The schism between Trump Republicans and Fox News, covered here, is a microcosmic version of the dynamic playing out across the country, and particularly in Georgia, where two runoff elections slated for Jan. 5 will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate. In a situation that seems too good to be true for Democrats, Trump is actually feuding with Georgia governor Brian Kemp, a Republican he endorsed in the tight 2018 race with Stacey Abrams. You couldn’t have scripted it any better:
As you see, the conflict here is about the contested presidential election in the state. Trump refuses to back down from his claims of fraud and corruption, and though he has to reverse the outcome in multiple states to have any prayer of overturning the whole result, he refuses to concede a rhetorical inch…even as results are being validated across the country. Which makes people Republicans like Kemp, who are either doing the certifying or theoretically in charge of those who do, the target of his ire.
Of course, it’s about more than just an election; it’s about the meaning of loyalty. For Trump, a man fully lacking any real principles, loyalty should mean adherence to everything he demands, regardless of the laws and limits imposed by the American system. It goes without saying that he has no loyalty himself; he’ll sell anyone down the river when it’s convenient. But from his people, he insists on fealty that is essentially just behavioral propaganda—the mandate is to echo everything that comes out of his mouth, issue public proclamations of support, and subvert truth and the legal code when necessary. If he says he won the election, you better jump on board.
Kemp hasn’t, which is funny because this is a guy, as the Washington Post pointed out, who removed hundreds of thousands of voters from the roll and delayed registrations before his victory against Abrams, and has spent a career whining about nonexistent Democratic voter fraud in order to pass various laws of disenfranchisement. His secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, might even be worse. But apparently stacking the deck systematically against voters is one thing, and waving a magic wand to erase an election result is another, because they’re not playing ball with Trump.
Which is infuriating Trump supporters, in Georgia and elsewhere, and one potential consequence of that is depressed turnout in the Senate runoffs. The New York Times states the obvious:
President Trump’s sustained assault on his own party in Georgia, and his repeated claims of election fraud in the state, have intensified worries among Republicans that he could be hurting their ability to win two crucial Senate runoff races next month.
Amazingly, there is even a movement afoot to write in Trump’s name on the ballot. This sounds like some kind of prank perpetrated by the left, but it seems to be genuinely led by Trumpists. If this sounds like a “cut off your nose to spite your face” maneuver, it just goes to show how resolutely Trump’s supporters favor him over any notion of party (or, for that matter, policy). As we see with the anger directed at Fox News, who had the audacity to say that Joe Biden won the election, this is the result of one man saying the quiet part out loud, translating the dog whistles into rhetoric, and driving a significant portion of his constituents outside of what we’d call the Republican mainstream. Once you’re there, there’s no going back, and without Trump many of these voters have little interest in supporting a traditional Republican politician.
And those are under the best of circumstances, i.e. when Trump himself isn’t publicly declaring war on his own party (and casting doubt on fair elections) in the very state that matters the most. The hallmark of any group of zealots is that deep down, they hate the moderates on their own side more than they hate the opposition. They don’t really care about the Republican party—they never did—and many of them will gladly punish that party if they think it’s what Trump wanted.
Of course, no outcome is guaranteed here. Trump is a massive draw, and even if there’s a drop-off in Republican turnout in Georgia, there will likely be a dip for Democrats too. The stakes are high, but will people truly care without a marquee name like Trump at the top of the ballot?
Trump is reportedly traveling to Georgia to campaign this weekend, and the Republican candidates have wisely echoed his line, calling for Raffensperger to resign and generally sounding like standard MAGA lunatics For what it’s worth, Raffensperger sounds like a tired, desperate man:
“There are those who are exploiting the emotions of many Trump supporters with fantastic claims,” he said at a news conference on Monday morning. “Half-truths, misinformation, and frankly, they’re misleading the president as well, apparently.”
Meanwhile, nobody knows what Trump will actually say when he goes down to Georgia, and the fear is that rather than promote the Senate candidates, he’ll spend his time railing on Kemp and Raffensperger and perhaps depressing turnout further.
When you combine all this infighting with Stacey Abrams’ robust turnout machine, it’s hard not to feel at least a little optimistic about Jan. 5. The general rule with Democrats is that you can’t have nice things—ever—but the ongoing implosion on the right makes you dream that, at least in Georgia, the nice things might fall right into your lap.