I don’t think National Review’s Rich Lowry is a stupid person, but he asked a deeply stupid question Friday night, after Stacey Abrams ended her campaign to become Georgia’s first black and first female governor with a fiery non-concession speech, which nonetheless acknowledged that Secretary of State Brian Kemp will be the next governor. Lowry posed on Twitter:
Stacey Abrams has failed the Martha McSally test. Will any of the same commentators who praised McSally’s grace upbraid Abrams for a lack of it?
Stacey Abrams Ends Fight for Georgia Governor https://t.co/3WlMsAQpsG
—Rich Lowry (@RichLowry) November 16, 2018
McSally, for the record, is the Arizona Republican who made a nice video Tuesday night conceding her Senate bid to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, featuring her adorable golden retriever. She gets extra points for a cute dog. But it was refreshing to see a Republican not whine about the normal, fair process of counting votes, the way Trump and Kemp and so many of their GOP allies have been doing, and simply concede when she had lost. Points to McSally, for sure.
But are there ways that McSally’s loss differs from Abrams’s? Let me count them.
Martha McSally didn’t have to run against a candidate who was making the rules governing their election and who bent every one of them in his favor. She didn’t see her opponent purge more than a million voters—most of them clearly members of her base—in the year before their election. She didn’t see him close 214 polling places in six years—mainly in areas where her base voters resided. She didn’t see him put 53,000 voter registrations into limbo because of tiny inconsistencies—a missing hyphen in a name, or a missing middle initial—70 percent of whom, again, would have almost certainly been McSally voters.
She didn’t find that on Election Day, in the heart of her geographic base—in Abrams’s case, Atlanta—700 voting machines were mysteriously wrapped up and unused, while lines to use the inadequate number of machines stretched for blocks, making her voters wait four hours or more. She didn’t see her opponent lie about doing those things—and, in fact, accuse McSally of being the actual cheater—in the days before her election. And McSally wasn’t forced to get the backing of four federal judges to make sure all the votes were counted in her election, because her opponent, who made and enforced the voting rules, opposed efforts to do just that.
Oh, and one more thing: Republican Martha McSally may well be appointed to Arizona’s other vacant Senate seat by the Republican governor when Jon Kyl steps out of his caretaker role early next year. Democrat Stacey Abrams won’t be appointed street sweeper by Georgia’s new Governor-elect Brian Kemp, who rigged the rules to help himself and still only won by just over one point.
In fact, Stacey Abrams, or anyone like her, will not hold statewide office in Georgia until her state is purged of the remaining racism, discrimination, and corruption in the way it conducts its elections. And that’s what she intends to devote the next part of her career to accomplishing. In her not-a-concession speech, Abrams announced the formation of Fair Fight Georgia, to “pursue accountability in Georgia’s elections and integrity in the process of maintaining our voting rolls.” And she committed the group to filing a federal lawsuit against the state of Georgia for its “gross mismanagement of this election and to protect future elections from unconstitutional actions.”
I’m not going to pretend to be objective about Stacey Abrams. I liked her from the moment I met her, at an Emily’s List event four years ago—she won its Rising Star award. And was she ever rising! While Georgia’s statehouse minority leader, she also devoted herself to registering and mobilizing Georgia’s new majority—African Americans, Latinos, Asians; rural voters; urban voters, the young and the old; the people who’d been historically left behind. In four years, her New Georgia Project registered 300,000 voters, facing opposition from Kemp the whole way.
Then Abrams ran for governor, and set out to prove that this New Georgia could choose its leaders. She crushed a white Democratic primary opponent, winning 76 percent of the votes, including the majority of white Democrats. Her campaign thought that meant she could reach across racial lines. White Georgians did not live up to her faith in them, giving her only 26 percent of their votes—although that was better than Hillary Clinton, who won only 21 percent two years ago. She increased turnout phenomenally: Almost 4 million Georgians voted November 6, versus 2.5 million in the last governor’s race. And she got almost 2 million votes—an astonishing 800,000 more votes than the last Democrat who ran for governor, Jason Carter, grandson of the former president. It was just 55,000 votes shy of what she needed to win.
Over the weeks I visited Georgia, in September and October, the energy and optimism rose exponentially. I really believed she had a chance to win. We headlined my big Abrams profile, on the web, “Stacey Abrams Always Knew They’d Try To Cheat.”
“Try to” was an unnecessary hedge. They were cheating in plain sight. I was right: She had a chance to win, more than a chance—but the system was rigged against her.
In her speech acknowledging that Kemp will be the next governor, Abrams acknowledged the Rich Lowrys of the world:
Pundits and hyper-partisans will hear my words as a rejection of the normal order. I’m supposed to say nice things and accept my fate. They will complain that I should not use this moment to recap what was done wrong or to demand a remedy. As a leader, I should be stoic in my outrage and silent in my rebuke.
But stoicism is a luxury and silence is a weapon for those who would quiet the voices of the people, and I will not concede because the erosion of our democracy is not right.
Abrams urged her supporters to do one more thing: support former Democratic congressman John Barrow, who faces a December 4 runoff in his bid to become Georgia’s next secretary of state. There’s no way to make up for what’s been done to Stacey Abrams and her voters—but electing Barrow to right Kemp’s voter-suppressing wrongs would come pretty damn close. Democrats across the country are very sad tonight, and I am too, but I have one piece of advice: Don’t mourn, organize—to make John Barrow Georgia’s next secretary of state on December 4.
Oh, and my last word for Rich Lowry: “Upbraid” is a pretty ugly, loaded word. No one, least of all you, should “upbraid” Stacey Abrams.
Editor’s Note: This article initially reported that Brian Kemp put 53,000 absentee ballots into limbo because of tiny inconsistencies. In fact, it was 53,000 voter registrations. The piece has been corrected.