This couldn’t come at a worse time for the party. Republicans are trying to rally their loyalists to vote Jan. 5 in two Senate runoff races that will decide whether Democrats have full governing control in Washington next year or Republicans can block some of their policies.
But almost all the establishment Republican figures in Georgia or campaigning there have recently faced accusations from some voters that they’re not Trumpian enough for not wading completely into the president’s baseless claims that the election was stolen from him. Recent examples include:
- Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, the Republican incumbents trying to hold on to their seats in the January runoff, have not yet acknowledged that Trump lost the election. But they hint at it in their campaigning, because it’s powerful to frame their candidacies as firewalls to Democratic rule. But some engaged Republican voters don’t seem to want to even think about the Senate races until they find a way to win the election for Trump. The Washington Post’s Cleve Wootson Jr. reports that as Perdue was campaigning recently, he was met with this: “What are you doing to stand up for President Trump?”
- In some Trump-supporting circles on social media, there is talk of boycotting the election. Lin Wood is a Trump ally in Atlanta who recently tweeted to his hundreds of thousands of followers: “If not fixed, I will NOT vote in GA runoff.”
- Politico reports that #CrookedPerdue and #CrookedKelly are popping up on social media, accusing the two senators of being “liberal DemoRats.” That’s despite the fact that Perdue and Kelly stuck their necks out politically to try to demonstrate how concerned they were with election fraud. Shortly after they learned they were going to runoffs, they sent out a joint statement demanding Georgia’s Republican secretary of state resign over perceived misdeeds in overseeing the election. They provided no evidence, and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) has ridiculed them for it.
- Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel was campaigning in Georgia this weekend when she encountered some GOP voters who don’t see the point in voting if the election is supposedly rigged. CNN reported that she was confronted by concerns about using “money and work [to win the runoffs] when it’s already decided.” “It’s not decided,” she pushed back.
- The president has demonized two of the most prominent Georgia Republicans in the state, Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp (R), baselessly accusing them of somehow playing a role in his losing the election. “The governor’s done nothing. … I’m ashamed that I endorsed him,” Trump said of Kemp on Sunday. Raffensperger has been so assailed by Trump and his supporters for overseeing a free and fair election in his state that he and his wife have received death threats, and he has accepted a security detail. Before the 2020 elections, these were two of the most Trump-supportive politicians in Georgia, arguably in the United States. Kemp narrowly won the governor’s race in 2018 by latching himself to the president. Raffensperger is no conservative slouch. Now: “People need to get a grip on reality,” he told The Post.
The Trump wing of the Republican Party was always at risk of detaching from the party establishment. Trump is such a singular figure in U.S. politics, few if any can emulate him. He’s just willing to say things that get certain voters riled up that other politicians won’t. That’s the crux of the problem Georgia Republicans face.
It’s tough to gauge how much of an issue this is for Republicans. Are these just a small group of voters showing up at campaign rallies, feeling disenfranchised because Joe Biden won the state and Trump lost reelection? Or are they indicative of a more widespread sentiment of disgust with the Republican Party after Trump’s loss?
The latter is certainly worse than the former for Republicans, but both are bad. Whichever side wins these two runoff races will have turned out its base in higher numbers. November’s results revealed there are voters who supported Republicans in the Senate races and Biden for president who aren’t as amenable to Trump’s baseless conspiracy theories. But to win, Republicans are also going to need Trump voters. “What we’re going to have to do is make sure we get all the votes out from the general and get them back out,” Perdue said of core Republican voters on a private call with donors this month.
Republicans are concerned enough that allies of Donald Trump Jr. are setting up a super PAC aimed at persuading the president’s supporters in Georgia to vote, Politico reports. The president has somewhat confusingly and halfheartedly told Georgia voters they need to vote, even though he claims the state’s election system can’t be trusted. “I think you’re dealing [with] a very fraudulent system,” President Trump told reporters on Thanksgiving, speaking about Georgia. “I’m very worried about that. They are tremendous people. Kelly Loeffler, David Perdue are tremendous people. They should be in the United States Senate. They’re desperately needed. But I told them today, I said, ‘Listen, you have a fraudulent system.’ ”
Three days later, he was back to falsely saying voting machines such as the ones used in Georgia miscounted votes against him.