During the first couple of months of 2021, Donald Trump’s ridiculous claims about voter fraud were effectively re-interpreted as protests against unconstitutional procedures and this allowed any Republican to sign on to a campaign for “election integrity” even though there is no evidence that voter fraud is a major problem in America.
While most House Republicans had amplified Mr. Trump’s claims about the election in the aftermath of his loss, only the right flank of the caucus continued to loudly echo Mr. Trump’s fraud allegations in the days before Jan. 6, The Times found. More Republican lawmakers appeared to seek a way to placate Mr. Trump and his supporters without formally endorsing his extraordinary allegations. In formal statements justifying their votes, about three-quarters relied on the arguments of a low-profile Louisiana congressman, Representative Mike Johnson, the most important architect of the Electoral College objections.
On the eve of the Jan. 6 votes, he presented colleagues with what he called a “third option.” He faulted the way some states had changed voting procedures during the pandemic, saying it was unconstitutional, without supporting the outlandish claims of Mr. Trump’s most vocal supporters. His Republican critics called it a Trojan horse that allowed lawmakers to vote with the president while hiding behind a more defensible case.
Even lawmakers who had been among the noisiest “stop the steal” firebrands took refuge in Mr. Johnson’s narrow and lawyerly claims, though his nuanced argument was lost on the mob storming the Capitol, and over time it was the vision of the rioters — that a Democratic conspiracy had defrauded America — that prevailed in many Republican circles.
That has made objecting politically profitable. Republican partisans have rewarded objectors with grass-roots support, paths to higher office and campaign money. Corporate backers have reopened their coffers to lawmakers they once denounced as threats to democracy. And almost all the objectors seeking re-election are now poised to return to Congress next year, when Republicans are expected to hold a majority in the House.
Objectors are set to fill the Republican leadership posts and head a majority of the committees. All eight Republicans in the House seeking higher office voted against the Electoral College tally, while a dozen Republican lawmakers who broke with Mr. Trump have either lost primaries or chosen to retire.
Playing to Trump loyalists, many across the party have made a slogan of “election integrity” — a “dog whistle” perpetuating the erroneous belief that Mr. Trump’s victory was stolen, as one dissenting Republican put it in a party meeting. More than a third of the objectors joined a new Election Integrity Caucus, which advocates stricter voter requirements and has featured speakers who supported Mr. Trump’s efforts to fight his loss.