Donald Trump’s “big lie” that he lost the 2020 US election because of voter fraud is “a bit like WWF”, Mitt Romney said on Sunday, referring to the gaudy and artificial world of professional wrestling, an arena in which Trump starred before entering politics.
“It’s entertaining,” said the Utah senator and 2012 Republican presidential nominee. “But it’s not real.”
Appearing on CNN’s State of the Union, Romney was asked about former attorney general William Barr’s assertion to the Atlantic on Sunday that Trump’s claims were always “bullshit”.
Barr said as much publicly in December – a month after Joe Biden’s win. He told the Atlantic the then Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, had wanted him to say so in November.
Romney suggested most Americans have always known Trump is lying about electoral fraud, which he was told about by conspiracy theorists – “the MyPillow guy [Mike Lindell and] Rudy Giuliani” – rather than any official source.
Most Americans, Romney suggested, would not take seriously such partisan operations as an ongoing recount in Arizona’s most popular county. Polling, however, shows belief in Trump’s claims shared by a majority of Republican voters.
Romney also said Trump’s lie “is surely being used around the world to minimise the support for democracy”.
“If the autocratic nations can point to the United States,” he said, “which is the birthplace really of this modern democracy, and can say, ‘Look, they can’t even run an election there that’s not fraudulent … that obviously is having an impact on on the cause of democracy and freedom around the world.”
But in the US, Romney insisted, “it’s pretty clear. The election was fair. It wasn’t the outcome that the president wanted, but let’s move on.”
Trump has not moved on. At a rally in Ohio on Saturday which marked his return to the campaign trail, supporters wore T-shirts saying “Trump won, deal with it”; “Trump 2024. Make votes count again”; and “Biden is not my president”.
Trump told them: “This was the scam of the century and this was the crime of the century. We’re never going to stop fight for the true results of this election … Remember I’m not the one trying to undermine American democracy. I’m trying to save American democracy.”
Romney was the only Republican in Congress to vote to impeach Trump twice. But he was joined at Trump’s second trial by six other GOP senators who thought Trump guilty of inciting the deadly attack on the US Capitol on 6 January, by a mob seeking to overturn the election.
Despite that, Republicans in the Senate blocked the formation of a 9/11-style independent commission to investigate the January attack. This week the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, announced the formation of a select committee.
Republicans say that will be too partisan. Key witnesses such as the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, who pleaded with Trump to call off the attack, seem unlikely to agree to appear.
Romney said he hoped Pelosi would “appoint people that are seen as being credible and are willing to look at the evidence on a clear-eyed basis”.
He added: “I voted in favour of a bipartisan commission. I think that would have had more credibility … and yet there will be a an effort to look back at what happened on 6 January. I think there are questions that are appropriate to be evaluated.
“One question is why did it take so long for security to come to the Capitol and to rescue the Capitol police that were battling away, and to make sure that the Vice-President [Mike Pence] was safe and his family was safe, as well as other elected officials.
“Why was the delay so long? Why didn’t the Pentagon for instance move more quickly? What happened in the White House?
“… That was a terrible day in American history, and it’s going to be used against us around the world. It already is by China and Russia. It has huge implications. It should never happen again in any effort to understand why it happened, is in my opinion, appropriate.”
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