A number of Georgia Republicans took the extraordinary step on Sunday and Monday of publicly pleading with President Donald Trump to stop claiming that some sort of massive election fraud enabled President-elect Joe Biden to beat him in their state. Trump wasted no time indicating he’s not listening.
“What’s wrong with this guy?” Trump asked, referring to Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp on Twitter Monday.
The question followed a suggestion that Kemp is somehow involved in a conspiracy to keep him out of the White House, by refusing to match ballot signatures with state records to ensure their validity. The trouble is, that’s something election officials in Georgia have already done. Nevertheless, Trump added, “What’s he hiding?”
The Republican Governor of Georgia refuses to do signature verification, which would give us an easy win. What’s wrong with this guy? What is he hiding?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2020
Attacks like these come as Georgia officials struggle to refute the president’s claims — and to deal with the damage those claims are doing to both the party and voter confidence in elections.
“Continuing to make debunked claims of a stolen election is hurting our state,” said Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger — one of Trump’s frequent targets of abuse in recent weeks — during a news conference on Monday, the day state election officials plan to recertify Biden’s win following a second recount.
Those comments came a day after Gabriel Sterling, voting systems implementation manager for Georgia, went on Meet the Press and said Trump claiming the election was rigged “undermines democracy.”
“We have got to get to a point where responsible people act responsibly,” continued Sterling, who also detailed how Trump’s rhetoric is inspiring death threats against state officials and even against a worker at Dominion Voting Systems, whose voting machines and software Georgia uses.
It’s worth remembering that both Raffensperger and Sterling are Republicans who have been public about the fact that they voted for Trump and wanted him to win. But they, and other top Georgia Republicans like Gov. Kemp and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, seem to believe that Trump’s effort to overturn the election results is a bridge too far.
“On January 20th, Joe Biden is going to be sworn in as the 46th president. And the Constitution is still in place,” Duncan said during a CNN appearance on Sunday that prompted Trump to fire back on Twitter by calling him a “puppet” and Kemp a “so-called governor.”
Monday, Trump followed up these insults by retweeting a call for his fans to put pressure on Georgia state legislators to call a special session, during which he hopes lawmakers will vote to overturn the election results by awarding the state’s electoral votes to him.
Not only is it extremely unlikely that Trump’s desperate Georgia gambit will work — given Kemp and other leaders have said no special session will happen — but since Biden won with states to spare, overturning the result in Georgia wouldn’t be enough on its own to swing the election to Trump.
Nevertheless, refusing to concede has resulted in a post-election fundraising bonanza for Trump while providing him with a ready-made “stolen election” narrative he could use for a campaign in 2024. And if democracy gets trampled in the process, he seems to view that as a cost of doing business.
Trump’s already debunked fraud claims obscure that what he really wants is for Georgia Republicans to overturn the election results
Why is Trump mad at Georgia Republicans? The short answer is because they aren’t helping him overturn the election. But since Trump won’t just come out and say that, he’s instead chosen to repeatedly attack the security of the election, and recently has accused Kemp of not investigating the signatures on mail and absentee ballots.
But signatures on Georgia ballots are already examined at least twice — once when the ballot is requested and a second time when they’re received. Trump’s refusal to let facts get in the way of his narrative was alluded to by Sterling during his Meet the Press appearance when he said, “it’s a game of whack-a-mole to even say ‘the president’s statements are false.’”
WATCH: @GabrielSterling reacts to Trump's claims about election fraud at Georgia rally & says "it is a game of whack-a-mole to even say 'the president's statements are false."— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) December 6, 2020
"This undermines democracy. We have got to get to a point where responsible people act responsibly." pic.twitter.com/ypJ2DtwIKf
Trump’s real objective seems to be to create enough suspicion of malfeasance to give Kemp a pretext to call in the Republican-controlled Georgia legislature for a special session. He even said as much during his angry Saturday night rally in Valdosta, during which he incoherently oscillated between attacking Georgia Republicans and urging them to unify behind Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue — both of whom are running for reelection in a January special election.
