Trump’s claims that elections ‘won’t be needed’ can impact Georgia—and elections for years to come
Georgia Republicans are in quite a state, in more ways than one. Not only is their neck of the woods the center of the political universe—thanks to two, count ‘em two, Senate runoffs scheduled for Jan. 5—but they are also quite verklempt over the recent rantings of The Man Who Lost The Popular Vote (Again). He’s been pitching a hissy fit consisting of completely unfounded charges that the presidential election was stolen, an election he lost fairly and squarely by a margin of over 4%, or 7 million votes. Fun fact: That’s the second-largest margin of victory in a presidential election since 1996.
But those are just facts, and Donald Trump never lets facts get in the way of the story he wants to tell. That story, for a whole bushel of Peach State Republicans, feels like it belongs in the horror genre. They are very afraid that its ending will consist of them losing both of those January runoffs.
And that may just happen, only not for the reasons you might expect.
Democracy, by Donald John Trump, impeached and soon to be ex-president of the United States.
Trump Principle #1: The easiest way to win is to not have an election and simply declare yourself the victor.
By the way, what Trump is requesting is impossible because, by Georgia law, the signatures on a mail-in ballot are checked by election officials when they first arrive at county offices. At that point, once a signature is determined to be valid, the ballot that arrived within it is separated from the envelope. Is that because of a nefarious anti-Trump Deep State plot? No. It’s because Georgia’s state constitution guarantees that people vote by secret ballot, one of the hallmarks of democracy. That provision is why Trump’s request to re-check the signatures cannot be fulfilled—even if a signature was found to be invalid on a re-check, there would be no way to know which ballot to throw out. But if you think Trump knows or cares about the Georgia constitution, I’ve got a ticket for a front-row seat at his second inauguration next month to sell you.
As for the validity of Trump’s claim of foul play in Georgia, the numbers indicate that there’s been none. This year, 0.15% of ballots were tossed because of signature-related problems—a little over 2000 out of 1.32 million absentee ballots sent in. That’s the same percentage rejected in the previous elections in 2018. Additionally, the process of validating signatures was done transparently; it was open to public view. As Georgia state officials have proclaimed, everything was above board.
But don’t worry, Trump is undaunted by such technicalities. “You have a fraudulent system,” he told Georgia voters on Thanksgiving. On Dec. 1, he was back at it, tweeting more lies and provoking a righteous response from Gabriel Sterling, one of the top officials in Georgia’s elections office, which I urge you to watch in its entirety. Trump clearly did.
“Someone’s going to get hurt, someone’s going to get shot, someone’s going to get killed,” intoned Sterling. Trump doesn’t give a single, solitary rat’s ass, intones me.
Beyond principled election officials like Sterling and his colleagues, there are, as I mentioned earlier, other Georgia Republicans who are upset about Trump’s false claims of a rigged vote. But their concern comes from a less principled and more partisan place.
Seeking reelection in the aforementioned January runoffs are two incumbent Republican senators. Kelly Loeffler is a billionaire who donates large sums of money to so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” that pretend to offer abortions in order to deliver their message to pregnant women, and to an adoption agency that apparently believes LGBT folks shouldn’t adopt kids. David Perdue is a day trader who treats his Senate job as little more than a source for stock tips. The runoffs are going to be tight, so these Trumpers really can’t afford for the leader of their party and current occupant of the White House to all but tell people not to bother voting for them on Jan. 5.
I say “all but” because, beyond what the Orange Julius Caesar himself has said, some of his most virulent, deluded minions left the “all but” in the dust. I’m talking about Sidney Powell and Lin Wood, who on Wednesday told Georgia Republicans not to vote in the runoffs unless … something about Chinese voting machines? Honestly, it was little more than nonsense.
The point is, Trump’s people are out there, in public, directly discouraging Republicans from voting in the Senate runoff. If Loeffler and Perdue don’t accede to the outrageous demand that they endorse having the Georgia state legislature override election law, then, as Wood bellowed: “(w)hy would you go back and vote in another rigged election, for God’s sake?” It’s a good question, if you believe in the fairy tales that Trump, Powell, and Wood are peddling. It’s also a question that scares the bejesus out of Loeffler and Perdue.
And they should be scared, especially if the recent poll from the respected Survey USA is any indication. It showed both Democratic nominees leading—with Rev. Raphael Warnock up 52-45 on Loeffler, and Jon Ossoff ahead of Perdue, 50-48.
