A new schism is spreading through the Republican Party in a state that President Donald Trump had counted on winning but lost. Trump has bitterly attacked Georgia's GOP Gov. Brian Kemp for failing to accommodate the president's assertions of voting fraud in the Nov. 3 election. Kemp isn't budging, and isn't ready to coddle Trump's procedural demands by overruling his own secretary of state over the details of a recount.
Ordinarily this might amount to an intramural party feud. But much more than even the state's 16 electoral votes are at stake. On Jan. 5, the state's Republican U.S. senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, face runoff elections. If both were to lose, Senate Democrats could claim a narrow majority, pushing the Republicans from power on Capitol Hill.
Trump's postelection push to hold on as party boss has begun.
Rather than unite with Georgia's party leadership, the president chooses to drive a wedge, even after losing the election to President-elect Joe Biden. On Sunday, Trump said he was "ashamed" of having endorsed Kemp, complaining the governor had "done absolutely nothing" to try to change the ballot results. Kemp said Monday that Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger, "has oversight over elections that cannot be overridden by executive order."
A federal lawsuit filed by a Trump supporter to halt the election results and reverify absentee-ballot signatures also moved forward in Georgia on Monday. On Saturday, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel was in the state to persuade Republicans to vote in the Senate runoff elections. The problem is, some of her voters, swayed by Trump's complaints, told her "it's already decided," and don't want to bother taking part in the runoff. If that view catches fire, it could hurt the GOP Senate candidates.
If Trump is following a plan — always a question — he might actually see an advantage for himself in Republicans losing the Senate majority.
Let's say GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell holds on as majority leader. Then on Jan. 20, when Biden takes the presidential oath, the Kentucky power broker becomes the nation's most powerful Republican. He'd be free to drive the party's anti-Biden agenda without Trump. Would Trump accept that?
If McConnell were to lose power, Trump might have an improved chance of clinging to control of the GOP from out in the electoral wilderness. Campaign season never ends for certain politicians, and Trump already has been talking behind closed doors about 2024.
Whether Georgia's Republicans win or lose, Trump will spin those results.
First, he has paved the way to claim credit if Loeffler and Perdue win, with advisers setting up a PAC in support.
"There is a critical role that must be played in both Georgia Senate runoffs: turning out the Trump vote. We know from past midterms and special elections that the Trump voter is not guaranteed to every Republican candidate, which is why it’s vital to directly engage these voters and not take them for granted," Andy Surabian, a Donald Trump Jr. adviser told Politico.
But if both senators lose, costing McConnell the majority, Trump can cry "fraud" again, or else blame his newly-minted enemies in the Georgia state party. The lame-duck president can be expected to act as if he alone represents the Republican Party.