A Republican congressman attacked by Donald Trump at a rally in South Carolina on Saturday called the former president a “would-be tyrant”.
Tom Rice voted to impeach Trump over the deadly Capitol attack and will face a Trump-endorsed challenger later this year.
In a statement, Rice said: “If you want a congressman who supports political violence in Ukraine or in the United States Capitol, who supports party over country, who supports a would-be tyrant over the constitution, and who makes decisions based solely on re-election, then Russell Fry is your candidate.”
Trump has praised Vladimir Putin and avoided invitations to condemn him but he has called the Russian invasion of Ukraine a “crime against humanity”.
The attack on the US Capitol on 6 January 2021 happened after Trump told supporters to “fight like hell” in service of his lie that his defeat by Joe Biden was the result of electoral fraud. Seven people died around the riot.
Rice was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the attack. Trump was acquitted when only seven Senate Republicans voted to find him guilty.
Like all House Republicans, Rice supported Trump when he was impeached a first time, for withholding military aid to Ukraine in an attempt to extract dirt on Biden.
Trump has endorsed challengers to disloyal Republicans prominently including Liz Cheney of Wyoming, one of two Republican members of the January 6 committee.
At his rally in Florence, South Carolina, on Saturday, Trump attacked Rice and Nancy Mace, a congresswoman with her own challenger after voting to certify election results.
The former president called both “atrocious Rinos”, Republicans in name only, and “bad people”. He called Rice a “disaster” and “a total fool … laughed at in Washington”.
“Thankfully this June you have a chance to dump these grandstanding losers and replace them with two rock-solid America-first champions,” Trump said.
Rice retorted: “Trump is here because, like no one else I’ve ever met, he is consumed by spite. I took one vote he didn’t like and now he’s chosen to support a yes man candidate who has and will bow to anything he says.”
Rice’s South Carolina district is deep Republican red. In 2020, Trump won it by 18 points. Rice won by nearly 24.
The Associated Press reported on how Rice and Mace are trying to convince voters to back them. Mace emphasised her support for Trump, the AP said, while Rice took a “lower key” approach.
The AP described the congressman “quietly winding through rural stretches of his congressional district to remind voters of his work securing federal relief for frequent – often disastrous – flooding, and of his advocacy for agricultural improvements”.
Of his vote to impeach Trump, he said: “I’ve had some people come to me and say, ‘I was disappointed in your vote’. But 10 times as many have said, ‘Thank you.’”