On Thursday morning, Rudy Giuliani arrived at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta to participate in a state Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on election integrity. Giuliani's visit is part of the Republican Party's civil war in Georgia, as President Donald Trump continues to claim massive election fraud and Georgia Republican election officials push back. Some Georgia politicians are caught in the middle.
Trump continues to claim massive election fraud, and Georgia Republican election officials push back. Some Georgia politicians are caught in the middle.
Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler — both scheduled for Jan. 5 runoff elections against well-funded Democratic challengers — highlight the Republican dilemma. If Trump clings to his current view, laid out in a meandering 46-minute speech at the White House this week, that he was the rightful winner of the election, Loeffler and Perdue have two (bad) options.
On one hand, they can support Trump and embrace his claim that the election was fraudulent, thereby attacking the members of their own party who conducted the election and who refuse to accept Trump's lies. An added complication is that claiming widespread voter fraud could suppress Trump's own base: Why should supporters vote if machines can easily flip their votes and election officials from their own party are allowing widespread fraud?
On the other hand, they can cross Trump, anger his voters and risk losing their elections.
It appears that Loeffler and Perdue have so far calculated that their political interests are best served by aligning with Trump: They have called for Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's resignation and will appear with Trump at a rally this weekend.
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The Republican civil war in Georgia is ostensibly about election integrity. As Trump has been doing since Nov. 3, he insists — without evidence, always without evidence — that the election in Georgia was riddled with fraud and that without the fraud, he would be the winner. He then demands that party members fall in line with this fiction. Among his claims is that nonexistent voting machines "glitches" are proof that President-elect Joe Biden's supporters were trying to cheat.
Raffensperger went out of his way to prove that the votes were accurately counted. He conducted a full manual recount of the paper ballots, after which Republican Gov. Brian Kemp certified Biden's win before Thanksgiving.
Facts, however, don't stand in Trump's way. He continues to insist that there was widespread fraud in Georgia and demands that Georgia Republicans do something about it. Prominent pro-Trump lawyer L. Lin Wood called on Georgia Republicans to boycott the January runoffs in protest. (The Trump campaign seems less than pleased.)
As a result of Trump's wild claims, Georgia Republican election officials have found themselves the targets of death threats from irate Trump supporters, who demand that they name Trump the winner.
Ordinarily, a president who loses an election stands aside as the party moves on and searches for a stronger candidate. But it's possible — if not probable — that Trump will never set aside his claims that he was the rightful winner and will continue to declare war on any Republicans who fail to support his claims.
After Giuliani’s disastrous hearing contesting the election results in Michigan, his presence in Georgia doesn't bode well for the solemnity of the effort.
In this, Rudy Giuliani is perhaps Trump's most visible surrogate. But after Giuliani's disastrous hearing contesting the election results in Michigan, his presence in Georgia doesn't bode well for the solemnity of the effort.
So what kind of party will Republicans be? Are they a rule-of-law party? Or are they a party that embraces the kind of farcical circus that has defined the Trump campaign's legal efforts this winter?
Democracy is a form of government based on the law; it requires a shared truth or common factuality. In order to thrive, democracy must root out lies and disinformation. Georgia's secretary of state is clinging to facts. This puts him at odds with Trump and his supporters, who reject the rule of law and insist that if Trump says it, it must be true.
For Trump to avoid inflicting damage on Georgia Republicans — and perhaps Republicans in general — he would have to call off Giuliani and embrace reality.
If Republican leadership follows Perdue and Loeffler and embraces Trump's wild lies, we can expect the Republican Party to morph into an anti-democratic party. The Republican Party, in that case, will continue after 2020 to be the Party of Trump. That may work on a state level, but will it work in the 2024 presidential election?
If, however, enough of the Republican Party leadership rejects Trump's claims, the party risks alienating Trump's base of voters, which could split the party, making it harder for Republicans to compete in national elections.
It appears that the GOP has maneuvered itself into a lose-lose situation. However, one option is significantly better for America. Let's hope enough Republicans can find it within themselves to put nation over party.