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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Martin Pengelly in Washington

Senior Republican who called Trump ‘inexcusable’ endorses him for president

a man in a blue suit and and blue tie speaks
Senator John Thune at the Capitol in Washington DC on 6 February. Photograph: Bonnie Cash/UPI/Rex/Shutterstock

The No2 Republican in the US Senate, John Thune of South Dakota, endorsed for president Donald Trump – the man he previously called “inexcusable” for seeking to overturn the 2020 election and inciting the deadly January 6 attack on Congress.

Multiple media outlets reported Thune’s endorsement. They also swiftly pointed out statements made by Thune after the 2021 US Capitol attack, now linked to nine deaths, more than 1,200 arrests and hundreds of convictions, some for seditious conspiracy.

“The impeachment trial is over and former President Trump has been acquitted,” Thune said on 13 February 2021, after only seven Republicans voted to convict Trump of inciting an insurrection and thereby bar him from office.

“My vote to acquit should not be viewed as exoneration for his conduct on January 6 … or in the days and weeks leading up to it. What former President Trump did to undermine faith in our election system and disrupt the peaceful transfer of power is inexcusable.”

Saying he voted to acquit because Trump had left office, and following his Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, who excoriated Trump after voting to acquit, Thune added: “I have faith in the American people and the strength of our democracy.”

Many observers now hold democracy to be under serious threat as Trump homes in on the Republican nomination to face Joe Biden in November.

Trump has won each primary vote, most recently in South Carolina on Saturday where he easily beat Nikki Haley, a former governor of the southern state and his only remaining opponent.

Haley suffered a further blow on Sunday when the influential Koch network withdrew financial support, saying it would focus on Congress instead.

“We don’t believe any outside group can make a material difference to widen her path to victory,” Emily Seidel, chief executive of Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-backed advocacy group, told staff in a note reported by Politico.

Trump’s dominance persists despite his facing 91 criminal charges (17 for election subversion, 40 for retention of classified information and 34 for hush-money payments to an adult film star) and civil judgments including multimillion-dollar penalties in suits over his business affairs and a defamation claim arising from a rape accusation a judge called substantially true.

Such legal troubles have fueled doubts about Trump’s electability, shared by senior Republicans.

Thune first endorsed Tim Scott, the South Carolina senator now pursuing selection as Trump’s nominee for vice-president. Trump often attacked Thune in return.

Fox News first reported Thune’s Trump endorsement.

Thune said: “The primary results in South Carolina make clear that Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee for president in this year’s pivotal presidential election. The choice before the American people is crystal clear: it’s Donald Trump or Joe Biden.

“I support former President Trump’s campaign to win the presidency, and I intend to do everything I can to see that he has a Republican majority in the Senate working with him to restore American strength at home and abroad.”

Of three senior Republicans thought to be possible successors to McConnell as leader in the Senate, Thune was the last to back Trump. John Barrasso of Wyoming and John Cornyn of Texas had already bent the knee.

McConnell has not endorsed Trump, who has regularly attacked him – including calling him a “piece of shit” – and made racist remarks about his wife, Elaine Chao, who was US transportation secretary in the Trump administration until January 6, after which she resigned.

Despite it all, the New York Times reported on Monday that aides to McConnell and Trump were pursuing “back channel” talks aimed at producing an endorsement.

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