Sen. David Perdue’s new appearance on Laura Ingraham’s show deserves careful study. It provides a comically twisted demonstration of the limits on what Republicans’ calculations permit them to say to Trump voters in the wake of his election loss — a period of deceitfulness and outright madness that should be marveled at for generations.

As the Georgia senator’s Thursday night appearance showed, his smarmy two-step with Trump voters runs as follows: President Trump is right. The presidential election’s integrity is in doubt. And Joe Biden is not the legitimate winner. But you should channel your anger over this by voting in the runoff election, whose integrity I will guarantee to right the wrong done to you, so I can act as a check on Biden.

It is often claimed that Republicans who refuse to concede Trump’s loss are suffering from “cowardice” or that he has held them “hostage.” In this telling, Republicans secretly know the truth but won’t say so, simply because the political price of weathering his fearsome rage-tweets is too great.

This won’t do. It badly undersells the bottomless bad faith and dishonorable instrumentalism that Republicans are employing here. Yes, Republicans know Trump lost and that contradicting him on this point might cost them some of his supporters.

But they are fully embracing the opportunity to use this situation to their advantage, not doing so because they see no other option. They are trying to harness and channel all this depraved Trumpian rage to their instrumental advantage, not work around it, despite its extraordinarily destructive potential.

The conceit that “cowardice” is the driving motive here imagines that these Republicans secretly harbor principles that they’d like to honor if only they could do so safely. And while there have been honorable Republicans who have defended our political system at great personal risk, there is just zero indication that Republicans such as Perdue have any such principles.

“There are a lot of voters out there who are demoralized,” Ingraham told Perdue. “They think Donald Trump won this state and won it handily. And they may even be asking themselves if there’s any point in voting at all without reforms in this system. What do you say to them?”

To this idea, that Trump’s claims of a fraud-riddled electoral system might depress Republican turnout, Perdue replied:

President Trump is very frustrated. And I’m very frustrated. And we’re going to do everything we possibly can to make sure that whatever anomalies are uncovered in November don’t happen in January. But this is illogical for any Republican to think that, “I’m just going to sit down and not vote,” and hand the keys over to the Democrats. We know what’s at stake. This is the last line of defense against their radical liberal agenda.

“The anomalies that happened in November cannot happen in January, and we’ve got to do everything we can,” Perdue added.

Yes, Trump voters are told, serious irregularities in the presidential voting absolutely happened and will indeed be uncovered. But we’ll make sure that doesn’t happen again. So take your frustration over those irregularities and strike another blow for Trump by stopping the radical takeover.

As it happens, it’s true that GOP voters — all Georgia voters — can have confidence that the votes will be counted accurately in the Senate runoffs. We know this, because the system worked last time. It rendered a legitimate outcome.

But Perdue won’t say so. Why not? Is it because he would like to be able to say this, but worries it would “demoralize” Trump voters?

I say not. I say it’s because he cynically calculates that keeping Trump voters in a rage about the phantom stolen election could actually give them a reason to turn out for the runoffs, since in some sense it puts Trump on the ballot again.

Note this marvelously demented quote from Perdue, about Trump’s planned rally in the state on Saturday:

He’s going to deliver this message, and that is, “Look, we’ve got to protect what we did for four years under this administration.” If in fact the result is not in his favor, we’ve got to protect that. And the way to do that is to get Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue reelected.

Note how Perdue claims he and his fellow Georgia senator should be elected to act as checks on Biden, but slips in the idea that Biden is not the legitimate winner. The former without the latter just isn’t enough to juice up turnout.

Can one imagine an alternate universe in which Perdue would prefer Trump concede defeat, allowing Perdue to simply argue that he should be elected to defend Trump’s supposed achievements against Biden?

Perhaps, but many top Republicans actively and concertedly adopted a strategy immediately after the election that entailed refusing to concede for the express purpose of keeping the Trump base energized. Perdue is simply carrying this forward.

It might be that this strategy is backfiring, in that the initial hopes of using the specter of an election stolen from Trump now unexpectedly risks depressing turnout. But that doesn’t change the fact that the initial calculation was to exploit that specter to juice up turnout.

This is not a situation in which “cowardice” is preventing Republicans like Perdue from doing what their principles would otherwise dictate they do. They are not Trump’s “hostages.” Rather, it’s a situation in which they settled on a deliberate strategy of mobilizing the base by telling them that refusing to acknowledge the outcome of a legitimate U.S. election is the correct stance, and even the pro-democracy stance.

Republicans are not the victims of the irrationality of Trump voters. They dishonorably set out to manipulate it to their advantage, to the greatest degree possible.

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