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Trump’s rigged election rhetoric puts Georgia Republicans in a bind

Perdue and Loeffler echo Trump’s claims about corrupt elections — while encouraging people to go vote in them.

Loeffler and a cardboard cutout of Trump in Georgia on Sunday.
Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

President Donald Trump retweeted a tweet on Tuesday that claimed Georgia’s Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), both of whom have refused to help him overturn the results of the presidential election, “will soon be going to jail.”

That’s ridiculous on its face. But the deeper significance of that dangerously despotic statement shouldn’t be ignored.

There’s no evidence either man has done anything other than follow his legal duties to oversee a free and fair election. But they’ve crossed Trump by resisting the pressure campaign he’s waged to get them to overturn the results of the election in their state, which Biden won.

In this case, it is significant that the person who posted the original tweet was Lin Wood, an attorney who has teamed with the Trump campaign in its ill-fated lawsuits challenging Trump’s decisive losses in Georgia and other crucial swing states.

It marked the eighth time Trump has retweeted Wood since the election — a period in which Wood has been one of the most prominent advocates of Georgia Republicans sitting out next month’s Senate runoffs, in which incumbent Republicans Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler face Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, over baseless concerns that elections in a Republican-run state were somehow rigged against the Republican president.

“Why would you go back and vote in another rigged election?” Wood said during a rally last month in Atlanta, echoing Trump’s lies about how Georgia’s election was purportedly stolen from him.

Perdue and Loeffler have echoed these sentiments. Shortly after November’s election, for instance, they released a joint statement saying Raffensperger “failed to deliver honest and transparent elections. He has failed the people of Georgia, and he should step down immediately.” Notably, the statement didn’t contain a single specific allegation of fraud or irregularities.

But indulging Trump’s victimhood complex has a downside for Perdue, Loeffler, and Republicans who hope the party will keep control of the US Senate. Encouraging people to go vote without at least paying lip service to Trump’s “rigged” claims risks crossing the president, but encouraging them to sit out the runoffs risks handing control of the Senate to Democrats — and trying to thread the needle of encouraging them to vote while insisting elections are rigged against Republicans is obviously incoherent.

Republicans are opting for incoherence

Perdue and Loeffler’s appearances on Monday’s edition of Fox & Friends illustrated the difficulty they’re in. Challenged by host Ainsley Earhardt about how Georgia’s elections might be unrigged before January 5, Perdue made a nonsensical case that he can still win even if the election is corrupted.

“Look, all these intransigencies happened in November, and we still won,” Perdue said, alluding to his strong showing in the pre-runoff round of voting. “We shut them down then, we can do it again. We have to get our vote out.”

Later, Loeffler didn’t have answers when hosts pressed her about why voters should believe the runoffs won’t be rigged when nothing has changed since the supposedly tainted process last month.

“If we don’t vote, we will lose the country,” Loeffler insisted, dodging the question. “We are the firewall to socialism.”

As Judd Legum put it in his Popular Information newsletter, Perdue and Loeffler’s position basically boils down to, “This election is rigged. Go vote.” It makes no sense, but that’s the price they believe they must pay to not alienate Trump voters.

Trump is threatening to burn the house down unless Republicans do more to help him steal the election

Trump, meanwhile, is only adding to this confusion by posting what basically amount to ransom notes on Twitter.

On Sunday, for instance, he demanded that Kemp call a special session of the legislature aimed at overturning his loss in Georgia to Biden — “Otherwise, could be a bad day for two GREAT Senators on January 5th.”

Trump said much the same thing in a tweet posted on December 7.

The implication of these tweets is that unless Georgia Republicans help him steal the election, Trump will purposely harm Loeffler’s and Perdue’s chances of reelection, as well as his party’s chances of holding on to the Senate. And since Georgia Republicans aren’t helping him, Trump is now not only retweeting prominent advocates of the idea that Republicans should sit out the runoffs, but he’s turned it up to 11 by amplifying calls for Kemp and Raffensperger to be locked up.

Control of the US Senate hangs in the balance

Early voting has already started in Georgia, and if the first day — when more than 160,000 people voted — is any indication, the Senate runoffs could be extremely high-turnout affairs.

Biden is doing what he can to help by traveling to Georgia on Tuesday to campaign with Ossoff and Warnock. That trip comes days after Trump visited the state for a rally that was supposed to pump up Perdue and Loeffler, but ended up being a festival of grievances in which he whined about the Georgia election being rigged against him.

As Legum details, there’s some evidence that Wood’s and Trump’s rhetoric is demoralizing some would-be Republican voters in Georgia:

“We really believe this election was crooked. I won’t [vote] next time unless they give us a clean election with paper ballots, IDs and fingerprints. I’m not doing Dominion machines,” Lauren Voyle, a Georgia voter who attended Trump’s December rally, said.

Jason Shepherd, who chairs the Cobb County Republican Party in Georgia, says he “has been receiving a few emails a day from members claiming they won’t vote because they believe the process is corrupt.” Buzz Brockway, a former Republican state representative in Georgia, says there is a significant number of voters in the state who support Trump and not “the broader Republican Party.”

As I’ve previously detailed, rumblings about Trump fans staying home have been loud enough that Donald Trump Jr. last month felt compelled to weigh in with a tweet dismissing talk of withholding votes from Perdue and Loeffler as “NONSENSE,” adding, “We need ALL of our people coming out to vote for Kelly & David.”

With polls indicating both races will be close, even small numbers of voters staying home could make all the difference in Georgia. More broadly, as scenes from last weekend’s Trump marches in Washington, DC, illustrated, resentment that Trump fans feel over the Republican Party’s failure to overthrow the election results could end up creating a significant fissure on the right.

Instead of calling for unity, Trump is fanning the flames. It’s bad for the GOP but good for his grievance-soaked brand — which seems poised going forward to increasingly be about how Democrats and weak-kneed Republicans like Kemp and Raffensperger looked the other way while the presidency was stolen from him.

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