President Donald Trump has long been a divisive figure in national politics. Now, he has become one within the Republican Party.
Elected Republican leaders in McLean County say they don't embrace the false narrative of a stolen presidential election. That is a clear division from others in county party leadership who still support Trump's baseless claims.
The McLean County Republican Party chair has repeatedly backed Trump's false assertions of election fraud. At least two precinct committee chairs in the county went on a bus trip to Washington, D.C., to attend the rally that turned into the riot and insurrection in the halls of Congress. One of those is also a candidate for Normal Town Council.
Yet, Republican office holders in McLean County have largely stepped back from the Trump narrative.
State Sen. Jason Barickman of Bloomington says what many Republicans have refused to say for months.
“I have never been one who challenged the outcome of this election,” Barickman said.
In multiple cases, judges have scolded President Trump's legal team for bringing fraud allegations without evidence.
The chair of the Republican Party in McLean County is Connie Beard. She said a lot of her party's voters still have doubts about election integrity.
“I’m not disputing the legal process has been followed,” Beard said. “What I am concerned with is that there are still unanswered questions about the voting process that should be investigated to a fuller extent.”
Beard argues incoming president Joe Biden should address that issue. The courts already have ruled many times on the election process.
Republican state Rep. Dan Brady of Bloomington said he recognizes not everyone in his party is ready to move on, but he thinks that's unproductive.
“I found my time best spent during this time was to be with my constituents trying to help them with everything from unemployment issues to other COVID-19 related issues,” Brady said. “Others thought it was better to board a bus and go to Washington, D.C. That’s their decision.”
The national divide threatens to become an issue within McLean County government as well. Several Democratic County Board members have asked for a resolution about the attacks against the federal government.
Board Chair John McIntyre, a Republican, said that would only cause discord. The board is nearly split among Republicans and Democrats.
“Everybody I’m sure has a different opinion on some of these things politically and could cause some division, which I absolutely don’t want on our board because I think we all need to work together to guide our county,” McIntyre said.
Instead, board member Laurie Wollrab read a statement at the board's meeting Thursday, backed by the board's nine Democrats, that condemned the attacks that she said were “incited by elected officials sworn to uphold our Constitution."
McIntyre calls those who went to Washington to contest the election the Republican party's "extremists." He said Democrats also have their own extremists.
McIntyre said he places much of the blame for the current political division on Trump.
“Donald Trump has been a bad thing for our party,” said McIntyre, adding the president's rhetoric has made it difficult for Republicans to run in local races.
“He’s put the average person who is a Republican, who is running for office, who still wants the Republican vote in a very bad light,” McIntyre said. “He’s put somebody like myself who ran for office again at a disadvantage because of so many people he has antagonized.”
McIntyre said he aligns himself with U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who grew up in McLean County.
Kinzinger was one of 10 House Republicans to vote for Trump's impeachment. Kinzinger also called for invocation of the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.
“I’ve known Adam and I know he has inside information as well, and I’ve trusted his opinion on this,” McIntyre said.
But the Republican base still largely supports Trump as he prepares to leave office. Beard denies the idea Trump's rhetoric led to violence at the capitol. She said the violent actions of a select few unfairly tarnish Republicans.
“There continues to be an effort to try to take that small group that created that violence and let them be the poster child for the Republican Party and I think that’s a sad disservice,” Beard said.
She also has suggested some of the perpetrators may have been outside agitators. Such allegations also are baseless and have been widely discredited.
Yet, elected Republican leaders in the county are not eager to publicly go against Beard and other Trump supporters. McIntyre said he has no comment about Beard's election fraud claims.
Rep. Brady wouldn't address the county GOP's continued attempts to raise doubts about a certified election. He does say party leaders need to turn down the temperature.
“The idea that you can scream and be a flamethrower and scream from the highest peak about certain things, after a while you get tired of listening to the person who cries wolf all the time,” Brady said.
Barickman said infighting likely cost Republicans control of the U.S. Senate, and that the GOP should focus on what unites the party.
“I think the party is about a collection of values. I think that’s the thing we should rally around, things like liberty and freedom and personal responsibility,” Barickman said. “When our party is divided, the values we prioritize are at risk.”
In a post-Trump political world, finding common ground might become easier within the Republican party, though the nation as a whole remains deeply divided across the political spectrum.
Among the local Republicans who attended the "Stop the Steal" rally was David Paul Blumenshine, a candidate for Normal Town Council. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
GOP Precinct Committee chief Paul Bender also went on the bus trip.
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