Former President Trump’s suggestion that the country do away with parts of the Constitution to redo the 2020 election has put Republicans – many of whom want to wrap themselves in the founding document – in a complicated position.
Several House Republicans and some in the Senate often champion the GOP as a party that ties itself closely to the law of the land, and a subset of the party even refers to themselves as “constitutional conservatives.”
But Trump’s latest controversy has put some lawmakers in an awkward spot as they have to square being the party of the Constitution with being the party of Trump.
“It shouldn’t be hard for anybody who bills themselves as a constitutional conservative to speak very firmly against this and do so in specific terms, not generalizations,” said Doug Heye, a former spokesperson for the Republican National Committee. “Especially if you’ve just come off a victorious election.”
Trump has caused a furor with comments in response to internal Twitter communications released last week that showed company officials deciding in the closing weeks of the 2020 campaign to limit the spread of posts about news coverage regarding allegations against Hunter Biden, the now-president’s son.
“A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution,” Trump wrote Saturday on Truth Social.
The former president on Monday said he was not advocating to “terminate” the Constitution, but reiterated his belief that the 2020 election should be redone or that he should be declared the winner. There has been no proof of widespread fraud in the 2020 election and multiple legal battles by the Trump campaign contesting the results were shot down all the way up to the Supreme Court.
While GOP lawmakers are no strangers to responding to inflammatory comments from Trump, the latest instance has been a thorny one.
A number of lawmakers speak often about adhering to the Constitution and criticize Democrats for trampling over the document in favor of government overreach. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) made headlines in October when he pulled out a pocket Constitution at a debate with Evan McMullin. The House recently boasted a Constitution Caucus made up of GOP representatives.
But Trump remains a dominant figure in the party, and many on Capitol Hill are reluctant to explicitly criticize him.
“I appreciate the acknowledgment that the Republican Party is the Constitution party. And certainly I think it’s critically important. I’m very concerned, generally, that we’re so far afield from the constitutional limits of our actions here in Washington,” Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) said Tuesday.
Good added that he thinks Trump respects the Constitution before acknowledging he didn’t understand the basis for his calls to set it aside in favor of redoing the 2020 election.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) have said they support the Constitution, but like so many Republicans, including those in congressional leadership, they largely avoided addressing Trump specifically.
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) on Monday issued a lengthy statement saying, in part, “anyone who desires to lead our country must commit to protecting the Constitution. They should not threaten to terminate it.” But Rounds’ statement did not mention Trump by name.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a self-proclaimed supporter of the nation’s formative document, told reporters Monday that the Constitution “is enduring and it will be for millennia to come.” He declined to respond when asked if the 45th president’s recent comments were wrong.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday suggested Trump would have a hard time being sworn in for another term if he was not willing to take an oath to uphold the Constitution, but he did not use the former president’s name.
Trump’s comments about the Constitution are not the first time he has forced the party to tie itself in knots rhetorically. The GOP has for years portrayed itself as the party of law and order that backs law enforcement in ways Democrats do not.
But Trump has in recent months sympathized with the Jan. 6 rioters who violently clashed with police that day, and he has attacked the FBI over a search of his Mar-a-Lago estate in August that authorities said yielded classified documents, including some labeled top secret.
In both instances, the White House has been happy to highlight the disconnect. President Biden in August called the attacks from Trump and other Republicans on the FBI “sickening,” and suggested the party could not be for law and order if they would not condemn the events of Jan. 6, 2021.
The White House this week has called on Republican lawmakers to reject Trump’s latest rhetoric about the Constitution and reaffirm their oath of office to uphold the document.
“Congressional Republicans need to do that immediately, instead of repeatedly refusing to answer the most basic question,” deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said in a statement.
Mike Lillis contributed reporting.