Kentucky Republicans entered the state’s premier political campaign this weekend, aiming to win elections in November and beyond, but some aspiring gubernatorial candidates have struggled to accept Donald Trump’s defeat in 2020.
When asked if Democrat Joe Biden’s decision to win over Trump for the presidency was fair, they responded with parsing or torture. Their tiptoes are a sign of Trump’s continued control of many in the Republican Party, including in Kentucky, where he has easily twice seized.
The impact was evident on Saturday when Trump supporters held large “Trump wins” signs as people gathered at a fancy farm picnic in western Kentucky for a political speech. The signs — promoting false claims by Trump that the 2020 election was rigged — drew cheers from Republican loyalists. The stump speech at a picnic broadcast on statewide television is a form of coming-of-age ceremony for Kentucky statewide candidates.
Trump is already in the bluegrass state’s 2023 gubernatorial race, backing Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who is seeking re-election, skipped a picnic to comfort flood victims Saturday in eastern Kentucky.
Cameron pointed to Trump’s support in his picnic speech. But he was outraged over the weekend by the former president’s unfounded claims of widespread election fraud in 2020.
“The election in Kentucky is fair and safe,” Cameron told a question from reporters. “Look, we have to focus on the future. That’s what this campaign is about.”
Cameron, however, distanced himself from the views of some die-hard Trump supporters who believe the 2020 presidential election result should be overturned.
“President Biden is the president of the United States. I have no problem with that,” said Cameron, the attorney general who has been involved in multiple lawsuits challenging the Biden administration’s policies.
Cameron, who worked for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and viewed him as a mentor, also declined to discuss the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol. The House panel investigating the attack blamed Trump, saying the attack was not spontaneous but an “attempted coup” that was the direct result of the defeated president’s attempt to overturn the election.
Instead of discussing the siege of the Capitol, Cameron pointed to the 2020 demonstrations sparked by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans in encounters with police. He said he was not asked about protests that destroyed property in some cities in the country.
Cameron, who is black, even made a joke about Trump’s endorsement in his picnic speech — in the form of a true fancy farm, where spoofs and spoofs are not only common but expected.
“Right now people are speculating how I got this recognition. So today I’m going to spill the beans. It’s actually pretty easy. … All I have to do is assure Trump that Mitch McConnell isn’t Mark Enzer’s grandfather,” Cameron quipped, referring to his wife.
Cameron was the only gubernatorial candidate to mention Trump at the fancy farm stage, whose support has been coveted by other Republican gubernatorial candidates.
Another gubernatorial candidate, state Rep. Savannah Maddox, mentioned in his picnic speech that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is a “true Republican” who will “serve your Constitutional rights and freedoms”.
Cameron isn’t the only Republican candidate who has struggled to answer Trump-related questions.
When asked if he thought Biden won a fair win, Ryan Quarles replied that the election in Kentucky was “safe” and that Trump had a “big win” in the bluegrass state. State Agriculture Commissioner Quarles is also among the gubernatorial candidates seeking to decide the Republican nomination next spring.
“I think if President Trump was in office today, he would do a better job than President Biden,” Quarles added.
Another gubernatorial candidate, state auditor Mike Harmon, gave a more than 140-word answer when asked for the first time whether Biden won a fair win. Harmon later said some key election-related “controls had been lifted,” but said he could not “assess one way or the other.”
Harmon said he hoped the Capitol hadn’t been attacked, but he also pointed to property damage and damage during police-related protests, expressing a lack of concern.
“Certainly, President Biden is serving as our president,” Harmon said later. “We need to pray for him as we would any president. And hope for his guidance. Obviously we want him to do something different.”