David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler didn’t plan on orienting their Georgia run-off campaigns around a lame-duck president’s crackpot election conspiracies and cuckoo coup attempts. Yet, here they are, both desperately trying to signal to Republican voters that they’ll fight for Trump all the way to the bitter end. Even with their well-funded and heavily-staffed campaign arsenals, these two incumbent senators believe that this is the only way they can keep their seats.
It’s the perfect distillation of the dead-end conundrum of Trumpism:
Republicans know that they can’t win without the kooks.
Republicans also know that they definitely might lose with them.
And this dissonance has left the GOP too paralyzed to think of any other way forward.
Think about this: Trump just lost Georgia. But, if the incumbent senators running for re-election in Georgia acknowledge that reality, it would constitute instant grounds for rejection from their base.
Accordingly, the Peach State has become the quiet place for GOP realists: Utter one negative word—or even a positive word that laments his loss—and suddenly dark forces will appear out of thin air to hunt you down.
“Someone’s going to get hurt, someone’s going to get shot, someone’s going to get killed,” Georgia election official Gabriel Sterling warned during a press conference where he specified the threats being posed to fellow Georgians who supported the electoral system. Lest anyone thinks this is a one-off occurrence, look to Pennsylvania, where elected Republicans were pressured to sign a letter supporting Trump’s baseless election claims. “If I would say to you, ‘I don’t want to do it,'” Kim Ward, the GOP leader of the Pennsylvania Senate, said, “I’d get my house bombed tonight.” Not to mention the numerous other occurrences of election officials being staked out and threatened in their homes and offices.
It’s like a horror movie. But in real life.
To hear Republican campaign experts tell it, Loeffler and Perdue had no choice but to support Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s absurd lawsuit to cancel votes in their own state. And they simply had to ask Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to resign; nevermind there wasn’t any evidence of wrongdoing. GOP voters in Georgia wanted shows of fealty to Trump and standing with Republican Governor Brian Kemp to say something like We love Donald Trump; it’s a damn shame he lost; and we hope he runs in 2024 would have been taken as heresy by their supporters.
Whether you agree or not with this analysis, it’s how Loeffler and Perdue see the environment. And once political actors believe that their political future depends on supporting the overthrow of a free and fair election, it’s hard to see how they climb back down. Because now they’ve laid down a marker with their supporters and legitimized the idea that the official party line should be pro-authoritarianism.
Still, Trump’s base wants more from Perdue and Loeffler. They want more than co-signed letters expressing support for overthrowing an election. They expect them to actually do something about it.
When Trump went to Valdosta on December 5 to hold a rally (ostensibly to support Perdue and Loeffler), the crowd came with pre-made “Stop the Steal” signs. Trump spoke for nearly two hours, airing his various unfounded grievances. The senators talked for only about two minutes. At their own rally.
Loeffler tossed out a line about how the Dear Leader had stood up to “cancel culture, China, Big Tech, the fake news,” but the crowd could sense that she was trying to gild the election question. She handed the microphone to Perdue like a hot potato. Purdue barely managed to say “God bless you, we love you, Mr. President,” before the crowd drowned him out with screaming chants demanding that the two senators “Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!”
Nobody wanted to hear thoughts from sitting U.S. senators about the coronavirus, jobs, economic stimulus, or even how the GOP Senate could serve as a check on the Biden-Harris administration. Trump’s crowd only wanted to know only one thing: Would these two elected officials help overturn the results of the election.
And if not, then GTFO. Sedition or bust, baby.
The leaders of this mob are trying to hold Perdue and Loeffler hostage. Politically speaking, of course. Let’s not confuse Georgia Republican voters with their comrades in Michigan, who targeted their governor with an actual kidnapping plot.
Lin Wood, Atlanta’s MAGA celebrity lawyer, is urging Georgia Republicans to boycott the run-off races. He’s demanding voters sit out in retaliation for the supposed “fraud committed by anti-Trump RINOs Brian Kemp, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue against President Trump” and others. And a fair number of people are concerned about the “Lin Wood effect” and how his calls could depress GOP voter turnout. Wood’s attempts to undo Biden’s election could undo Perdue and Loeffler, too.
But Trump and Wood are playing to the same roaring crowd.
Which belies the real underlying problem.
David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are inconsequential figures when it comes to the Republican party’s future. If they win, then the GOP will retain control of the Senate. If they lose, the Democrats will have an extremely narrow majority where nothing to the left of Joe Manchin has even a chance of passing.
Either way, the future of Georgia Republicans, the Republican Senate, and the GOP itself is in the hands of fanatical conspiracists.
At this point, Loeffler, Perdue, and Republican party elites are just lagging indicators. They realize this truth.
But they don’t dare say it out loud. Because the only way to be safe, is to stay quiet.