Top Senate Republicans are distancing themselves from Donald Trump in growing numbers after the former president’s call to suspend the Constitution — though there’s no sign it will lead them to actively oppose his 2024 presidential campaign.
In his latest of an ongoing series of calls to be reinstated as president, Trump on Saturday falsely cited “massive fraud” in his 2020 loss to President Joe Biden before calling for a “termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution” in order to reinstate him as president or hold a new election. Many election officials, including Trump’s own former attorney general, Bill Barr, have affirmed that no voter fraud occurred on a scale significant enough to affect Biden’s victory over Trump.
While few Republicans spoke out publicly before returning to Washington on Monday, Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said “of course I disagree with that” when asked about Trump’s comments. The No. 2 Senate Republican would not say whether he’d support Trump if the former president wins the GOP nomination in 2024 and said he’s “just not going to go there at this point — that’s a long way off.”
But Thune did predict Trump’s remarks would fuel the ambitions of Republicans who’d want to take on the former president in a 2024 primary: “It’s just one of those intuitively obvious things, whether a candidate for office has sort of a bedrock principle, ‘are you going to support the Constitution?’” Thune said. “For him, it’s not all that unusual. But it will be the grist and plenty of fodder for those that are looking to get into that race.”
His suspend-the-Constitution posts on his Truth Social platform mark the second time in two weeks that Trump has prompted criticism from within the GOP, after he dined with antisemitic rapper Ye, better known as Kanye West, and white nationalist Nick Fuentes last month. That sitdown led Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to predict that anyone holding meetings with people who use their profiles to disseminate bigotry “are highly unlikely to ever be elected president of the United States.”
A host of other Republicans, on and off the Hill, also criticized Trump for meeting with Ye and Fuentes.
“I’m at a loss for words. We need to move on,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), an adviser to McConnell, said of the constitutional-suspension posts from the former president. Cornyn added that the prospect of Trump winning the nomination is “increasingly less likely, given statements like that.”
McConnell declined to respond to questions about Trump’s postings about a constitutional suspension.
Trump tried to walk back his willingness to suspend the Constitution on Monday, posting that “the Fake News is actually trying to convince the American People that I said I wanted to ‘terminate’ the Constitution.” Yet he followed that comment with another suggestion that in fact he would be open to a suspension, suggesting “no time limit” for holding a new presidential election.
And other Republicans are beginning to push back.
“Anyone who desires to lead our country must commit to protecting the Constitution,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said in a statement. “They should not threaten to terminate it.”
Also on Monday, former Vice President Mike Pence responded to Trump, albeit indirectly, by saying that “everyone that aspires to serve or serve again should make it clear that we will support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who voted to convict Trump in his impeachment trial and just won reelection, said on Sunday night “that suggesting the termination of the Constitution is not only a betrayal of our oath of office, it’s an affront to our Republic.”
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