Even Trump, who finally heads to the Peach State Saturday, allegedly in support of Loeffler and Perdue, can’t control how his voters react when they hear this kind of talk. After Donald Trump, Jr. urged his dad’s followers to ignore the calls from their own side to boycott #CrookedKelly and #CrookedPerdue, the first comments pushed back hard. One made clear that its author would stand by their man: “We’re telling everyone to write in Donald J. Trump,” ostensibly unaware that Georgia’s runoff ballots don’t offer a write-in option. Yet tell me that Daddy Trump, in his heart of darkest hearts, wouldn’t smile his mirthless grin if he actually saw that.
Loeffler and Perdue’s people aren’t smiling though. Loeffler adviser Eric Johnson’s anxiety comes through loud and clear in this comment that appeared in The New York Times: “You can’t say the system is rigged but elect these two senators. At some point (Trump) either drops it or he says ‘I want everybody to vote and get their friends to vote so that the margins are so large that they can’t steal it.’” Notice that Johnson doesn’t say Trump is wrong to flat-out lie that the November election was stolen—he evinces no concern for the ramifications of such statements for our democracy—he just wants Herr Twitler to shift his rhetoric … in a way that helps Republican candidates win in January. If you pick up the dictionary to look up the word “unprincipled,” don’t bother, just use it to smack Mr. Johnson over the head (not really, of course).
Though these Georgia Republicans can’t see beyond the January runoffs, not to mention see anything beyond the electoral interests of their party, we need to explore the long-term impact of Trump’s blatantly irresponsible post-election tantrum. Imagine how things would play out if Democrats ended up winning one or both of the Georgia runoffs, and some Republicans blamed Trump, but he nonetheless maintained his grip on the party. In that case, I’m sure he’d only scream louder about stolen elections, maybe even sparking more Republicans to be turned off from voting after January.
On one hand, Democratic chances at the ballot box would improve if Trump voters decide to stay home rather than vote for Republican candidates. More importantly, the broad majority of the American people, of every background, would benefit from Democratic policies and governance. But that’s not the whole story.
Next year, New Jersey and Virginia will have contests for governor. Republicans would love to break the Democratic trifecta—control of the governorship and both houses of the state legislature—in either state. Bear in mind that, as recently as 2018, a trifecta existed in neither state. Additionally—and I know it’s terrible to say this—the 2022 midterms are right around the corner. Could more of this crap from Trump depress Republican turnout then, too? His party did get creamed in the 2018 midterms, when he was president but not on the ballot. The party in the White House usually does poorly in midterms, but again, anything that holds back Republican support would be a net plus for Democratic candidates.
However, this question is even bigger than these upcoming elections, as important as they are. What happens if the leader of one of our major parties—along with much of the party rank-and-file—rejects the legitimacy of elections while still competing in them? What happens if Trump announces a 2024 run, but keeps on spewing falsehoods about rigged elections and massive voter fraud? Can our democracy survive such a scenario?
One of the most pernicious elements of Trump’s lies about the integrity of elections is its racism. Clearly, he doesn’t see Black voters in places like Detroit, Philly, or Milwaukee as having a legitimate voice, or deserving the opportunity to participate in choosing our leaders. As Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel noted in a call with reporters a week after Election Day: “Really the themes that we see, that persist, are this: Black people are corrupt, Black people are incompetent, and Black people can’t be trusted. That’s the narrative that is continually espoused by the Trump campaign and their allies in these lawsuits.” That element of white supremacy stands at the heart of both his and his supporters’ rejection of the 2020 results.
Right now, some top Georgia Republicans are scared—again, not about the impact of Trump’s claims on the stability of our democracy, or because his rhetoric is sparking death threats and possible violence—but rather that his statements will depress Republican turnout in January’s election. This is the height of partisan hypocrisy, and says everything you need to know about Republicans.
Even if it would help Democrats win some elections, our party does not want to see our country go through another four years with the leader of the other major party sowing more chaos and confusion, and undermining our democracy. We Democrats are partisans, but we are patriots first; in fact, that’s why we are partisan Democrats—because we believe our party’s values and policies are what’s best for the country, and for the American people.
What Trump is doing—if history is any guide—will cause severe and lasting damage to the foundations of our entire democratic system of government. Democrats, of course, can’t control what he does and says any more than his handlers or children can. Nevertheless, Democrats want him to stop lying, and are sincerely concerned about the lasting effect his lies will have on our society. Our goal is for all voters—even Republicans—to feel that the democratic process is fair, even if our electoral chances might be improved if some voters stayed home. Most importantly, we want elections to actually be fair.
Trump—and far too many other Republicans—see things the other way. That’s exactly what makes them so dangerous to our democracy.
Ian Reifowitz is the author of The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh’s Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump (Foreword by Markos Moulitsas)