Rounds on voters who berated him: They truly care about their country

Published: Aug. 22, 2022 at 8:21 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds walked into a hornet’s nest and stayed calm during what was supposed to be a routine public forum with mostly — if not entirely — Republican constituents in Spearfish on Thursday.

According to the Black Hills Pioneer newspaper, the staunch Republican made opening comments about current political events, then opened the floor to questions, and immediately encountered an “angry yell-fest,” the newspaper reported, with the loudest and most raucous round of disapproval” coming when Rounds said he thinks the outcome of the 2020 election was accurate.

In an exclusive interview with Dakota News Now on Monday, Rounds once again mentioned the 62 failed state and federal lawsuits — out of 62 — challenging Joe Biden’s victory over former president Donald Trump.

“We have a duty to tell people we did not win that election,” Rounds said.

Carrying out that duty last week was met by loud boos and one woman telling Rounds he’s a RINO — a Republican in Name Only.

The event is seen by one veteran South Dakota political analyst as a microcosm of what appears to be a deepening divide in the Republican party here and nationwide.

The in-fighting pits 2020 election deniers in the Donald Trump camp and those who feel the results were legitimate and perhaps want to move on from the former president.

“The two sides are irreconcilable at this point, and I believe that is potentially the undoing of the modern Republican Party,” said John Tsitrian, who wrote political columns for the Rapid City Journal for about 20 years and is now co-publisher of the South Dakota Standard.

Tsitrian is a registered independent who on Monday wrote a column with a headline that suggested Thursday’s forum with Rounds “calls the viability of the Republican party into question.” You can read the full column here >

Asked by Dakota News Now on Monday what he means by a “potential undoing of the modern Republican Party, Tsitrian said this:

“Either another party will emerge from Republicans who are disaffected by all this election denialism, or there will be a de facto split by a lot of Republicans who will essentially abandon the party in a lot of elections when it appears an election denialist is a Republican candidate. And I think a lot of those Republicans will simply vote for the other party, the Democrats.”

Rounds twice told DNN in the last week that he is concerned that this kind of division could lead to the Republicans’ failure to overtake the majority in both the Senate and House of Representatives, despite Biden’s low approval rating.

Instead of rising to the level of vitriol and volume of the upset voters in Spearfish, Rounds reportedly kept his cool, choosing to calmly state there is no evidence found of any election errors or cheating substantial enough to overturn the election results. He said most politicians know that if they set up a public forum, they have to be prepared for screaming and hollering.

But he understands a group of people that thought the nation was headed in the right direction under Trump and were “shocked” when he lost.

“You try to empathize and you try to put yourself in their position,” Rounds said. ”These folks truly care about their country. They really care. They’re just frustrated, because they really don’t see the path forward to fixing it.”

Some election deniers have said boycotting the upcoming 2022 mid-terms is that path, which is why Rounds wants to have more forums to spread his message to do the exact opposite.

”We want the folks in 2022 to get out and to vote, so that we do have the opportunity to bring back positive conservative policies in Washington, D.C., and we’ve got a long way to go,” Rounds said.

It might sound counterintuitive, but Rounds feels that heated town halls like the one he encountered Thursday might be a positive sign for a party.

”I’d really be worried if people didn’t think it was worth their time to come and visit with us, and, that’s not the case,” Rounds said. “They clearly feel that it is worthwhile to come and visit with us.”

Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is already suggesting that Republicans will have trouble regaining the Senate in 2022.

Tsitrian writes that “the GOP will have similar issues at the House of Representatives level because I think many Republicans are losing their fervor for their party, if not being chased out of it altogether by the rise of election denialism.”

Rounds, who has repeated that he was in favor of most of Trump’s policies, is not up for re-election in November, but Senator John Thune is.

Both lawmakers used the exact same phrase when DNN asked them last week about their level of support for Donald Trump — that they’re keeping their “powder dry” until he officially declares to be a 2024 Presidential candidate. They both hope that does not happen until after the 2022 elections.

Tsitrian thinks Thune is safe in his re-election bid because he is “entrenched” with support of South Dakota voters.

But Tsitrian anticipates Kristi Noem — who is firmly in the Trump camp — will get a legitimate challenge from Democrat Jamie Smith.

“Going back to the 2018 election (when Noem beat Democrat Billy Sutton by just 3.5 percent), you realize there are plenty of South Dakotans who are ready to vote against a Republican, and Smith is not particularly associated with the extremely liberal wing of the Democratic policies,” Tsitrian said. “I think his persona is he is down-to-Earth and he has his feet on the ground and that he’s not going to do anything radical on the basis of any agenda that he has. I think he’ll be acceptable to an awful lot of people that might be registered Republicans that are usually willing to vote the other way.”