The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

GOP senator falsely claims opponent was endorsed by Communist Party

Sen. David Perdue, a Republican representing Georgia. (Anna Moneymaker/Pool/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

“It’s just outrageous what they want to do. And this is how crazy it is. This is not just radical, this agenda is very dangerous. And as a matter of fact, my opponent is actually endorsed by the Communist Party in the U.S., if you can believe that.”

— Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), in a speech to the Faith and Freedom Coalition, Oct. 2, 2020

“I’m running against a kid named Jon Ossoff, who has been endorsed by the Communist Party.”

— Perdue, in an interview with Hugh Hewitt, Oct. 1

It’s no secret that Republicans are using a “socialist” epithet against Democrats this election season, even though Democrats nominated as their presidential standard-bearer one of the most moderate candidates available.

But Perdue, who has found himself in an unexpectedly close reelection race with Democrat Jon Ossoff, has taken it one step further — all but calling his rival a commie pinko.

The Facts

Ossoff, 33, came to public attention when he unsuccessfully sought a congressional seat in 2017 after having worked as an aide to Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.). Regular readers may recall that we concluded in that race that he had engaged in a bit of résumé puffery, suggesting he had had a top-secret security clearance for longer than five months.

Readers may also recall that when Perdue first ran for Senate, we named one of his ads among the 10 worst of the 2014 campaign season — a false accusation that his opponent, Michelle Nunn, “funded organizations linked to terrorists.” We said it was a “pretty smarmy ad” — so bad that Neil Bush, son of former president George H.W. Bush, asked for it to be withdrawn. (Perdue ignored him.)

In this race, the Perdue campaign has highlighted the fact that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who calls himself a “democratic socialist,” said he supported the election of Ossoff in 2017. That endorsement came after Sanders earned the ire of establishment Democrats by saying he didn’t know whether Ossoff was progressive. “Some Democrats are progressive, and some Democrats are not,” Sanders told the Wall Street Journal.

In fact, when Ossoff lost his congressional race in 2017, he was dismissed by liberal Democrats as being “Republican-lite.”

So what’s Perdue’s basis for claiming that Ossoff has been endorsed by the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA)? It all stems from a 2017 Facebook post. The CPUSA Facebook page posted an article from People’s World, an online Marxist publication long associated with the party, that reported on Ossoff’s chances in the congressional race.

“Progressive may win Newt Gingrich’s seat, handing Trumpism a major defeat,” was the headline on the article by Larry Rubin, at the time a contributor to People’s World. It’s pretty much a straight political story, focused on the fact that Ossoff was polling much higher than any other candidate at the time in Georgia’s “jungle” primary, when all candidates compete against one another.

Indeed, the Republican field was split among several candidates, so Ossoff was hoping to get 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff. But he fell short. He received 48.1 percent, compared with 19.8 percent for Karen Handel. Then Handel beat Ossoff in the runoff, 51.78 percent to 48.22 percent.

Seriously, when does posting a news article on a Facebook page constitute an endorsement? We asked the CPUSA directly.

“The Communist Party did not endorse him,” said Roberta Wood, a CPUSA board member. “It does not endorse candidates of other political parties.” She added, “Posting an article on Facebook does not mean it is an endorsement.”

A Perdue spokesman tried to provide a Rube Goldberg explanation for how this random Facebook post was an endorsement. First, he claimed that the CPUSA lied about endorsements because its president had endorsed Democrat Joe Biden this year. But that was the president of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), not the CPUSA. Oops. (The RCP president said he still considered Biden and Democrats “representatives and instruments of this exploitative, oppressive, and literally murderous system of capitalism-imperialism” — just not as bad as the “fascist” President Trump.)

The Perdue spokesman also pointed to the fact that another Democrat had been “endorsed” by the CPUSA (which turned out to be another People’s World article), that People’s World has long been a CPUSA organ and that the chairman of the CPUSA had voted for Sanders in 2016 in a primary — and that Sanders had supported Ossoff in the 2017 congressional race.

We had trouble following the bouncing ball.

“By posting on social media about the urgency of 'progressive' Jon Ossoff's election and the message it would send, there is no debate that Communist Party USA promoted, supported, and endorsed Jon Ossoff's campaign in 2017,” the spokesman said in a statement. “Ossoff has lurched even further to the left since his failed Congressional bid in 2017 and unquestionably supports the Democrats' radical, socialist agenda in his Senate campaign.”

The Ossoff campaign said Perdue is being ridiculous.

“Throughout this election, David Perdue has been unable to make substantive arguments against Jon Ossoff and has instead resorted to flagrant and outlandish lies,” said communications director Miryam Lipper. “A sitting United States senator should have a better case for his own reelection rooted in the truth, but he seems to agree with us that there isn’t one.”

(We should note that the Georgia GOP has made similar claims, but a spokesman referred us to the Perdue campaign.)

The Pinocchio Test

Even with six years as a U.S. senator under his belt, Perdue apparently has not learned any lessons about how he should not fling outrageously false accusations at his foes.

At this point, labeling a Democrat a “communist” is almost worthy of parody. But it’s especially smarmy when the “endorsement” he claims is based on a three-year-old Facebook post of a news article. Perdue should be ashamed of himself — and he should apologize.

In the meantime, he earns Four Pinocchios.

Four Pinocchios

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