Just last week, we learned that a Wisconsin Republican election commissioner boasted of the party’s success in dampening Black turnout, especially in Milwaukee, last November. Thanks to the state GOP’s “well thought out multi-faceted plan,” commissioner Robert Spindell e-mailed colleagues, 37,000 fewer voters cast ballots there than in 2018, “with the major reduction happening in the overwhelming Black and Hispanic areas.” It could have cost Democrat Mandela Barnes a Senate seat.
Now comes news that former Georgia GOP senator Kelly Loeffler is bragging that her party reelected Governor Brian Kemp and scored big wins in the state legislature at least partly because of voter-suppressing Senate Bill 202, the February 2021 law that severely curtailed the state’s absentee ballot and vote by mail programs and limited other polling options. Loeffler doesn’t quite claim that the bill suppressed Black votes—though it probably did: After the bill imposed restrictions on voting by mail, mail-in ballots plunged by 81 percent from 2020, and Black voter turnout dropped from 2018 midterm levels.
But Loeffler says the law did something equally important: it reassured conservative voters “disenfranchised” by the myth of Democratic voter fraud that their votes would count, and thus boosted white GOP turnout.
That’s confirmation of what we knew all along: At its best, SB 202 was a solution to problems that never existed and a cynical, dishonest “confirmation” to its base that Donald Trump’s Big Lie about election fraud was true.
Instead of being mad at Trump for dampening Republican runoff turnout, the Georgia GOP—and this includes widely praised Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who resisted Trump’s efforts to overturn Georgia’s results—played into his complaints by giving Republican voters effective confirmation of Trump’s claims with SB 202, insisting that voting rules had to be changed to prevent fraud. So the 2020 election praised, even by some in the Georgia GOP, as the fairest and most accessible in state history, instead became Exhibit A in Republican voter fraud mythology.
This is another perfect example of how even comparative GOP “moderates”—Raffensperger actively thwarted Trump; the less-courageous Loeffler at least didn’t vote to block Biden’s presidency on January 6—have participated in deranging their own party and eroding American democracy. They’re promoting Trump-inspired lies just the same. Even those who don’t boast of actively suppressing non-white voters privilege the unfounded paranoia of their white base. It’s 21st-century Jim Crow lite.
Remember, after the November 2020 election threw Loeffler into a runoff with the Rev. Raphael Warnock, she took up Trump’s “stolen election” cry. She called for Raffensperger’s resignation, which won her a blistering text-lashing from his wife Tricia. “I hold you personally responsible,” she said, “for anything that happens to any of my family, from my husband, children and grandchildren.” The family was indeed receiving death threats thanks to the false and dangerous election-fraud claims of Loeffler and other Georgia Republicans.
The texts, obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, show that Loeffler planned to join congressional GOP efforts to stop the certification of Biden’s Electoral College win on January 6. Days before her runoff, she promised she would give “President Trump and the American people the fair hearing they deserve and object to the Electoral College certification process.” But after she lost her race, and saw the carnage in the Capitol that day, she reversed course. Still, after months of hyping stolen-election lies, she is as much as anyone to blame for the deluded voters who declined to participate in the runoff, the ones she says were “disenfranchised.” Of course they were self-disenfranchised, because they had every ability to vote but chose not to.
So in 2022, Loeffler poured millions into two groups that focused on the 339,000 GOP voters who turned out in November of 2020 but sat out the January 2021 runoffs. She calls them “disenfranchised conservatives” who believed Trump’s stolen-election lies. They cost Loeffler and her fellow Republican senator David Perdue the runoff elections, sending Warnock and Jon Ossoff to Washington, D.C., instead. Last November, 142,000 of them came back to the ballot box.
“When they feel like their vote doesn’t count, that’s that sense of being disenfranchised,” she told the AJC. “We wanted to make sure people understood the work that the General Assembly had done on Senate Bill 202, that some of the concerns were addressed. And that turned out to be important.”
Indeed, it did. Coddling white conservatives with lies, while suppressing Black Democrats with onerous new laws, paid off handsomely for Kemp in his race against Stacey Abrams. Interestingly, Loeffler didn’t deal with the Walker’s disastrous 2022 runoff loss to Warnock, though she cynically chaired “Women for Herschel.” That’s because her group didn’t engage in federal races, she said. Sure, Kelly. Loeffler is said to be considering a challenge to Ossoff in 2026.
For all its success at voter suppression, the GOP is still hampered by its penchant for nominating frauds and charlatans like Walker and Pennsylvania’s Dr. Mehmet Oz, and electing con men like New York’s George Santos. Let’s hope it continues to self-sabotage. But let’s never forget that even when they’re not bragging about obstructing Black voters, Republicans are working hard to amp up the sense of grievance in the party’s conservative, overwhelmingly white base. Doing both is the only way they win, so they’re getting very good at it.