Trump’s doubts about election results spread among GOP and raise concern for next Jan. 6.

Six months before the 2024 presidential election, the House speaker and several Republican lawmakers angling to be Donald Trump's running mate are being increasingly vocal that they cannot guarantee they will certify the results for who won the White House.

It's a growing list that includes a who's who of the Trump-dominated GOP, including Sens. J.D. Vance of Ohio and Tim Scott of South Carolina and Reps. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, Elise Stefanik of New York and Byron Donalds of Florida.

They're taking positions that in previous presidential contests wouldn't have meant much given the every-four-years meeting in Congress that's required under the Constitution to take place on Jan. 6 is widely known to be a ceremonial affair where there's no real doubt over who's going to be the next executive leader of the U.S. government.

But then came the deadly 2021 insurrection, which both federal and state criminal indictments say Trump was instrumental in orchestrating as a way to try to overturn the results of a close presidential race that he lost to Joe Biden.

With the same two candidates primed for a 2024 rematch, historians, political experts, Democrats and even some Republicans who left office because of Trump are raising alarm about what this expanding circle of potential election denialism means for the future of self-government in America.

“It's extremely corrosive to democracy regardless of whether people saying it really mean it or are following Trump’s lead,” said Michael Miller, a George Washington University political science professor who studies how democracies end. Historically, he added that democracies have collapsed when elected leaders convince citizens they cannot trust elections.

“You’re basically telling them there's no point competing within the system,” he said. “This is the origin of Jan. 6, [that] the system failed you.”

Trump's familiar refrain

It's still anyone's guess who will win the White House this November. Recent national and battleground state polls show a tight race, though Trump currently carries a lead in several of the critical states needed to win the number of Electoral College votes to become the president.

Running in 2024 to become the second former U.S. president to serve non-consecutive terms, Trump is already working to sow doubts about an outcome that remains months away.

"If everything's honest, I'd gladly accept the results," Trump told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel earlier this month in an interview. "If it's not, you have to fight for the right of the country."

Trump's stance is not very different than what he said before the 2016 election that he won and the 2020 campaign that he lost.

But what is new is the degree to which he's being echoed by so many senior Republicans who are primed to be in powerful positions of authority when the 2024 results get certified.

During a press conference last week, Johnson, the House speaker, refused to say whether he'd accepted the 2020 election result or would accept the 2024 result.

Johnson, a longtime Trump supporter who on Tuesday attended the former president's ongoing criminal trial in New York, could be chosen speaker again if Republicans maintain control of the House. That's a position that would place him up on the podium during the Jan. 6, 2025, meeting to certify the election results in the House.

Trump's evasiveness about the 2024 election outcome is also being mirrored publicly by at least four of his potential vice presidential picks who currently serve in Congress. This group has either sidestepped answering questions about their role as lawmakers who would be positioned to certify the next presidential winner, or have set conditions on doing so.

Scott, the fourth-term South Carolina senator, repeatedly refused to commit to accepting the outcome of the 2024 election in a May 5 interview with Kristen Welker, the moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Vance, a freshman senator from Ohio, also hedged Sunday on "State of the Union."

“If it’s a free and fair election, I think every Republican will enthusiastically accept the results. Again, I think those results will show that Donald Trump has been elected president,” he said. When pressed he added, "If it is a free and fair election I will accept the results whoever wins."

Stefanik, a fifth-term lawmaker from upstate New York who serves in the House GOP leadership as its conference chairwoman, said in January that she would “see if this is a legal and valid election” before committing to voting to certify the 2024 election result.

Donalds, a second-term congressman who represents a southwest Florida district, seemed to echoed Stefanik in March when he wouldn't commit to certifying election results in 2028 should he be picked as Trump's vice president and they win in 2024.

"If you have state officials who are violating the election law in their states ... then no, I would not," he said.

CAPITOL INSURRECTION - An explosion liights the west side of the US Capitol as the pro-Trump mob is pushed back Wednesday evening January 6, 2021.
CAPITOL INSURRECTION - An explosion liights the west side of the US Capitol as the pro-Trump mob is pushed back Wednesday evening January 6, 2021.

Jan. 6, 2021 looms over 2025 ceremony

The fact there is a growing number of top tier Republicans suggesting without evidence that a Trump loss in November wouldn't be on the up and up could have practical implications.

The Congress that meets on Jan. 6, 2025, to certify the election results could look very different than the chamber did at the start of 2021, when an organized group of lawmakers planned to challenge the results of multiple states but lost support following several hours of delay due to the Capitol riot and failed to change the ultimate outcome when the final vote was held in the early morning hours on Jan. 7, 2021.

In her ceremonial role presiding over the results next January, Vice President Kamala Harris, the Democratic incumbent running for a second term, will stand before a greater share of Republicans compared to 2021 who have embraced Trump's claims about stolen elections.

After the 2020 election, elected leaders defended Trump's right to challenge election results in court, where the lame-duck president and his campaign lost over 60 lawsuits.

But those same Republicans largely dismissed his claims that rampant fraud cost him the election. Before and after the 2020 election, Republican leaders stressed that American elections are secure.

In 2024, those leaders either have already changed or will have stepped down by the time the newly-elected Congress meets next January to certify the presidential election outcome. At the same time, many of the GOP members voicing doubts now publicly, or privately, will remain in a position to challenge electoral college results from key states.

Johnson's position in particular rankles Democrats. The Louisiana lawmaker was a rank-and-file member in 2020 when he lobbied nearly half of his Republican House colleagues to sign onto a friend of the court brief in support of throwing out the election results of four states Biden won. Johnson also urged Republicans not to certify the election results on Jan. 6, 2021.

House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., said Democrats see having Johnson as speaker in 2025 as dangerous.

"We know that Speaker Johnson, as the chief legal architect of the effort to overturn the 2020 election, cannot be trusted with that responsibility because he refuses to commit to putting the needs of the American people above the interests of Donald Trump,” he said in a statement.

Trump has made the belief, or the stated belief, that vote fraud deprived him of reelection in 2020 a litmus test, University of Chicago political science professor John Mark Hansen said.

"For those who are ambitious for themselves within the party, which are most of them, their choice is either you do what Trump wants you to do or you don't and there are consequences to not doing what he wants you to do," Hansen said.

Former Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., who was one of 10 Republicans to vote to impeach Trump for his role in the 2021 Capitol insurrection, said the price to staying in office for many GOP members is showing that loyalty to Trump - no matter the topic.

"Those on the VP hunt for Trump are trying to curry favor," Upton said.

As for the Republican House members who Upton once served with, the ex-congressman said most are staying silent because they don't want Trump' involved in their own election races.

"Many of my Republican colleagues are scared to death about Trump's involvement," Upton said. "And they are kissing the ring."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump's fast-spreading election doubts raise concerns for Jan. 6, 2025