We’re all having fun laughing at the tangled web that has ensnared Republicans as they prepare for President Trump’s trip to Georgia. They worry that Trump will keep on lying about the state’s elections in a way that depresses Republican turnout, costing them the two upcoming runoffs and control of the Senate.
There’s a particularly vile aspect to all of this, however, that isn’t a laughing matter. Georgia Republicans don’t mind when Trump lies about the integrity of their elections in a way that they think will help them. They only mind when Trump lies about the integrity of their elections in a way that threatens to harm them.
A new report from Politico digs into the many layers of pathology on display here. The superficial fear that Republicans are expressing about Trump’s arrival on Saturday, unsurprisingly enough, is that he’ll make it all about himself.
In this scenario, they fear, Trump will turn his rally into a grievance-fest directed at state Republicans, like Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who heretically did their official duty by certifying the election that Trump lost. This could discourage Trump voters and squander a chance to rally them behind Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.
“If all he does is whine and complain and talk bad about Kemp and the secretary of state, then the trip will be a disaster and he might as well not even come,” a former GOP state legislator told Politico.
Trump as Lenny Bruce
The fact that Trump just released an unhinged video rant that amounts to a kind of primal scream of rage and grief about his loss will not inspire confidence in that regard. It raises the prospect of Trump giving a kind of late Lenny Bruce performance, rambling solipsistically about his own imagined persecution rather than seriously connecting with his audience, as the stand-up comic did about his legal troubles.
In that video, Trump falsely claimed millions of votes against him tallied after Election Day were fraudulent. Trump also buffoonishly suggested that when the media called the race for President-elect Joe Biden, they sought to “anoint a winner,” thus refusing to accept that votes for his opponent are also supposed to get counted.
Now ask yourself this: How often do you hear Georgia Republicans claiming that those lies are problematic?
After all, Trump has said all these things about the voting in Georgia as well. He claims that untold numbers of votes against him there were fraudulent, and that if they were only invalidated, he’d be the winner.
Yet the two Republican senators in the state are validating those lies, not contesting them. Both have refused to say Trump lost the election and have called for the secretary of state to resign on the vague grounds that he somehow hasn’t ensured confidence in the presidential outcome.
In other words, they want Trump and Republican voters in Georgia to keep believing that Trump might actually have won and that the election was stolen from him. This is for purely instrumental purposes: We all know that many top Republicans have refused to acknowledge Biden’s win expressly to keep those voters angry and energized for the runoffs.
All Georgia Republicans really object to is when Trump directs this anger in the wrong direction: Toward Loeffler and Perdue for allegedly not fighting hard enough to save him, and toward the machinery of voting in a manner that might persuade Republicans that their votes in the runoffs might not count.
They’re fine with voters thinking their votes for president might not have counted. They want them to think that, in fact. This, from the Politico piece, is a telling admission:
“The problem we have is that Trump is our malady and our cure — he’s got people all stirred up over this voter fraud stuff and now we’re worried they might not vote, so we need him to come back to make sure people do, but we’re worried that might backfire,” said one GOP consultant.
That consultant continued: “The good news is that fear and anger drive voters, and we’ve got those in spades.”
In other words, Republicans need Trump to come to the state to enrage GOP voters by telling them the election was stolen from him, while also telling them that because of this, they should vote in the Senate runoffs to avenge him, and if they do, the votes will be counted accurately this time.
They want Trump to keep his voters in a delusional rage, but just channel it in a helpful way.
This is also about race
Let’s be clear about another aspect of this: It’s in no small part about race. As Jim Rutenberg and Nick Corasaniti point out, many false claims from Trump and his allies about voter fraud are directed at heavily African American areas, Atlanta included.
In short, Georgia’s two GOP senators are happy for many Trump voters to believe that African American precincts are sinkholes of fraudulent votes against him, to galvanize his supporters on their own behalf — provided he doesn’t do this in a way that discourages them from showing up, hurting their chances.
In a recent interview, Jon Ossoff — the Democrat challenging Perdue — addressed this in a particularly pointed way.
“Trump, Perdue and Loeffler are having a public tantrum, because they felt entitled to victory, and expected that the apparatus of voter suppression in Georgia would keep a lid on the pot,” Ossoff told me. “But the will of the people boiled over.”
“Their efforts to invalidate that result are a direct attack on Black voters, whose extraordinary turnout powered Biden’s victory in Georgia,” Ossoff added.
Whatever toll Trump’s antics take on GOP turnout, one can only hope that they inspire massive turnout on the Democratic side, decisively repudiating GOP efforts to use the delegitimization of our elections as just another tool for political mobilization. One can only hope.