative, but he said the “vast majority” was from people thanking him for speaking up.
Trump jabbed at Rounds by saying he only had courage to make those remarks because he doesn’t face reelection until 2026, and he pledged that he would never again endorse Rounds.
Rounds acknowledged that some Republicans facing earlier primaries would not “disappoint a part of the base that really does have a loyalty to the former president.”
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But he argued it could be done, pointing to Thune, who recently mulled retirement before announcing last week he would seek another term. Thune is a well-funded candidate with a clear path to reelection. However, he has faced a few primary challenges from conservatives who are determined to challenge him.
“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 cautionary words for Rounds. “He should remember that South Dakota is primarily MAGA and there are so many angry people right now,” Whalen stated.