President Trump’s continued effort to undermine the results of the presidential election has caused a rift among Republican lawmakers in Georgia as the party gears up for a pair of runoffs that will determine control of the Senate.
Incumbent GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler will face Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in separate races on Jan. 5. If Democrats win both, the Senate will be split 50-50 and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be the tie-breaking vote.
As he lashes out at election officials in several key swing states, Trump has reserved some of his most scathing attacks for Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who both played roles in certifying Joe Biden’s win in the state. Last week, Trump called Raffensperger an “enemy of the people.” Trump later said he was “ashamed” that he had endorsed Kemp’s 2018 gubernatorial bid.
Loeffler and Perdue have largely sided with the president. They released a joint statement calling for Raffensperger to resign, have echoed some of Trump’s baseless claims about the Georgia voting process and have yet to publicly acknowledge Biden’s election win. Raffensperger has repeatedly asserted that the election was fair. “People are just going to have to accept the results,” he said.
Why there’s debate
Intraparty spats are nothing new, especially in the wake of a presidential election loss. But some key GOP figures worry that Trump’s attacks might suppress Republican votes enough to tip the runoff races to the Democrats. A small, but potentially significant, movement has emerged among some Trump supporters to convince Georgia voters to sit out the runoffs because they believe the party isn’t doing enough to back the president’s attempts to overturn the election. Other conservative voters may be hesitant to participate in an election they believe is rigged, some experts say.
The situation also puts Loeffler and Perdue in a bind as they try to fire up the GOP base, political analysts say. Pushing back on Trump’s false claims would likely cause his supporters to abandon them. Promoting Trump’s belief that he won the election, on the other hand, undercuts what may be Loeffler and Perdue’s most potent campaign message: That Republicans need to hold on to the Senate to serve as a check on Biden’s policy agenda.
Others say Republicans should still be seen as favored to win both races despite the tension in the party. The GOP has a number of significant advantages in Georgia, a historically red state that has skewed even more conservative during runoff elections in the past. Trump’s influence could also turn out to be an asset if he commits himself to helping Republicans win. The president has endorsed Loeffler and Perdue on Twitter and is scheduled to join them at a rally in Georgia on Saturday.
Barring a shocking legal victory for the Trump campaign, the Electoral College will vote to elect Biden on Dec. 14. The certification of electoral votes could make it even more difficult for Loeffler and Perdue to take Trump’s side if he continues to reject the outcome in the weeks before the runoff elections on Jan. 5.
Even a small impact on GOP turnout could tip the race to Democrats
“Considering how close the Warnock-Loeffler and Perdue-Ossoff races are expected to be, demoralizing even a fraction of the Republican electorate could swing the crucial races for Democrats.” — Aaron Rupar, Vox
Infighting is a problem for Republicans, but may not be enough to cost them
“Georgia Democrats are still going to have to fight like hell for every vote. But it’s safe to say the Georgia GOP would rather not be spending this short sprint to a runoff fighting with one another instead of for votes.” — Joan Walsh, The Nation
An enthusiastic endorsement from Trump could tip the runoffs in the GOP’s favor
“They’re racing to reinvigorate the conservative base in Georgia, and no one can do that better than Trump.” — Tamar Hallerman and Greg Bluestein, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Trump supporters may not participate in what they see as a fraudulent election
“If he continues to disillusion voters … by saying that the elections were rigged and that your vote doesn’t matter, this could have severe consequences for the administration in trying to keep those two seats Republican.” — Republican pollster Frank Luntz to CNBC
The upcoming rally in Georgia could be the tipping point for the GOP
“He has the potential to unite the party, to get Republicans on the same page … but if he starts talking about himself and his own election, he could divide the party in very, very damaging ways.” — National Journal editor Josh Kraushaar to Fox News
Siding with Trump could be a winning strategy for Republicans
“If either of the Republican Senate candidates were to chart a course at great variance with that of Trump, they would risk turning off some of those Trump supporters. Their strategy may well be, don’t alienate any of our Republican supporters. Assuming turnout is same as in the past, the Republican wins.” — University of Georgia political science professor Charles S. Bullock III to Roll Call
Democrats may sit out the runoffs without Trump to vote against
“Now that Biden is the president-elect, many Democratic voters may feel that their mission has been accomplished and not bother to vote in the runoff.” — Nathaniel Rakich and Geoffrey Skelley, FiveThirtyEight
Siding with Trump robs Republicans of their most persuasive campaign pitch
“As long as both senators promote Mr. Trump’s conspiracy-mongering and refrain from acknowledging Mr. Biden’s victory, they are denied perhaps their best message to the state’s centrist swing voters: that Georgians can elect them as a check on Mr. Biden and prevent any liberal excesses that would come with full Democratic control of the capital.” — Richard Fausset and Jonathan Martin, New York Times
It’s unclear whether calls to boycott the runoffs will convince anyone
“The question to ask is if 30,000 people who would vote for Republican candidates are open to an argument for a boycott.” — George Chidi, Intercept
Trump supporters may refuse to back a Republican party they believe abandoned him
“Trump was always an insurgent figure who grafted his loyal base onto the GOP. Once Trump is no longer the top elected Republican, that base may simply follow him wherever he goes — attacking anyone who shows daylight with Trump, spinning up ‘evidence’ for Trump’s preferred conspiracies and, as in Georgia, boycotting the political system as punishment for betraying their leader.” — Tina Nguyen and James Arkin, Politico