COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — President Donald Trump “poured gas on the fire” ahead of the occupation of the U.S. Capitol, fellow Republican Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio said Thursday in his harshest criticism of the president to date.
The president’s continued refusal to accept the election results, without producing any credible evidence of a rigged election, “has started a fire that has threatened to burn down our democracy,” DeWine said.
“This incendiary speech yesterday, the one he gave preceding the march that he gave to the protesters, served only to fan those flames, encouraging the mob behavior that ensued,” DeWine said.
On Wednesday afternoon, dozens in a pro-Trump mob took over the presiding officer’s chair in the Senate, the offices of the House speaker and the Senate dais, where one yelled, “Trump won that election.”
Earlier in the morning, Trump told a morning crowd he would go with them to the Capitol, but he didn’t. Instead he sent them off with incendiary rhetoric.
“If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” he said.
“Let the weak ones get out,” he went on. “This is a time for strength.”
DeWine called the mob’s actions shameful and said “all Americans must denounce them, even those Americans who feel, incorrectly, that Donald Trump won.”
GOP Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, a former Ohio elections chief, chimed in, saying “the presidential election of 2020 was not stolen.”
The fact that some states took days to count absentee ballots provided an opportunity to sow seeds of distrust, Husted said.
“But there’s a big difference between an inefficient process and a stolen election,” Husted said Thursday. “It is reckless to equate the two.”
DeWine, in political office for four decades and a former U.S. congressman and senator, has generally stayed clear of criticizing Trump since the governor’s election in 2018. He co-chaired the president’s reelection campaign in Ohio and has repeatedly said he needs to maintain a relationship with the president as governor.
Even on Thursday, DeWine spent 10 minutes denouncing the invasion of the Capitol before he first mentioned the president. He also refused to criticize the five Ohio Republican congressmen who challenged Biden’s election, saying only, “that would not have been my vote.”
Asked why he hadn’t criticized Trump more forcefully in the past months, DeWine noted he’d been trolled by the president on Twitter in November when Trump suggested the governor should have a primary challenger in 2022. The mid-November tweet came a day after DeWine said on CNN that Trump should begin a transition to President-elect Joe Biden.
DeWine said he appreciated many of Trump’s positions, including his trade negotiations and the president’s choices for federal judges and U.S. Supreme Court justices. He also said he favored letting the president remain for the last 13 days in office, rather than attempt to force his removal.
“You either have faith in the system or you don’t have faith in the system,” said DeWine, who said he receives criticism from both the left and the right.
He added: “We need to have faith in our electoral system, the mechanism that work. The good news from yesterday is that the Constitution prevailed and people followed the Constitution despite a mob.”