Trump's attacks on the Georgia election are failing miserably — but show no sign of slowing down
The rapidly unfolding events in Georgia this past weekend showcased the lengths that President Trump will go to overturn the 2020 general election's popular vote, the depth of disinformation that he is pushing and many partisans are accepting, and the fortitude of a handful of Georgia's constitutional officers who did not bend under pressure.
On Monday, Georgia's Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said the recount found that Democrat Joe Biden had won his state's 2020 presidential election by nearly 12,000 votes. It was the third statewide tally of the presidential election, following a manual hand count of 5 million paper ballots after Election Day, and the Election Day tally. No other battleground state in 2020 conducted as thorough an examination to verify its vote.
Georgia's governor, Republican Brian Kemp, who served as secretary of state before being elected governor in 2018—a race that his opponent, Democrat Stacy Abrams, said was marred by a catalog of voter suppression—has said that he will certify the presidential results. Trump has repeatedly called on Kemp to convene a legislative session to select a pro-Trump Electoral College slate, rather than have the slate reflect Georgia's popular vote.
But as President Trump made clear on Saturday at a rally in Valdosta, Georgia, he will not stop trying to muscle his way to a second term—even if it means ignoring the popular vote, urging Republican governors in other swing states, such as Arizona, to convene special sessions to anoint him, and filing lawsuits that he hopes will end up before the Supreme Court, where Trump expects that conservative justices will to elevate to a second term.
The Valdosta rally, Trump's first major event since the November election, had attendees from across the county who supported Trump and fanned his unfounded claims of a stolen election. The event's advertised purpose was to promote Georgia's two Republican senators who face January 5 runoffs, where, should they lose, that body would return to a Democratic majority. But from the start, Trump said that he won, listed grievances, showed videos purporting to prove electoral theft, slammed skeptics in his party, and pledged to emerge victorious.
"We're all victims. Everybody here, all these thousands of people here tonight, they're all victims," Trump said 90 minutes into the rally filled with mounting cheers of "Stop the Steal" and "Fight for Trump." Trump leaned on podium, relishing the cheers and holding forth.
"The next great victory for our movement begins right here on January 5th [the Senate runoffs] and then we are going to win back the White House," he continued. "We're going to win it back. And we're going to win back the House in 2022. And then in 2024, and hopefully I won't have to be a candidate, we're gonna win back the White House again. A friend of mine said, 'Oh, don't worry about it, sir. You are way up in the polls, you'll win in 2024.' I said, I don't want to win in 2024, I want to go back in three weeks."
Trump's strategy is to keep pressuring any official who has authority to interrupt certifying their state's vote or impact their state's Electoral College slate to act on his behalf. He mocked Kemp for not being tough enough and encouraged Rep. Doug Collins, R-GA, a loyalist, to run against Kemp in two years. He mused that maybe Arizona's GOP governor would be tougher, meaning he would be the first to convene a special session to select a pro-Trump slate.
Trump periodically returned to the rally's ostensible purpose, to boost the Republicans in the state's January runoffs, but not without repeating his desire to stay in power and modeling the tough-minded stance that he expected Republicans to take in this fight.
"If they [Georgia's incumbent Republican senators] get in—and add me to this group if you don't mind—we will be greater than ever before," Trump said toward the end to loud cheers. "America's destiny has just begun. We will not bend. We will not break. We will not give. We will never give in. We will never give up. And we will never back down. We will never ever surrender. Because we are Americans and our hearts bleed red, white and blue."
Trump's passionate attacks on the 2020 election are not just urging Republicans to override millions of legally cast votes and delegitimize Joe Biden's presidency before it has begun. He has weaponized the voting system in such a way that no matter what any election official says, including top Republican state officials in Georgia, election outcomes cannot be trusted.
Georgia is a red-run state where Republicans hold all constitutional offices and both legislative chambers. In the days before Trump's rally, Republican legislators convened hearings to build a case to reject the popular vote. Much of their rationale was based on what their party's largely untrained citizen election observers saw during the post-Election Day counting process. These observers thought they saw systemic breakdowns, which is a result of their unfamiliarity with election administration's intricacies and a process that often lacks transparency to be easily understood. But Trump observers were predisposed to believe that the process was rigged, that local election officials could not be trusted, that poll workers were part of a vast plan to steal the presidency. No one noticed that Republican officials had oversight of Georgia's elections—its technology, its procedures and eligibility rules—for years.
One of the witnesses who expected to testify before the Georgia Senate late last week was seen by this reporter during the presidential ballot hand count making unfounded claims of ballot forgery, ballot box stuffing and falsified counting. Yet there he was, issuing press releases with the same claims to legislators who seemed primed to override the popular vote.
Over the weekend, a handful of Republican state senators circulated a petition that they hoped would force Gov. Kemp to hold a special session. The petition claimed that every category of illegal election crime occurred due to "systemic failure."
Allegedly, votes were cast by felons, underage youth, non-state residents, residents of different counties and dead people, the petition said. Voter registrations illegally contained post office boxes, not street addresses, it said. Signatures on absentee ballot return envelopes allegedly had not been properly authenticated. Election observers could not see every step to validate ballots. The petition, needless to say, did not note that Georgia's 2020 elections were the first elections in two decades to use a paper ballot. Nor did it say that the state was the only 2020 battleground that counted its presidential votes three times.
The recent developments in Georgia suggest the 2020 election is not yet over. Despite the responsible steps by its secretary of state and governor to defend their electoral system and the popular vote outcome—even if it meant their candidate lost—the fight will continue.
One can expect more fights over Electoral College slates. There are deadlines that will be a focal point for more legal fights and partisan bluster—if not disinformation. States that certify their presidential results by December 8 cannot have those results overturned by Congress when it convenes on January 6 to ratify the Electoral College vote. (Each state's presidential electors meet on December 14 to officially certify the winner.)
On January 6th, one should expect some Republicans in Congress to challenge Biden's election. That would be no different than in 2004, when two Democrats, California Sen. Barbara Boxer and Ohio Rep. Cynthia Tubbs Jones, rejected, George W. Bush's nomination. Their objections, citing GOP-led voter suppression, forced each chamber to debate for two hours. When the joint session reconvened, the Congress ratified Bush's second term.
It is unlikely that Trump will block Biden's presidency, as he keeps losing in federal court—including two more lawsuits on Monday.
"They want this court to substitute its judgment for that of two and a half million Georgia voters who voted for Joe Biden -- and this I am unwilling to do," said U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Batten on Monday, dismissing the latest litigation in Georgia to overturn the election's results, while issuing his ruling from the bench.
In Michigan, another pro-Trump lawsuit was rejected for similar reasons.
"Plaintiffs ask this Court to ignore the orderly statutory scheme established to challenge elections and to ignore the will of millions of voters," wrote U.S. District Judge Linda A. Parker on Monday. "This, the Court cannot, and will not, do."
Nonetheless, one should expect Trump's supporters to drag out the fight for Georgia's senate seats. Unlike the presidency, there are no congressional deadlines for seating senators. It could be months before the newest senators were seated, if the results were close and challenged. Recall that in Minnesota in 2008, the senatorial recount took six months to resolve before Democrat Al Franken was finally seated in mid-2009.
If a similar trajectory unfurled in 2021, it would keep a Republican majority in the Senate. Sen. Mitch McConnell would remain majority leader. He would oversee committee assignments and the legislative agenda in the early months in the Biden presidency, even if the two Democrats in Georgia eventually prevailed.
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