President Trump’s unrelenting claims of election fraud have galvanized his base, cementing both a diehard belief in the illegitimacy of a Biden administration and the gaping fissure between Trump Republicans and the rest of the GOP.
The zeal of the “Stop the Steal” movement has not been dampened by a string of courtroom losses, by Mr. Trump castigating Republican governors who don’t help overturn their states’ Nov. 3 results, or by the Electoral College vote set for Monday that will name Joseph R. Biden the next president.
“Trump’s fight is uniting many but not all,” said former Rep. Jim Renacci, Republican Party chairman in Ohio’s Medina County, which sits between Cleveland and Akron.
He described Ohio as illustrative of the rift in the GOP. He said it was a “Trump state” rather than a Republican state.
“Republicans overwhelmingly believe the election was not a free and fair election. That will continue to be a problem for many in the Republican Party,” he said. “In the end, the party will be stronger by uniting around many of President Trump’s policies. It will also make it very difficult for Biden and the Democrats to get much if anything accomplished.”
In an interview aired Sunday, Mr. Trump said that Mr. Biden serving as an “illegitimate president” was a bigger concern than prolonged election challenges dividing Americans.
“I worry about the country having an illegitimate president, that’s what I worry about,” he said. “A president that lost and lost badly. This wasn’t like a close election. You look at Georgia. We won Georgia big. We won Pennsylvania big. We won Wisconsin big. We won it big.”
The results Mr. Trump disputes in those key states show him losing to Mr. Biden. The margin of Mr. Biden’s wins ranged from 0.2% or 11,770 votes in Georgia to 2.8% or 154,188 votes in Michigan.
Mr. Trump refused to say whether he would show up for Mr. Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20. A recent report in Axios said he was considering hosting a rally in Florida to compete with the swearing-in ceremony.
“I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about this: we’ve done a great job. I got more votes than any president in the history of our country … and they say we lost an election. We didn’t lose,” said Mr. Trump.
Putting a strain on his party, Mr. Trump accused Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, both Republicans, of complicity in the alleged election fixing.
“We won Georgia by a lot. We have a governor, Republican governor that’s worse than a Democrat. He’s terrible,” Mr. Trump said in the interview.
He previously called on voters to oust Mr. Kemp and Mr. Ducey, though they latter governor cannot run for reelection due to Arizona term limits.
The election fraud charges also risk turning off Republican voters in Georgia’s two Senate runoff elections on Jan. 5, which will determine which party controls the upper chamber.
Republican Party leaders in Arizona and Georgia are loath to pick sides between Mr. Trump and the governors. The Washington Times asked more than a dozen state party leaders about it. Just one responded.
“Our focus is on the Jan. 5 runoff. Brian Kemp is not up for reelection until 2022,” said Jason Shepherd, chairman of the Republican Party in Cobb County, Georgia.
Mr. Trump’s quest to overturn the Nov. 3 results suffered a major setback last week when the Supreme Court rejected a Texas lawsuit challenging the election results in four states.
The justices rejected the case on procedural grounds, however, and did not address Texas’ claims of election misconduct in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
“It’s not over. We keep going,” Mr. Trump declared.
The Texas suit also underscored Mr. Trump’s continued sway over Republican lawmakers. More than 120 Republican House members signed on to the lawsuit.
The Trump legal team now is shifting focus to lower federal courts and state courts.
The president’s fans are cheering on the effort. Thousands of Trump supporters gathered for “Stop the Steal” rallies Saturday in Washington and other cities.
Doubts abound about the legitimacy of the Nov. 3 election.
About 68% of Republicans and 36% of voters overall believe the election was stolen by Mr. Biden. An overwhelming 77% of Trump supporters think he won, as do 26% of independents and 10% of Democrats, a recent Fox News poll found.
The distrust of the 2020 results is more pronounced than the suspicions in 2016 when Mr. Trump unexpectedly beat Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and was falsely accused of colluding with Russia to rig the election.
After the 2016 election, 27% of Mrs. Clinton’s voters said they “strongly” felt Mr. Trump did not win legitimately, according to an ABC News-Washington Post at the time.
Back then, just 18% of Americans overall said Mr. Trump’s win was illegitimate.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican, said voters deserve to have their concerns about election fraud answered.
“If you want to restore trust by millions of people who are still very frustrated and angry about what happened, that’s why you’ve got to have the whole system play out,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “There will be a president sworn in on Jan. 20, but let’s let this legal process play itself out.”