When you play with fire, you can’t be surprised when you get burned. Republicans for the last four years have been content letting Donald Trump take a match to norms, democracy, and the nature of reality itself, but now that their power over the Senate is being threatened by the flames, they’re calling on the pyromaniac president to cool it. “I am strongly encouraging both the president and his team and Republicans in general and the senators to redirect their energy to getting reelected and to not get caught up in this massive wave of misinformation, because that’s exactly what it is” Georgia Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan told NBC News, saying he is “fearful” that the president’s quixotic effort to overturn his loss to Joe Biden is “negatively affecting” Republicans in the state’s runoff races. “It is a massive, unsubstantiated wave of misinformation.”
The Senate majority for the next two years will be determined by a pair of Peach State run-off contests. On paper, Republicans have the advantage: They only need one of their candidates, incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, to win to keep control of the upper chamber, while Democrats need both Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, splitting the Senate 50–50 and giving soon-to-be Vice President Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote. But Democrats, energized after turning the state blue last month in the presidential election, are pouring everything they’ve got into the race, seeking to keep the momentum Stacey Abrams helped build there going. The GOP establishment is throwing the kitchen sink at it, too. Karl Rove and other party officials are in an all-out fundraising blitz to keep their edge. “It is a legitimate titanic struggle,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told Politico.
But the Republicans also have a looming stumbling block in the January 5 race: their own party leader, whose inability to accept his loss to Biden last month has helped sow doubt among GOP voters in the integrity of the democratic process. Outwardly, Trump is supporting Georgia’s incumbent Republicans; he’s scheduled to travel there this weekend to campaign for Loeffler and Perdue, both of whom he described as “tremendous people” last week. But he has also insisted that their race is occurring within a “very fraudulent system,” and some of his surrogates have outright called on Republicans there to not vote. “Do not be fooled twice,” Georgia attorney Lin Wood, who has litigated on Trump’s behalf to overturn the results in the state, said at a rally Wednesday. “This is Georgia, we ain’t dumb. We’re not going to go vote on January 5 on another machine made by China.”
“Why would you go back and vote in another rigged election?” he added.
Sidney Powell—who is no longer an official member of Trump’s legal team with Rudy Giuliani, but has continued to war against the election results on his behalf—made similar remarks at the same rally. “I would encourage all Georgians to make it known that you will not vote at all until your vote is secure,” she said, a sentiment not wholly different from what Trump himself has been saying publicly for weeks, including during a recorded address from the White House on Wednesday. “We already have the proof, we already have the evidence, and it’s very clear,” Trump said, contradicting his own lackey, Attorney General William Barr. “They know it’s true. They know it’s there. They know who won the election. But they refuse to say, ‘You’re right.’ Our country needs somebody to say, ‘You’re right.’”
The unwillingness to do so even by Republican election officials, like Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and voting system implementation manager Gabriel Sterling, has drawn the president’s ire and led to death threats from MAGA world. “It has to stop,” Sterling said in a stirring rebuke. “Someone’s going to get hurt, someone’s going to get shot, someone’s going to get killed.” Trump was unmoved by the “have you no sense of decency?” moment: “Rigged election,” he tweeted in response.
“I mean, it’s Looney Tunes,” Sterling said on CNN Thursday. “The president’s literally coming to Georgia to campaign for the same two senators that his two former lawyers who are filing lawsuits to contest the election, with the same claims that the president made in his very long 46-minute video yesterday that have already been debunked. I’m speechless.”
He shouldn’t be. This is Trumpworld, and in Trumpworld there’s only one person who matters, as some Republicans may be belatedly coming to understand: Even as he announced Wednesday his plans to campaign for Loeffler and Perdue, he made clear what would really be happening in Georgia this weekend: “A big Trump Rally.”
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