LAS VEGAS — Republican National Committee members approved a resolution Friday promising to continue to “vocally” support those who “lawfully” served as Donald Trump’s electors in 2020 in states that President Biden won — a compromise intended to placate Trump supporters who had unsuccessfully pushed for help covering the legal bills for those who challenged the result and now face criminal charges.
Tyler Bowyer, a Republican national committeeman from Arizona who signed paperwork in 2020 falsely claiming Trump had won his state, pushed the resolution. It comes as Trump electors are facing numerous investigations and lawsuits, with prosecutors charging electors in three states and the Arizona attorney general investigating alleged attempts by Republicans there to overturn the 2020 election results.
The resolution, which some Republicans saw as intentionally vague in its wording, highlights enduring divisions in the GOP over the effort Trump and his allies waged to overturn his 2020 election defeat. Trump, now the clear front-runner for the Republican nomination in 2024, has continued to promote false claims that the prior presidential election was rigged against him. As some Republicans have urged Trump and his allies to move on, disagreements over what to do about those saddled with legal bills related to the 2020 aftermath loom over the party.
Bowyer had initially put forward a resolution that would have indemnified members of the committee who were Trump electors, but faced pushback. He described his resolution as having two goals: “to identify the awareness and involvement of the RNC” and “ensure that the RNC is vocally and morally supporting those who have been targeted by radicals with an ultimate hope that they can be financially sustained.”
David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research, a nonprofit that works with election officials in both parties, said: “There are no such things, in the Constitution or federal law, as ‘alternate electors.’ In every single state in 2020, there was a legitimate slate of electors that reflected the certified vote of the citizens of those states, under the laws of those states.”
Becker added: “In several states, false electors who allegedly swore false statements are being prosecuted and/or investigated, in accordance with the laws of those states.”
Many of those who participated in the alternate elector strategy have faced costly legal bills, investigations and prosecutions in the three years since Trump’s loss. Bowyer’s resolution sought to absolve them of wrongdoing by members of their own party but has no practical effect on state or federal investigations.
Republicans in seven states that Biden won — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — met to cast electoral votes for Trump in December 2020 even though Trump had lost those states. Some of them later said they met at the behest of Trump’s campaign. In five of the states, the Republicans signed paperwork claiming to be their states’ rightful electors. (In Pennsylvania and New Mexico, the Republicans said their electoral votes should be counted only if a court found they were legitimate electors.)
The Republicans from the seven states sent their official-looking documents to the U.S. Senate, the National Archives and other offices, and Trump’s supporters used the filings to try to reverse the election results.
State and local prosecutors have charged some of the Republican electors in Georgia, Michigan and Nevada with crimes such as forgery. The Republicans have said they did not do anything wrong and the cases are ongoing. Some of the Republican electors have said they were encouraged by the Trump campaign to sign paperwork claiming Trump had won their states even though he had lost them.
Arizona’s attorney general is expected to make a charging decision soon. In Wisconsin, two of Biden’s electors sued the Republican electors, who in a December settlement acknowledged Biden had won and agreed not to serve as electors in 2024.
Richard Porter, a Republican national committeeman from Illinois who chairs the RNC’s resolutions committee, said that “taking steps to preserve a remedy during ongoing litigation on the advice of counsel is and always should be lawful” and called the resolution “an open and obvious action taken as a contingency in the event litigation was successful.”
In interviews, some RNC members suggested that Friday’s resolution, which was part of a broader package, was essentially toothless.
“They stuck in the world lawful next to the word alternate electors, I don’t know what that is,” said Bill Palatucci, a national committeeman from New Jersey who has criticized Trump. “It’s much ado about nothing.”
The resolution comes amid tensions between RNC and Turning Point Action, a pro-Trump youth group, which has been critical of the committee and held its own summit in Las Vegas just before the RNC’s winter meeting, titled “Restoring National Confidence Summit.” Bowyer, a vocal critic of the RNC and its chair, Ronna McDaniel, is chief operating officer of Turning Point Action.
One person familiar with the RNC discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak about private talks, suggested there would be disputes among the members of what the term “lawful” alternate elector meant. That person said the resolution changed significantly from the original proposal and suggested it was a way for the committee members to find consensus after the majority on the resolutions committee rejected a push to cover legal fees.
Jeff Mandell, the attorney for the Biden electors suing in Wisconsin, said the resolution is preposterous for suggesting the Trump electors acted lawfully.
“It’s not lawful action,” Mandell said. “In fact, the 10 fraudulent electors in Wisconsin admit as part of their settlement ‘we were not the duly elected presidential electors for the state of Wisconsin and we said we were.’ So the resolution is just doubling down on things that aren’t true.”
He said the RNC resolution suggests Republicans are willing to do the same thing again. “Far from being chastened by the aftermath of the 2020 election, the Republican Party institutionally appears to be doubling down, already planning on the things that they’re going to do if they lose,” he said.