Never underestimate the capacity of Republicans to put aside differences and “come home” just before an election, but right now I’d say Donald Trump’s insults and demands that Georgia Republicans somehow overturn Joe Biden’s stunning if narrow win there—after they certified it on Friday—is inflicting genuine damage to the campaigns of GOP Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.
That hasn’t stopped either senator from backing Trump; Loeffler and Perdue even demanded Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s resignation merely for his expressing confidence in the state’s election integrity after Biden’s apparent win (even as he took the extra step of authorizing a hand recount; only an audit of selected counties was required by law, once the vote came within the margin requiring that). But the divisions in the party could cost them both votes in the January 5 runoff. They’re also taking headlines away from Loeffler’s crazy racist campaign to turn the Rev. Raphael Warnock, her opponent, into a junior Jeremiah Wright, and Jon Ossoff, Perdue’s opponent, into a Jewish anti-Semite for supporting Warnock.
The weekend saw wild demonstrations by Trump supporters against Governor Brian Kemp and Raffensperger—and implicitly against Perdue and Loeffler, who are increasingly perceived by hard-core Trumpists as not doing enough to aid Trump. On Saturday in Atlanta, hundreds gathered for a “Stop the Steal” rally where a man in a MAGA cap called Kemp and Raffensperger “traitors” and added, “Any Republican who allows this to happen is complicit and we will finish you!” (I’m sure he meant electorally, though he did put on a camouflage sweatshirt adorned with an elephant, and someone in the crowd shouted, “Death to tyrants!”) He added, “We will do whatever it takes to completely destroy the Republican Party.”
On Saturday, Trump tweeted support for the rally, while his Georgia attorney, L. Lin Wood, urged state Republicans to boycott the Senate runoff. “Want to get @SenLoeffler & @sendavidperdue out of their basements to demand that action must be taken to fix steal of the 11/3 GA election?” Wood asked on Twitter. “Threaten to withhold your votes & money. Demand that they represent you.” That wasn’t quite as bad as Trump attorney Sidney Powell’s claim that Kemp and Raffensperger had been paid off by Dominion Voting Systems Corporation, the manufacturer of the state’s voting machines, to throw the race to Biden. (On Sunday Trump’s team belatedly cut ties with the loony Powell; no such word about Lin Wood.)
Meanwhile on Parler, the wing nut alternative to Twitter, Trumpers amplified Wood’s call.
—Marcus Baram (@mbaram) November 22, 2020
You hate to see it.
But Raffensperger, in particular, has been surprisingly aggressive punching back at Trump, as well as Loeffler and Perdue, who he said “folded like cheap suits” to Trump by demanding his resignation. He even accused Trump of causing his own Georgia loss by undermining GOP voters’ confidence in absentee balloting.
“There were actually 24,000 Republican voters that voted absentee in the June primary, and those same 24,000 voters did not show up to vote in either absentee or in-person on the day of [the November 3] election or the 15 days of early voting we have,” he said, in an interview with Peacock’s Mehdi Hasan. “They were there in June for the primary and they should have come home and voted for President Trump in the fall. So that’s 24,000. That’s his difference right there.” Raffensperger and other state Republican election officials have reported death threats since the recount found that Biden won. Other Republicans, including pollster Frank Luntz, are publicly warning that Trump’s futile “stolen election” crusade could similarly discourage absentee voting in the recount as well as demoralize his hard-core Georgia supporters.
Kemp has tried to split the difference, certifying the state’s election results but backing Trump’s call for an audit that would examine not just ballots but also the signatures on the envelopes containing the ballots. As the former secretary of state no doubt knows, that’s impossible; Georgia officials closely match those signatures to registration records, but then toss aside the envelopes, in order to protect ballot secrecy. Trump’s legal team is making the same impossible demand.
Nevertheless, the Trump team continues to attack Kemp, who is walking a tightrope, knowing he’s likely to be facing a rematch with Stacey Abrams, Georgia’s champion of voting rights, whose efforts are widely credited with helping Biden take the state. He either alienates Trump voters (and judging by the rallies over the weekend, he already has) or energizes the massive electorate Abrams and others have mobilized—on behalf of Warnock and Ossoff in January, and perhaps Abrams the following November.
On the other hand, The New York Times reported Monday that more than 100 CEOs have signed a letter asking Trump to concede to President-elect Joe Biden—and one form of leverage they’ve discussed is withholding donations to Loeffler and Perdue.
Now Trump is apparently going to see Biden win a third time, having asked for and received another recount even after Kemp certified the vote, after the hand recount confirmed that Biden won. Nobody except wing nuts expects the outcome to change; this recount merely retabulates ballots by machine, not by a meticulous hand count. (Checking the history books to see if any presidential candidate has won the same state three times in the same election.)
It’s been encouraging to see Raffensperger and other Georgia Republicans, conservative Republicans all, stand up to Trump and his enablers. I confess that earlier in his term, I naively expected to see some backbone from congressional GOP leaders in rebuking Trump—either after his regime began its compulsive law-breaking, or in 2019, after the Democratic midterm landslide. It would be the greatest justice (and thrill) if Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s ruinous Trump fealty wound up costing Loeffler and Perdue their Senate seats, making him Senate minority leader.
I don’t expect that; I’m no longer so naive. Georgia Democrats are still going to have to fight like hell for every vote. But it’s safe to say the Georgia GOP would rather not be spending this short sprint to a runoff fighting with one another instead of for votes.