What some have dismissed as confined to a fringe element is becoming a recurring theme in the Georgia runoff campaigns: that President Donald Trump’s supporters, convinced that the general election was rigged, may just opt out of voting in January.
At a Fox News town hall Thursday night, during which host Laura Ingraham encouraged her viewers and audience to vote for Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) and David Perdue (R-GA), Perdue, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) all had to spend time convincing viewers to participate.
All three did so while, assisted by Ingraham, happily fanning the flames of conspiracy theories about the November election that Trump has sparked.
“President Trump’s very frustrated and I’m very frustrated and we’re going to do everything we possibly can to make sure whenever anomalies are uncovered in November don’t happen in January,” Perdue said. “But this is illogical for any Republican to think ‘I’m just gonna sit down and hand, as you say, the keys over to the Democrats.'”
Perdue and Loeffler have been walking that tightrope since it became clear Trump wouldn’t let the fabricated idea of widespread election fraud out of his teeth. They are at once trying to placate Trump and his supporters by echoing the specious claims, while also balancing the contradictory idea that the system isn’t so rigged that Republican votes won’t matter.
Perdue is trying to drive Trump-supporter turnout by making the case that reelecting the Republicans means protecting what the Trump administration has done the past four years — “if, in fact, the result is not in his favor,” he hastily caveated.
Kemp next took the stage, trying to claw back some MAGA bona fides after spending days on the receiving end of Trump’s fury.
He too cast doubt on the election, positioning Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger as the true villain, and bringing up his desire for a signature audit. Some Georgia Republicans have coalesced behind a call for signature verification measures in recent days, as they seek out some way to discount President-Elect Joe Biden’s win in the state.
When Ingraham prompted Kemp for “legislative fixes” that could be done to un-rig the January election, he said that legal action is the quickest route to take. Trump’s team has so far been spectacularly unsuccessful in its various lawsuits.
“The thing right now is trying to figure out the fastest way to ensure that the vote is going to be secure because it’s like Lin Wood saying today, urging people not to go vote in this election and all that’s going to do is give the Democrats everything they want,” Kemp said, referring to the pro-Trump lawyer. “It’s going to give the radicals everything they want.”
Wood, a lawyer who has championed various right-wing causes, has argued that Georgia Republicans should not bother voting in the runoff elections unless the system is reformed.
Kemp also tried to make the case that it’s really Democrats who are driving the wedge through the party, though Trump is the one who has been putting him and Raffensperger on blast for weeks.
Collins joined in, after amplifying baseless accusations of voter fraud from the general election.
“We cannot allow our momentary disappointment of what we are seeing in the election — that we will fix and can fix — to keep us from going to the polls,” Collins said. “David and Kelly need us at this point. And as I said earlier when I started this, Donald Trump needs us.”
These contortions Georgia Republicans are pulling is all in fealty to Trump, and appears motivated by the concern that without Trump’s support, they’ll lose his base and the turnout they need to win.
Trump, who is due in the state on Saturday, has done little to allay those fears.
The best way to insure a @KLoeffler and @sendavidperdue VICTORY is to allow signature checks in the Presidential race, which will insure a Georgia Presidential win (very few votes are needed, many will be found). Spirits will soar and everyone will rush out and VOTE! @BrianKempGA
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 4, 2020
By marrying overturning the presidential election result in Georgia to runoff turnout, he’s ensuring that the Republicans won’t leave his corner.
That Trump has the power to greatly influence the runoff election was never in doubt. But so far, he’s largely used that megaphone to keep his own grievances front and center, no matter the risk of depressing his base and torpedoing the Republican cause.