WASHINGTON – After strongly supporting or at least acquiescing for weeks to President Donald Trump’s attempt to declare himself the winner of the presidential election, Republicans in the Indiana congressional delegation accepted his defeat earlier this week – sort of.

Democrat Joe Biden prevailed over Trump, 306-232, in the Electoral College on Dec. 14. Following the tally, one Hoosier Republican addressed the result.

“Today, the Electoral College has cast their votes and selected Joe Biden as the president-elect,” Sen. Mike Braun said in a statement. “State legislatures, state courts, and the United States Supreme Court have not found enough evidence of voter fraud to overturn the results of the Electoral College vote. I, like many Hoosiers, am disappointed by the results of the Electoral College vote, but today marks a watershed moment where we must put aside politics and respect the constitutional process that determines the winner of our presidential election.”

Sen. Todd Young, who is helping lead GOP efforts to hold two Georgia Senate seats in January runoff elections, was lower key in his acknowledgement of Biden’s victory.

“The Electoral College submitted its vote, and I also think as we look into next year, it’s very important that each of us pledges to work with President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect [Kamala] Harris to ensure that we keep the American people safe and secure so that we get through this coronavirus period and we emerge very strongly on the back end of it,” Young said during a Dec. 15 Senate leadership press conference.

Five Hoosier Republican House members – Reps. Jim Banks, Jim Baird, Jackie Walorski, Trey Hollingsworth and Greg Pence – signed an amicus brief in support of a Texas lawsuit that challenged the election outcome in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia.

The Supreme Court rejected the Texas motion, saying Texas didn’t have standing to contest election procedures in other states. The decision was the highest-profile of dozens of losses in court for allies of Trump, who never presented sufficient evidence of election fraud.

In an email exchange with HPI, Banks said he has “uttered ‘President-elect Biden’ for a number of weeks.” He disputed that the lawsuit sought to overturn election results, calling that characterization a “slanted narrative.”

“The amicus brief supported the Supreme Court looking into questions of who can change election rules and presents a valid legal question that Congress and the courts should dig into in the future,” Banks said. “Can executive branches or unelected positions change these rules unilaterally or shouldn’t they be passed by legislatures instead? Seems like a valid question among others that Congress should dive into.”

The other legislators who signed the amicus brief did not respond to multiple HPI requests asking if they accepted Biden as president-elect.

“I’m still amazed,” former Fort Wayne Mayor Paul Helmke (R) said of the Indiana Republicans backing the Texas lawsuit. “That runs counter to our history. We spent 250 years trying to expand the franchise, not restrict it.”

Helmke said the reason so many GOP members of Congress stuck with Trump to the bitter end is because they feared primaries from Trump supporters if they broke ranks.

“They’re trying to make sure they stay on the right side of Trump,” said Helmke, a professor of practice at the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University and director of the Civic Leaders Center.

How Republicans questioning the election outcome describe their efforts can help them avoid criticism that they’ve gone too far, said Andrew Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Purdue Fort Wayne.

“An awful lot of people think it would be reasonable to follow the process all the way to the end,” Downs said. Banks, for instance, “has not suggested anything completely outrageous yet.”

The Hoosier Republicans who backed Trump’s effort to hold onto the White House without evidence of voting fraud likely weren’t taking much of a political risk. They’re in safe seats in a strong pro-Trump state.

“It’s hard to defeat somebody because of one thing,” Downs said. “By the time we get to 2022, it will be gone in terms of making a difference to voters.”

Political memories could be even shorter.

“In a month, I think people are going to forget they waited this long to call [Biden] president-elect,” Helmke said. “I don’t think there will be short-term political consequences. But when the history books are written, it might be a different story.”

Sowing doubt about the legitimacy of an election might shake the foundation of democracy, but it probably won’t cost Republicans the next election. v

Schoeff is Washington correspondent for Howey Politics Indiana.