Donald Trump’s suggestion this weekend that the U.S. Constitution should be terminated in response to his baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen drew a largely muted response from Republicans, the latest sign that many GOP officials remain reluctant to take on the former president even as he challenges the country’s founding precepts.
Trump’s online posts Saturday - including a message in which he wrote that “UNPRECEDENTED FRAUD REQUIRES UNPRECEDENTED CURE!” - represented a significant escalation in his attacks on American institutions and democratic norms, one that scholars said must be heeded as a sign of how far he is willing to go to regain power.
“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 posted on the Truth Social platform. “Our great ‘Founders’ did not want, and would not condone, False & Fraudulent Elections!”
But only a handful of Republican lawmakers have joined the White House and Democrats in condemning Trump’s assertions. Representatives for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not respond on Sunday to requests for comment.
Last month, McCarthy announced that Republicans would read every word of the Constitution out loud on the floor of the House when the GOP takes control of the chamber in January.
Some GOP lawmakers who were asked on Sunday political shows about Trump’s latest missive said they disagreed with the former president. However, most still hesitated to say that they would oppose Trump if he becomes the GOP’s 2024 presidential nominee.
Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio), chair of the Republican Governance Group, avoided answering directly when asked on ABC’s “This Week” about Trump’s comments, saying he “didn’t make a habit of speaking out on his tweet du jour” when Trump was in office. When pressed by host George Stephanopoulos, Joyce said he would “support whoever the Republican nominee is” - but didn’t think Trump would “be able to get there.”
“Well, first off, he hasn’t - he has no ability to suspend the Constitution,” Joyce said. “You know, he says a lot of things, but that doesn’t mean that it’s ever going to happen.”
Laurence H. Tribe, a constitutional law professor at Harvard Law School, said there has been a legitimate, intellectual debate among constitutional scholars about whether the flaws in the nation’s founding documents are so fundamental that there should be a new constitutional convention.
However, what Trump is engaging in is “not debate, but destruction,” Tribe said in an interview. “What he’s doing is openly shrieking in desperation that anything that stands in the way of his becoming all-powerful ought to be swept away.”
Trump last month announced his reelection campaign for president, after a number of Trump-backed candidates lost key races in the midterm elections, complicating questions within the Republican Party about how to navigate their relationship with the former president.
Although Tribe acknowledged that Trump has said many outrageous things that should not always command attention, he does not believe this latest statement should be brushed off, particularly after Trump’s baseless claims about the 2020 election led to a pro-Trump mob storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in an attempt to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral win.
“It’s a distinctive statement. It sort of says the quiet part out loud - that he has no reverence for the country, for anything other than himself,” Tribe said. “This is like saying, ‘You want to see an insurrection? I’ll show you an insurrection. I’ll just tear the whole thing up.’”
Trump’s defenders on Sunday moved to tamp down the controversy. A Republican operative close to the ex-president, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, argued the post did not literally advocate or call for terminating the Constitution.
When asked to clarify how Trump was not at least advocating for the Constitution’s termination, the operative said, “He’s making a comparison of the unprecedented nature of Big Tech meddling in the 2020 election to benefit Joe Biden with the unprecedented act of terminating the Constitution,” suggesting without evidence that technology platforms had tipped the scales for Biden in 2020.
Trump’s posts on Saturday came a day after Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, claimed he would expose how Twitter engaged in “free speech suppression” in the run-up to the 2020 election. But his “Twitter Files” did not show that the tech giant bent to the will of Democrats.
Some GOP members were stronger in their rebukes of Trump’s comments. On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) said he “absolutely” condemned Trump’s remarks but emphasized there remained a long political process to go before Trump could be considered a 2024 front-runner.
“I vehemently disagree with the statement that Trump has made. Trump has made, you know, a thousand statements in which I disagree,” Turner said. He added that voters “certainly are going to take into consideration a statement like this as they evaluate a candidate.”
Trump’s comments prompted a stern rebuke from the White House and from several Democrats, as well as from Republicans who have fallen from grace within their party for their longtime criticisms of Trump. Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) called Trump an enemy of the Constitution, and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) questioned how their fellow Republicans could continue to support him.
“With the former President calling to throw aside the constitution, not a single conservative can legitimately support him, and not a single supporter can be called a conservative,” Kinzinger tweeted Sunday, while tagging in his message the Twitter handles of McCarthy, as well as Reps. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). “This is insane. Trump hates the constitution.”
Congressman-elect Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) echoed several other Republicans in their responses to Trump, saying it was generally time to look ahead, rather than re-litigate the 2020 election.
“The Constitution is set for a reason, to protect the rights of every American. And so I certainly don’t endorse [Trump’s] language or that sentiment,” Lawler said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I think the former president would be well-advised to focus on the future if he is going to run for president again.”
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), who is set to become the Democratic minority leader in January, waved Trump’s comments off as yet another “extraordinary” statement from the former president and ultimately an identity crisis for the GOP.
“I thought it was a strange statement, but the Republicans are going to have to work out their issues with the former president and decide whether they’re going to break from him and return to some semblance of reasonableness or continue to lean into the extremism, not just of Trump, but of Trumpism,” Jeffries said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Several top Republicans - including former vice president Mike Pence - issued rare rebukes of Trump recently after he dined with the White nationalist Nick Fuentes and the rapper Ye, both of whom have a history of antisemitic remarks.
On Sunday, Israel Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu said he believed Trump “probably understands” that the dinner crossed a line but hesitated to fault Trump or his rhetoric for a rise in antisemitism. He instead blamed social media for magnifying such divisions.
“There are many, many blessings of the internet age, but it comes also with a curse. And the curse is polarization,” Netanyahu said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Antisemitism, he said, is “the oldest hatred, as I say, one of the oldest hatreds of humanity. It was wrong then, it’s wrong now. But it’s got an extra life probably in the United States and in other countries by the age of the internet.”
The Washington Post’s Isaac Arnsdorf, Karoun Demirjian, Toluse Olorunnipa and Missy Ryan contributed to this report.