"We said, 'have [the Georgia presidential election] brought back into your legislature, governor'" -- Trump alludes to his discussions with Gov. Kemp pic.twitter.com/cb0c7VMHfi— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 6, 2020
It’s been an effective strategy — CNN’s Ryan Nobles reported that Trump supporters in Georgia were circulating a petition Monday to demand Kemp call a special legislative session and address the president’s concerns.
Kemp has resisted Trump’s entreaties. But he and other Georgia Republicans have tried to do so while not alienating Trump’s base.
A striking illustration of this tightrope act came during Raffensperger’s appearance on Sunday’s edition of This Week, when he affirmed his support for Loeffler and Perdue even though both of them have cited Trump’s lies about election fraud in Georgia as a pretext to demand his resignation.
ABC: You have two runoff elections coming up for Senate in Georgia. Both those Republican candidates have called for you to be removed from office. Do you still support their candidacies?— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 6, 2020
GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE RAFFENSPERGER: Absolutely. pic.twitter.com/r2f5KG5ERI
Loeffler has tried to have it both ways in even more egregious fashion. During a debate on Sunday, she dodged a question about whether she supports Trump’s attacks on Kemp, saying, “I appreciate the president’s support of me, and I appreciate the governor’s support of me. They both understand what’s at stake in this election.”
Loeffler won't say if she agrees with Trump attacking Kemp for not helping him overturn the election pic.twitter.com/fd0DgSBNuJ— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 7, 2020
In reality, however, Trump doesn’t seem to care about much beyond what’s in his own interest.
Trump’s attacks are dividing the party at a crucial time
While Trump’s attacks on Georgia Republicans might be good for his bottom line and personal political prospects, he’s dividing Republican voters ahead of Senate runoffs that will decide control of the US Senate. Because if they buy Trump’s claims about Kemp and Raffensperger turning the other way while Democrats stole the election from him, why would they vote in an election that’s likely to be just as tainted?
Even just a few thousand Republicans deciding to stay home could be crucial in elections that are shaping up to be very close. And in a sign that Trump’s base thinks they aren’t doing enough, Loeffler and Perdue’s remarks were drowned out by “Fight for Trump” chants at Saturday’s rally.
Loeffler can barely squeeze tepid applause out of the crowd. Perdue then starts talking but is drown out by "fight for Trump!" chants pic.twitter.com/OKp8riVE9r— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 6, 2020
Trump seems to understand his leverage. In a tweet last week, he connected his fate in Georgia with the fates of Loeffler and Perdue, tweeting that the best way to ensure their wins is for Kemp “to allow signature checks in the Presidential race.”
The best way to insure a @KLoeffler and @sendavidperdue VICTORY is to allow signature checks in the Presidential race, which will insure a Georgia Presidential win (very few votes are needed, many will be found). Spirits will soar and everyone will rush out and VOTE! @BrianKempGA— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 4, 2020
Perhaps the clearest expression of what Trump is really up to came from White House press secretary/campaign spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany, who during a recent Fox News appearance admonished Kemp, saying, “You have the power to call in a special legislative session because right now if we lose these two Senate seats, guess who’s casting the deciding vote in this country for our government? It will be Kamala Harris.”
Dead-ender Kayleigh McEnany yells at GA Gov. Kemp on Fox News: "You have the power to call in a special legislative session because right now if we lose these two Senate seats, guess whose casting the deciding vote in this country for our government? It will be Kamala Harris." pic.twitter.com/IW2o55ohWs— The Recount (@therecount) December 6, 2020
It’s worth keeping in mind that Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will only be the deciding Senate vote if Republicans lose both Georgia runoffs. But instead of trying to mobilize Republicans to get out and vote so the GOP Senate majority is preserved, McEnany and Trump are working to subvert democracy to the president’s own ends.