I go back and forth on whether it’s moral cowardice or smart messaging for Georgia’s Republican election officials to keep insisting that they support Trump, Loeffler, and Perdue despite the viciousness that all three have encouraged towards them. You can’t get through an interview with Brian Kemp, Geoff Duncan, Brad Raffensperger, or Gabriel Sterling without them reminding you that they voted for Trump and are super-bummed that he didn’t win their state. Never mind that the president dubbed Raffensperger an “enemy of the people” despite knowing that he and the other GA officials have been receiving death threats, and never mind that Loeffler and Perdue issued a statement a few days after the election calling on Raffensperger to quit despite not a scintilla of evidence that anything untoward had happened in Georgia’s election.
One of the most demagogic episodes in the history of the United States — and it’s still going, and might very well get worse — and yet these dudes can’t assure you quickly enough that they remain proud Republicans who’ll dutifully vote for whoever the party wants them to vote for.
Cowardly or clever? Watch, then read on.
“Yeah, sad but true … I’m a conservative Republican and I’m disappointed, but those are the results,” Sec. of State Brad Raffensperger tells @GStephanopoulos when asked if there’s no doubt in his mind that President Trump lost the state of Georgia. https://t.co/jPVBc3tTOH pic.twitter.com/R9y9BF7QE7
— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) December 6, 2020
If you want to convince skeptical Republican voters that the election was legitimate, obviously it makes all the sense in the world to remind them, over and over again, “I’m on your side. I’m a Republican too. I’m voting for the same people you’re voting for. You have no reason not to trust me.” Trump’s attacking their credibility on the right so they’re doing the logical thing to shore it up by pledging their support to the state’s Republican senators. If Raffensperger turned around and called Loeffler and Perdue human garbage who’d let Trump take a dump in their mouths if the president insisted upon it, he’d have a point — but he’d also tee up election truthers to say, “See? We told you this guy was a closet Democrat. He probably voted for Biden.”
There’s strategy to the “I’m still voting Republican” talking point, in other words. But watching Raffensperger kowtow to Loeffler and Perdue in the clip above, I’m reminded of Trump insulting Ted Cruz’s wife and father during the 2016 primary and Cruz eventually becoming a loyal servant to the president anyway. There was strategy behind that too: Cruz wanted to get reelected to the Senate in 2018 and he wants to run for president again someday so he swallowed his pride and did what he had to do to make those things happen. But no one will ever look at him again the same way for having valued his career ambitions above his family’s dignity. Raffensperger’s own wife is getting rape threats, instigated by the suspicion that’s been cast upon him by Perdue, Loeffler, and Trump, and all this guy can do is say, “Sure, I support ’em.”
Even if he’s behaving strategically, it’s impossible to respect someone who doesn’t seem to respect himself.
But here’s what I mean by back and forth: As contemptible as Raffensperger and the rest are for continuing to align themselves with Loeffler and Perdue, they’re admirable for refusing to buckle under the pressure Trump’s put on them to overturn their election. We’ve reached the point in this endless disgrace where the president is now privately lobbying Republican governors to have the state legislature void its election results and award its electors to him, but Brian Kemp won’t do it. It’s a symptom of a deeply diseased civic culture that one feels obliged to applaud a state official for not participating in a coup but that’s where we are with Kemp, Raffensperger, and the rest. It’s abundantly clear that a great many Republican voters would support Trump seizing another term in office by any possible means, a black mark on the party that’ll never wash off. But Georgia’s Republican officials won’t go along, to their great credit, whatever it means for their careers.
President Trump called Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) on Saturday morning to urge him to persuade the state legislature to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the state and asked the governor to order an audit of absentee ballot signatures, the latest brazen effort by the president to interfere in the 2020 election.
Hours before he was scheduled to hold a rally in Georgia on behalf of the state’s two GOP senators, Trump pressed Kemp to call a special session of the state legislature for lawmakers to override the results and appoint electors who would back the president at the electoral college, according to two people familiar with the conversation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private call.
Trump also asked the governor to demand an audit of signatures on mail ballots, something Kemp has previously noted he has no power to do. Kemp declined the president’s entreaty, according to the people.
If burbling about his support for Loeffler and Perdue is Brad Raffensperger’s price for refusing to take part in a g-ddamned coup, well, that seems like a modest price, relatively speaking.
The president was in Georgia last night and underlined his support for Loeffler and Perdue as well amid a long rant about fraud and conspiracies, etc etc. This was the line from the rally that stood out, though:
“We’re all victims. Everybody here. All these thousands of people here tonight. They’re all victims. Every one of you.” — Trump pic.twitter.com/5dPtZCNGxa
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 6, 2020
As a pithy summary of Trump’s core political message, one can’t do better than “we’re all victims.” A passage from this op-ed published a few days ago, before Trump’s rally, grabbed me when I read it:
Trump’s permanent revolution has no fixed principles other than smashing a nebulous “deep state,” forcing all institutions of society to bend to its will, and waging never-ending war against Democrats, independents and non-Trump Republicans. It has become a perpetual grievance machine unwilling (and unable) to address those grievances through governance or the legislative process. And in refusing to accept Trump’s defeat, the conservative movement increasingly insists that the rule of law, truth and democracy are what the revolution says they are.
“We’re all victims” is the perfect motto for a perpetual grievance machine. (It’d make a fine motto for the progressive left too, interestingly enough.) That’s what makes Raffensperger’s insistence that Trump lost Georgia fair and square so shocking, even scandalous. The president is asserting the mother of all grievances here, nothing less than the rigging of the American presidential election against him and the GOP, and Raffensperger, Kemp, Duncan, and Sterling just won’t play along. They simply will not agree to substitute the aggrieved fantasy that the election was stolen for the hard reality that Biden got a few more votes in Georgia than Trump did. It’s grimly amusing watching them cope with oceans of vitriol from the populist right despite their assurances that they support Loeffler and Perdue while Democratic donor Lin Wood basks in adulation from the same group while effectively calling for Loeffler’s and Perdue’s defeat.
It’s not really about party loyalty, in other words. It’s about grievance. Wood would hand the Senate to Democrats but is forgiven and even celebrated because he feeds MAGA’s sense of grievance. Raffensperger would keep the Senate in Republican hands but is vilified because he won’t affirm that they’re right to feel aggrieved.
Here’s Duncan, the lieutenant governor, speaking to CNN this morning and naturally reminding everyone once again that he supported Trump in the election. If I could spend five minutes with every Georgia voter, he says, I could convince them that the election was fair and that they shouldn’t be angry. Absolutely untrue, my man. And if you decide to test that out, I strongly encourage you to have a security detail with you.