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David Perdue may follow the Trump playbook on Senate election loss

David Perdue is striking a Trump-like tone about the election results in Georgia.

Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) and his wife, Bonnie, address the crowd during a campaign rally at Peachtree Dekalb Airport on December 14, 2020, in Atlanta, Georgia.
Jessica McGowan/Getty Images
Emily Stewart covered business and economics for Vox and wrote the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

Republican Sen. David Perdue is sounding an awful lot like President Donald Trump in his reaction to losing his race against Democrat Jon Ossoff, signaling a willingness for a long fight over the election’s results — and that he may potentially try to cast some doubt on the outcome.

In a statement issued early Wednesday morning, Perdue suggested he’s in this for the long haul: This is an “exceptionally close election that will require time and transparency to be certain the results are fair and accurate and the voices of Georgians are heard,” his campaign said. “We will mobilize every available resource and exhaust every legal recourse to ensure all legally cast ballots are counted. We believe in the end, Senator Perdue will be victorious.”

To be sure, a candidate saying they’ll stick it out after an election despite dismal odds is hardly new, and Perdue is well within his rights to call for votes to be recounted. According to Georgia law, candidates can request a recount if a race is within a 0.5 percent percentage point margin. (Though about 0.4 percentage points separated the candidates as of Wednesday morning, it’s unclear whether the Perdue-Ossoff race will ultimately end up in that territory.) But Perdue’s statement goes further than what’s in the typical bounds.

The “legally cast ballots” language is one that Trump and his allies have employed in order to cast doubt on outcomes they don’t like — and to sow doubt among their supporters about the legitimacy of elections. The connotation is that a bunch of ballots (presumably ones not cast for Republicans) were cast illegally. There was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, and there wasn’t in the Georgia runoffs either. But that’s not keeping some in the GOP from claiming so.

It’s not clear what legal recourse exactly Perdue is referring to in his statement, but again, it’s a Trump-like approach. The president’s team has filed dozens of lawsuits trying to overturn the election, among other measures.

“Stop the steal” could be a concerning new normal

Elections are often close, and it’s a normal part of the process to wait for all the votes to be counted and for recounts and audits to happen. Ensuring free and fair elections is a vital part of democracy. That’s different than casting doubt on every outcome you don’t like — what could become a disturbing new normal among some conservatives.

Trump has sought to subvert the presidential election results at every turn. He’s filed countless lawsuits, made baseless claims of voter fraud, and even tried to pressure public officials — including and most egregiously in Georgia — into changing vote tallies to be in his favor. Millions of Republican voters have been convinced — by Trump, by some of his Republican allies, and by the right-wing media ecosystem — that the election was truly stolen from him, even though there’s no real proof that happened.

Perdue, who played up his Trump loyalties on the campaign trail, could be poised to follow suit. And even if he does eventually concede gracefully, many Republicans already appear poised to claim voter fraud yet again in Georgia.

Early in the evening on Tuesday, the Trump campaign sent a fundraising text message to supporters spreading a conspiracy about the Georgia election and suggesting Democrats were trying to “steal” it. And Trump and his allies have started to cast doubt on the election outcome. Trump misleadingly tweeted about a “voter dump” against the Republican candidates — which was really just batches of votes being counted as a normal part of the process. Other Republicans have chimed in suggesting something nefarious is going on as well.

People go down fighting on both sides all the time — it’s sort of the name of the game in politics. But a disturbing new trend appears to be on the rise among some Republicans who are claiming any result they don’t like is stolen.

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