WASHINGTON — Republican reaction to President Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud ranged widely Friday, from vigorous agreement to sharp condemnations, and in between some carefully constructed statements supporting the idea of fair elections without any endorsement of the president’s fabricated assertions of an election conspiracy.
“Here’s how this must work in our great country: Every legal vote should be counted,” Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, wrote on Twitter Friday morning. “Any illegally-submitted ballots must not. All sides must get to observe the process. And the courts are here to apply the laws & resolve disputes.”
“That’s how Americans’ votes decide the result,” he added.
Notably absent from Mr. McConnell’s statement was any suggestion that Democrats were stealing the election through an elaborate national conspiracy that included pollsters and the news media, as Mr. Trump asserted with no evidence in a rambling news conference on Thursday. It also implicitly rejected Mr. Trump’s fruitless calls for a halt to vote counting in states where his early leads have been threatened or eliminated.
In a stinging statement, Senator Mitt Romney of Utah said that Mr. Trump, while free to request recounts and present valid evidence of fraud, “is wrong to say that the election was rigged, corrupt and stolen — doing so weakens the cause of freedom here and around the world, weakens the institutions that lie at the foundations of the republic, and recklessly inflames destructive and dangerous passions.”
As Mr. Trump and his die-hard allies maintained that the vote in Pennsylvania — where his early lead over former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., evaporated on Friday — was badly corrupted, that state’s Republican senator, Patrick J. Toomey, condemned Mr. Trump’s claims.
“The president’s speech last night was very disturbing to me because he made very, very serious allegations without any evidence to support it,” Mr. Toomey told “CBS This Morning.”
“I am not aware of any significant fraud, any significant wrongdoing,” he added.
Some Republicans seem prepared to defend Mr. Trump’s position without reservation, however.
“President Trump won this election,” Representative Kevin McCarthy of California told the Fox News host Laura Ingraham on Thursday night. “So everyone who’s listening: Do not be quiet. Do not be silent about this. We cannot allow this to happen before our very eyes.”
Claiming without evidence that poll watchers have not been able to watch vote counts, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas tweeted a link to Mr. Trump’s legal defense fund, with the headline, in all capital letters, “The Democrats Will Try to Steal This Election.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida even told Fox News that if Mr. Trump were denied what he called a “fair” count, then state legislatures could consider “remedies,” suggesting that they might direct their electors to vote against their state’s election winner.
But other Republican governors were much less supportive. Utah’s lieutenant governor, and now governor-elect, Spencer Cox, said “there is nothing nefarious about it taking a few days to count all legitimate votes.” Gov. Phil Scott of Vermont, who voted for Mr. Biden, called Mr. Trump’s Thursday comments “absolutely shameful.”
Even Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump, in a superficially supportive tweet on Friday morning, made no claims of fraud or election theft.
“Every legally cast vote should be counted. Every illegally cast vote should not. This should not be controversial,” Ms. Trump wrote. “This is not a partisan statement — free and fair elections are the foundation of our democracy.”
Her words were a contrast to those of her brothers, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, who have both made sweeping accusations of widespread fraud. Earlier in the morning, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted the groundless claim that there is “infinitely more evidence of voter fraud than there ever was of ‘Russia Collusion’ but strangely no one in the media wants to look into it.”
Ms. Trump’s position also echoed one on Thursday evening from Vice President Mike Pence, shortly after the president spoke, which also did not include talk of conspiracy or fraud.
“I Stand With President @realDonaldTrump. We must count every LEGAL vote,” Mr. Pence tweeted.
Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser John R. Bolton, who since his acrimonious departure from the White House last summer has become a Trump critic, indirectly condemned his former boss without mentioning his name.
“Republicans are facing a character test,” Mr. Bolton wrote on Twitter. “All candidates are entitled to pursue appropriate election-law remedies if they have evidence supporting their claims. They should certainly not lie. The first Republican president was called ‘Honest Abe’ for a reason.”
The statements on Friday followed a wave of Republican reaction on Thursday night, including some defenses of Mr. Trump.
“I don’t trust Philadelphia,” the newly re-elected Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said, also on Fox News, referring to the city where voters overwhelmingly chose Mr. Biden, helping eliminate Mr. Trump’s early lead. “I’m here tonight to stand with President Trump,” he said, echoing Mr. Trump’s claim that “mainstream” pollsters had inflated Democratic numbers to “suppress Republican votes.”
But many more senior Republicans were at least indirectly critical of Mr. Trump, even after Mr. Trump’s son and former campaign manager publicly complained that more Republicans were not stepping forward to defend the embattled president.
“Counting every vote is at the heart of democracy,” Mr. Romney wrote the night before his more forceful statement on Friday.
“There is no defense for the President’s comments tonight undermining our Democratic process,” tweeted Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, a Republican and frequent Trump critic. “No election or person is more important than our Democracy.”
Several Republicans noted the absence of any specific evidence of substantive wrongdoing.
“If a candidate believes a state is violating election laws they have a right to challenge it in court & produce evidence in support of their claims,” tweeted Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who reposted a message from Wednesday in which he said, “Taking days to count legally cast votes is NOT fraud. And court challenges to votes cast after the legal voting deadline is NOT suppression.”
Without naming Mr. Trump, Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois tweeted that “if you have legit concerns about fraud present EVIDENCE and take it to court. STOP Spreading debunked misinformation.”
“This is getting insane,” he added.