Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who’s had his name tarred by the President, his state’s governor and its two senators for refusing to parrot baseless election fraud accusations, penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal Sunday arguing that President Donald Trump is simply running the “Stacey Abrams playbook.”
He compared Trump’s post-election lying, refusal to concede and attempt to get the election overturned to Abrams’ 2018 speech calling out her opponent, the triumphant Gov. Brian Kemp, for pinning his “hopes for election on the suppression of the people’s democratic right to vote.” Abrams said then that to concede would be to acknowledge that an action was “right, true or proper,” something she could not do.
Raffensperger on Sunday argued that this is exactly the same as what Trump is up to in 2020.
“Establishing a playbook that President Trump is following to the letter now, Ms. Abrams refused to concede, announced that she would launch major litigation against Georgia’s election system, and began collecting hundreds of millions of dollars from donors convinced the election had been stolen from her,” Raffensperger wrote, outlining the thesis of his argument.
Yet, while written to sound similar, none of Abrams’ actions are in reality at all comparable to what Trump has done.
Though Abrams did, technically, refuse to concede when she spoke after the election, she still accepted publicly that Kemp would be governor of Georgia.
“I acknowledge that former Secretary of State Brian Kemp will be certified as the victor in the 2018 gubernatorial election,” she said — a pronouncement that would make headlines today were Trump to make the equivalent admission about President-Elect Joe Biden.
“Quibbling what the word concession and the like is not constructive or helpful,” Myrna Perez, director of voting and election rights at NYU’s Brennan Center, told TPM. “She accepted that she was not gonna have that office and didn’t fight to the bitter end to protract and delay the moving forward.”
Trump, meanwhile, held up Biden’s transition for weeks. He turned it into a courageous stance of independence for a Republican lawmaker to call Biden by his rightful title: President-Elect.
“In 2020 we’re now more than a month past Election Day,” noted Jeffrey Lewis Lazarus, a political science professor at Georgia State University. “There has been a hand-recount and a second recount and the votes are certified. Even so, Republicans are refusing to give up their fantasy of a rigged election.”
On Raffensperger’s second point, the “major litigation” was not an attempt by Abrams to overturn the election à la the dozens of flimsy lawsuits filed by Trump’s campaign and allied lawyers in swing states he lost — almost all of which have been laughed out of court. Abrams’ was a lawsuit filed by her then-new organization Fair Fight to reform voter registration, ballot access and ballot counting processes going forward.
“Since then, [Abrams] has spent her efforts expanding access to the ballot and promoting and encouraging a robust and participatory democracy,” Perez said of the disparate legal efforts. “Whereas what we’re seeing now are efforts to get ballots discounted and thrown out, efforts to get rules in place to make it harder for people to cast ballots that count.”
The fundraising too was for Fair Fight, which has since become the best-funded political action committee in Georgia. It was not, as in Trump’s case, a sneaky way to funnel supporters’ money into a slush-fund under the guise of helping him overturn the election.
The key distinction, experts told TPM, was how the two acted after the elections they said were unfair. Abrams looked toward future elections in which she championed reforms, while Trump tried to undo the past.
“If President Trump had been able to channel his grievance into 1) an acknowledgment that Biden would be the next President, 2) a list of (real) identified problems, coupled with 3) (real) calls for productive and meaningful reform, I think (some) opponents might even have recognized the maturity of that move,” Justin Levitt, a constitutional law professor at Loyola Law School, told TPM in an email.
Abrams said that she couldn’t traditionally concede because the election was marred by a combination of voter suppression and mismanagement, which left voters stripped from the rolls, waiting in hours-long lines or confronted by unexpectedly closed or understaffed polling places. She blamed Kemp, who refused to give up his job as secretary of state even when it meant overseeing the administration of his own election, as directly responsible for both malicious voter suppression and plain old incompetence.
Trump has baselessly blamed voter fraud for his loss, his attention flitting to different myths of convenience — ballots in duffel bags, double voting, hacked voting systems and switched votes — like an ADD moth to flames.
“In 2018, Brian Kemp took advantage of his position as Georgia Secretary State to place real obstacles in the way of likely Democratic voters, primarily African Americans, making it harder for them to vote in numerous different ways,” Lazarus said. But this time, he added, “Republicans themselves are, once again, in control of the Secretary of State’s office, and thus the state’s voting apparatus, so there’s no way for Democrats to have influenced the outcome the way Trump and allies are accusing.”
Raffensperger’s attempt to both-sides Trump’s democracy shredding may be an effort to remind those within his party that he is, indeed, one of them — a Republican. But it has the dangerous potential to normalize what Trump is doing, to make people believe there is a rich history of the loser attempting to torch the whole system on her way out.
Trump has done everything — both within the legal boundaries and, reportedly, without — to get the results of the 2020 election overturned so he can remain in office. Abrams pointed out a slew of suppression and mismanagement that contributed to her loss, and devoted herself to making the system better going forward.
“It’s not in any way, shape or form a fair comparison,” Lazarus said.