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Thune’s announcement, Daschle’s phone call, and Rounds’ rejection of the Big Lie

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By Twitter.

With a tweet.

That’s how South Dakota senior U.S. senator, John Thune, announced on Saturday that he would run for a historic fourth term in the Senate.

In a more traditional means of communication, former U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle, the guy Thune beat for the Senate in 2004, gave me a call. On the phone. To chat.

It was a cell-phone call, not a land-line call. We don’t have a land line anymore. I assume Daschle doesn’t either. Still, it was a phone call, not a text or a tweet or Facebook message or an Instagram snap.

And it’s worth talking about. So is Thune’s announcement, however it was conveyed.

First, however, how about that Mike Rounds, speaking the truth and rejecting the Big Lie of a stolen 2020 election on ABC with George Stephanopoulos?

Stephanopoulos first asked Rounds, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee and Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, about Russia and its threats against Ukraine.

Then Stephanopoulos moved on to the results of the 2020 election, which Rounds voted to certify. Stephanopoulos also pointed out that Rounds had condemned the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as an act of insurrection.

Stephanopoulos then asked what Rounds would say to all the Republicans who believe, or say they believe, the lie pushed by Donald Trump that the election was stolen.

Rounds said: “We looked, as a part of our due diligence, at over 60 different accusations made in multiple states. While there were some irregularities, there were none of the irregularities that have risen to the point where they would have changed the outcome in a single state. The election was fair, as fair as we have seen. We simply did not win the election, as Republicans, for the presidency.”

Rounds said rather than focus on that election, Republicans need to move forward and focus on what it takes to win the next election, and also let people know they can have confidence that elections are fair. “And that is in every single state we looked at,” Rounds said.

As you might expect, Trump responded with name-calling. He called Rounds a “weak and ineffective leader” and more:

“Senator Mike Rounds of the Great State of South Dakota just went woke on the Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 … is he crazy or just stupid?” Trump said. “I will never endorse this jerk again.”

Standing up to the former president

Rather than running for cover, as many Republicans do when Trump attacks, Rounds stood his ground and responded to the former president:

“I’m disappointed but not surprised by the former president’s reaction, Rounds said. “However, the facts remain the same. I stand by my statement. The former president lost the 2020 election.”

There it is: a rational Republican making a rational statement — a true statement — in response to one of the former president’s unrelenting string of lies.

But Rounds wasn’t finished.

“This isn’t new information,” he continued. "If we’re being honest, there was no evidence of widespread fraud that would have altered the results of the election. To that point, nearly all of my Senate Republican colleagues acknowledged this last January.

"During the electoral certification process, we did our due diligence and looked at the challenges made by the former president’s lawyers. Over 90 senators agreed that there was not enough evidence to overturn the results and, therefore, certified the election as our Constitution calls for,” Rounds said.

“Additionally, Vice President Mike Pence stood his ground, acknowledged President Biden’s victory and acted with integrity. It’s time the rest of us do the same.”

Get enough Republicans talking like that, and they might make the GOP the Grand Old Party it once was.

Rounds is in a good position to speak the truth, of course. Unlike John Thune and Dusty Johnson, who are both up for reelection this year, Rounds won his second six-year term in the U.S. Senate in November of 2020, the same election Biden won and Trump lost.

So Rounds has some time before he has to run for reelection, if he decides that’s what he wants, and has to face the GOP primary. There voter turnout is reduced and radical voters can have more influence.

Maybe the Trump fever among so many Republicans will have broken by then, and sanity will prevail.

Yes, he’s not up for election for a while, but still…

Meanwhile, speaking the truth is rarely a bad thing. And there are other Republicans with a time gap before reelection who remain silent in the face of Trump’s lie, or even enable and promote them. So Rounds deserves plenty of credit for just standing for the truth and against the Big Lie, knowing full well that he would be attacked by Trump and the Trump minions.

So, bravo, senator. Well done. As I said in a tweet (yeah, I do that), that’s the kind of leadership the Republican Party needs and this nation deserves. Let’s hope others in the Republican Party follow the senator’s lead.

But on to Thune, and his tweeted announcement.

That’s the social-media world in which we live. An announcement that once might have been made with a news conference, or a series of news conferences in different South Dakota towns, or at least an official news release to news outlets came out instead in a tweet.

Nonetheless, it was big news, and surprising news to some who were betting that Thune was tired of the grind in D.C. and was leaning toward granting his wife, Kimberley, her wish that he retire at the end of this term to spend more time at their home in Sioux Falls with family.

