Senator Mike Rounds Concerned Election Lies Will Suppress Conservative Turnout at Polls

South Dakota U.S. Senator Mike Rounds joined other Republicans across the country that say the Republican party should move past the baseless claims of voter fraud of former President Donald Trump, mainly out of concern that constant repetition of the claims will discourage conservatives from voting in the future.

Rounds repeated what he's told to local radio stations and newspapers since the election on an appearance on ABC News' "This Week" January 6 anniversary show, and in an interview with the Associated Press.

"If we want to keep the trust and gain the trust of more individuals that are wondering, we have to probably say it a little bit louder and in more places that many of us normally either aren't invited to talk or have chosen not to get into the fray," Rounds told the AP.

While Rounds said some "irregularities" may exist in the elections system, they do not amount to anything that could lead to an election being stolen as Trump claims.

He also echoed another concern from other Republicans, that Trump's claims will demolish the confidence many conservatives have in the electoral system, which could stop them from voting if they simply think the system is rigged and their vote doesn't matter.

However, before that confidence can be restored, Rounds said Republicans across the country have to acknowledge the indisputable fact that Trump lost.

"We have to be more aggressive in reassuring conservatives that their vote counts," Rounds told the AP, saying it's important "to give them reassurance that they can trust us and that we will speak the truth. And even if it's the hard truth that's hard to swallow, we're not going to lie to them."

South Dakota Senator Mike Rounds Donald Trump
Senator Mike Rounds, a Republican from South Dakota, speaks during a confirmation hearing for Denis McDonough, U.S. secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) nominee for U.S. President Joe Biden, on January 27, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Rounds said this week that the Republican party needs to move past the baseless voter fraud claims of former President Donald Trump. Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images, Pool

But the backlash from speaking was swift. Rounds said he wasn't looking to pick a fight with Trump, but that's exactly what happened. The former president called Rounds a "jerk" in a statement. Rounds stood by what he said and argued there are many more Republicans like him—and they need to speak up.

Rounds got backup after Trump's attack from several high-profile Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and fellow South Dakotan Senator John Thune, who has had his own run-ins with Trump. But with the GOP still largely in the former president's grip, it's not clear whether Rounds' defiance represents a slip in that grasp or whether he's a lonely voice in the party.

Republicans have mostly avoided public talk of the deadliest domestic attack on Congress in the nation's history, calling memorials and inquiries into the insurrection "politicized." And Trump has clung to the notion that the election was stolen from him. In an interview Tuesday with National Public Radio, the former president said it was an "advantage" for Republicans to keep alleging fraud and that Rounds was "totally wrong."

In South Dakota, the reaction to Trump's attack on Rounds has so far been muted compared to the backlash Thune faced last year when Trump lashed out at him for saying that the attempt to overturn the election would "go down like a shot dog" in the Senate.

Governor Kristi Noem, who has aligned herself more closely with Trump than any other South Dakota politician, said Tuesday she was not aware of the exchange between Rounds and Trump. And Jeff Holbrook, the chair of the Pennington County GOP, one of the state's largest county parties that held "Stop the Steal" rallies in support of Trump after the 2020 election, said he had seen little reaction to Trump's attack on Rounds.

Rounds said he has heard plenty about the exchange, acknowledging that some reaction was negative, but he said the "vast majority" was from people thanking him for speaking up.

Trump jabbed at Rounds by saying he only had courage to make those remarks because he doesn't face reelection until 2026, and he pledged that he would never again endorse Rounds.

Rounds acknowledged that some Republicans facing earlier primaries would not "disappoint a part of the base that really does have a loyalty to the former president."

But he argued it could be done, pointing to Thune, who recently mulled retirement before announcing last week he would seek another term. Though Thune has a large campaign fund and a seemingly clear path to reelection, he has drawn a handful of primary challenges from an insurgent group of conservatives seeking to unseat anyone who hasn't bought into the Trump brand of politics.

"He's not looking for a fight," Rounds said of Thune. "He just wants to be honest with the people."

One of Thune's challengers, Bruce Whalen, had cautionary words for Rounds.

"He needs to remember that South Dakota is predominantly MAGA and there are just so many angry people out there right now," Whalen said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Georgia Trump Investigation
Former president Donald Trump called South Dakota Senator Mike Rounds a "jerk" in a statement after Rounds said more Republicans need to speak up about their beliefs that the election was not rigged. Above, Trump speaks to supporters during a rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on October 09, 2021, in Des Moines, Iowa. Scott Olson/Getty Images