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Analysis: GOP lets doubts about Biden’s legitimacy flourish

In backing President Donald Trump s baseless claims of election fraud, Republicans risk leaving millions of Americans with the false impression that the results of the 2020 race are illegitimate.

And that may be the point.

None of Trump’s legal challenges and assertions of voting irregularities has revealed any substantive issues with the election that would overturn the results. And some GOP lawmakers and party officials privately acknowledge that Trump has no choice but to step aside by Jan. 20 and cede power to President-elect Joe Biden

But Trump is doing nothing to make that road to Inauguration Day easier for Biden. In fact, he’s trying to block it, littering the path with misinformation and falsehoods about the election. As a result, Biden will almost certainly be viewed as an illegitimate president by some voters, potentially denying him that period of goodwill that typically greets a new president.

The stakes for Biden are even greater, especially if the Senate remains in Republican control, as he advances an agenda to arrest the spiraling pandemic and faltering economy.

“Their intent is to delegitimize this election and thereby delegitimize President-elect Biden’s presidency,” said Valerie Jarrett, who was a White House senior adviser to President Barack Obama “It is damaging to the democracy. Once again they’re putting their short-term political interests ahead of the interests of the country.”

The chief proponent of the “birtherism” lie was, of course, Trump.

More than a decade later, Republicans again face a choice about whether to embrace Trump’s falsehoods for political gain. So far, few are openly disputing his assertions or challenging his acts to impede the transition.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday there was “no reason for alarm” at Trump’s refusal to acknowledge defeat. Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota balked at the notion that Republicans were enabling conspiracy theories, saying what “we’re doing is following exactly what the Founding Fathers here wanted us to do, which is to follow the rule of law.”

Even those who have taken a tougher stand against Trump are giving themselves room when it comes to Biden’s victory.

“It’s important we show confidence in our institutions, our ability to investigate cases and when that’s competed, I think it’s by far the most likely outcome there will not be a change in the tally in a substantial way,” said Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah.

Yet Biden’s victory is not an open question. He has cleared the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House.

Trump, however, has repeatedly and baselessly claimed that Democrats are stealing the election from him and that the results will be reversed after legal challenges, none of which has shown any evidence of problems so broad that it could swing the election. In fact, many of the lawsuits have already been dismissed by judges.

Still, Republicans have allowed Trump’s misinformation to flourish, pushed along by conservative media and on the internet. And Trump’s obstinance has practical, negative consequences.

In preventing Biden from tapping into the government resources typically associated with a presidential transition, Trump is hobbling the incoming administration from preparing for a full government response to the worst pandemic in a century. Trump’s refusal to cooperate also could prevent background investigations and security clearances for prospective staff who will be needed to fill sensitive roles.

The commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks said the abbreviated transition following the 2000 election contributed to critical national security positions going unfilled until just weeks before the strikes.

Biden on Tuesday vowed to move forward with his transition plans whether Trump likes it or not. The turmoil surrounding the transition, he added, said more about the person leaving the White House that the one who will soon enter.

“It’s an embarrassment, quite frankly,” Biden said. “It will not help the president’s legacy.”

During Obama’s presidency, many Republicans did little to tamp down questions about his eligibility for the nation’s highest office. Those lies helped fuel some of the hard-line opposition to Obama within the party, making it difficult for more mainstream GOP leaders to work with the White House.

The result was gridlock — but also the mobilization of forces within the Republican Party that propelled them to the majority in the House and Senate, and Trump ultimately to the White House.

Trump is likely to remain the most powerful force in the Republican Party even when he’s out of office, having drawn more than 71 million votes in the election. That’s the second-highest number in history, surpassed only by Biden’s 76.8 million.

“The president controls Republican voters in a way that nobody has in a long time,” said Brendan Buck, a Republican who advised Paul Ryan when he was House speaker. “There’s very little upside to speaking up against him because he will bring his ire down on you.”

EDITOR’S NOTE — Washington Bureau Chief Julie Pace has covered the White House and politics for The Associated Press since 2007. Follow her at

Political editor Steven Sloan has covered politics for the AP since 2018. Follow him at

Associated Press writers Lindsay Whitehurst in Salt Lake City and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.