You couldn’t blame him if he did. He could retire, take his sweet benefits package with him and pick up a job where he’d make more money and work less.

Capitol Hill seems like a marginally rewarding place these days, with more conflicts than accomplishments. And, of course, in addition to the increasingly wide partisan divide, there is a battle within the Republican Party between rational conservatives like Thune and a new breed of Trump-obsessed radicals inclined to put the man with the never-ending supply of lies ahead of not just party but country.

Right now, Thune’s side seems outnumbered. So much so that people like Thune, who would clearly like to say more against the former president and his lies, are more likely to be quiet and hope the orange storm passes without too much damage to the nation.

I fear it won’t.

I think Tom Daschle, ever the optimist about the United States and its future, shares that fear, while still being almost as optimistic as ever.

I won’t get into details about our call. It was a personal chat, more about our lives and our children and grandchildren and fly fishing than it was about the state of the nation. And it was great to hear that soft-spoken greeting: “Hi, Kevin. This is Tom Daschle.”

I used to hear it a lot. But I haven’t heard that in years. And I have to admit, when I heard it, I realized how much I’ve missed it. Whatever you thought of Tom Daschle’s politics, and I thought pretty highly of most of it, he’s a genuinely nice man, and a thoughtful human being.

My friend, Jeff, who worked for Daschle for seven years (and looks back on those years as the best work experience of his life), had spoken to Daschle earlier and suggested he give me a call. I appreciate both Jeff and Daschle for that.

Harkening back to the good old days of news

The call reminded me of the many conversations I had with Daschle back when he was in the Senate. Despite living for most of the year in the D.C. area, he tried to visit every county in South Dakota at least once each year. And he went on annual driving tours, just him, without staff, throughout the state during the late summer Senate recess.

For many of those tours he took an old family Plymouth. And I went along for the ride, and a story, two or three times. I got to watch Daschle go from gas station to feed store to cafe to meat locker, shaking hands, chatting with people and asking about their concerns.

He made those trips even after he became Senate Democratic leader, his party’s No. 1 person in the Senate. And he was the first South Dakotan — and the only one so far — to serve as the Senate majority leader, which is one of the four or five most influential positions in D.C.

Yet, many reporters could reach him with a simple phone call.

I remember doing that one evening from the Rapid City Journal newsroom when Daschle was Democratic leader. I think I was trying to get a reaction from him for a story going in the next morning’s paper. It was back in the days when the lights in newsrooms of daily papers were on late as reporters pushed deadlines to get the latest news possible into the morning paper.

It was late evening in the D.C. area when I dialed Daschle ’s number, reaching him at home. He said he has just finished some Senate work and was reading a book to relax before bed. I can’t remember the book. But I remember it was worthy of a senator’s time.

I also remember sharing that call to Daschle with Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, years before a cluster of malformed blood vessels in Johnson’s brain ruptured, leaving him with partial paralysis and speech difficulties. Nonetheless, less than two years later Johnson ran for, won and served another full term in the Senate before retiring with an unblemished state-and-federal election record.

That campaign and that last term were testaments to Johnson’s strength and courage, and to the love and support of his wife, Barb.

Johnson was a policy wonk who loved to study legislation and no stranger to hard work. But he expressed amazement that Daschle could handle all the duties of a senator, plus his leadership role, and still keep up on contemporary reading and be engaged in politics — his and other Democrats.

Daschle isn’t quite that busy these days. So he and his wife, Linda, can enjoy life at their home in the D.C. area and another place in South Carolina.

Daschle remains active in the government world through a consulting business with his son, Nathan. And he stays in touch with his pal and fly fishing buddy, former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, another South Dakota native son who now lives on a ranch in Montana.

It’s clear that while he misses the action of the Senate, especially in his leadership role, he’s also enjoying life as a former U.S. senator.

Daschle served three Senate terms before his loss to Thune. Tim Johnson served three Senate terms, the second coming after he beat Thune in 2002, before his retirement because of his health issues. Republican Larry Pressler served three Senate terms before losing to Johnson in 1996. And Democrat George McGovern served three Senate terms before losing in 1980 to Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Abdnor, who served one Senate term before losing to Daschle — then in the U.S. House — in 1986.

Which brings us back to Thune’s run for a fourth term. Presuming he wins, and that’s what I’m presuming, he’ll join Karl Mundt as the only South Dakotans to serve four terms in the U.S. Senate.

That’s a pretty big deal.

So big, I guess, it merited a tweet.

Click here to access the archive of Woster's past work for SDPB.