At Georgia rally, Trump sounds less certain that victory is at hand
DALTON, Ga. — President Trump campaigned Monday night on behalf of two incumbent Republican senators whose defeat in runoff elections on Tuesday could cost the party its majority in the U.S. Senate and deliver a symbolic capstone to his own time in office.
Clinging to his claims that widespread election fraud had cost him victory in the presidential election in states like Georgia, Trump continued to set his sights on Jan. 6, when he hopes that Congress — and his own vice president — will refuse to certify the Electoral College confirming Joe Biden’s victory.
“I hope Mike Pence comes through for us. I have to tell you. I hope that our great vice president, our great vice president, comes through for us. He’s a great guy,” Trump said on a frigid night at a mass rally held at a regional airport, before joking, “Of course, if he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him quite as much. No, Mike is a great guy.”
Before arriving in Georgia, Trump met in the Oval Office with Pence and members of his legal team to map out the strategy for Wednesday’s certification, which more than 100 members of the House of Representatives and 13 U.S. senators have said they will contest.
One of those senators is Kelly Loeffler, for whom Trump had traveled to Dalton to campaign.
“I have an announcement, Georgia,” Loeffler said when Trump invited her to speak. “On Jan. 6, I will object to the Electoral College vote.”
Sen. David Perdue, the other candidate whom Trump traveled to promote on Monday, did not attend the rally. Instead, he was in quarantine after being exposed last week to a person who tested positive for COVID-19. While Perdue said he supported the move by those in Congress who would challenge the certification of the Electoral College tally, he also said this week that he would not be able to be in the Senate to do so himself.
Still, for all of Trump’s assurances Monday that “there is no way we lost Georgia,” that he had defeated Biden nationwide and that evidence of voter fraud was “going to be revealed” in Congress on Wednesday, the president also seemed to understand that his time in office was coming to a close.
“If the liberal Democrats take the Senate or the White House,” Trump said, “and we’re not taking this White House ... we’re going to fight like hell, I’ll tell you what.”
“I was telling Kelly before,” Trump continued, “you can lose and that’s acceptable. If you lose, you lose. You go wherever you’re going and say, ‘Maybe I’ll do it again sometime, or maybe I won’t and I’ll get back to life.’ But when you win in a landslide and they steal it and it’s rigged, that’s not acceptable.”
For a president who has spent the past four years reliving his 2016 election night triumph, Monday’s speech, while combative, continually referenced the near certainty that he would not serve a second term.
“If these two don’t win and we don’t take the presidency, you have a country that would be run by Schumer, Pelosi and Biden,” Trump said.
Throughout his rally, Trump repeated many of the debunked and unverified claims he made in a tape-recorded call published Sunday by the Washington Post during which he pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes” and declare him the winner of the presidential election in the state.
Machines owned by Dominion Voting Systems had been tampered with, Trump claimed, and ballots for him had been summarily tossed. This pattern had been carried out not only in Georgia, but also in numerous other states, the sum total of which would be enough to overturn Biden’s sizable victory in the Electoral College.
Many of the roughly 2,000 supporters in attendance didn’t need any convincing.
“I can’t believe what’s been said about Trump and it’s all been taken out of context anyway,” Joey Moats, 65, from Rome, Ga., told Yahoo News. “He will stay in the White House later this month. Something fishy happened on election night. I just want accountability and a peaceful transition to Trump’s second term.”
For Anita Master, 62, from Dalton, Trump’s recorded phone call with Raffensperger wasn’t bothersome. “The recording was nonsense,” she said. “Trump was aware the entire time and he will be in office again.”
Master also seemed to agree with Trump that while the presidential election had been rife with fraud, the runoff elections would not be.
“It’s been a fraudulent election the whole time. I’m not confident in the vote, but now that people are more aware of election cheating I think my vote will count this time,” she said.
Jim Earnhardt, 76, from Canton, agreed, but his skepticism about election integrity has many Republicans in Georgia worried about turnout in Tuesday’s runoffs.
“I hope for another term, but I don’t believe in the election integrity at all,” Earnhardt said. “Democrats stole it. They’re not smart enough to pull it off and the numbers don’t add up. The machines stole it before [in November] and they will try and steal it again [tomorrow].”
Polls of the Senate runoffs show two close races. At a campaign rally for Democrats Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock held hours earlier in Atlanta, President-elect Joe Biden joked that, thanks to recounts insisted on in Georgia by the Trump campaign, he and Kamala Harris had already “won three times here.” But he also made sure to keep the focus on Tuesday’s runoff elections that could give Democrats Senate control.
“Georgia, the whole nation is looking to you,” Biden said, adding, “The power is literally in your hands, unlike any time in my career. One state — one state — can chart the course not just for the next four years but for the next generation.”
Biden also framed the runoffs in terms of the ability of Congress to pass stimulus aid that would send $2,000 to every American. While Trump has also pushed for that amount, a House bill passed to deliver it was killed by Senate Republicans.
“By electing Jon and the reverend, you can make an immediate difference in your own lives, the lives of the people all across this country, because their election will put an end to the block in Washington to that $2,000 stimulus check,” Biden said.
Ossoff, who spoke before Biden, took more direct shots at the president.
“We’ve had four years of hatred and racism and bigotry and lies and incompetence, but Donald Trump is leaving,” Ossoff said. “And Georgia voters sent Donald Trump packing — you did that.”
Trump’s message on Monday was less focused. He took aim at fellow Republicans, including Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who said earlier in the day that he would not challenge the certification of the Electoral College tally, and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who has insisted that his state’s election was fair.
"I'll be here in about a year and a half campaigning against your governor, I guarantee you,” Trump said of Kemp.
While Trump detailed how his election night lead evaporated once more mail-in ballots were tallied, he also seemed to suggest that his party might not muster enough votes to prevail in the runoffs.
“I guess we have to get over a million votes tomorrow,” Trump said in an uncharacteristically frank public assessment. More than 3 million ballots have already been cast in the state, a record for a runoff election.
Again and again, Trump’s speech was peppered with lines that seemed to warn of the consequences that could await both him and the Republican Party in the coming days.
“It could be your last chance to save the America we love,” Trump said at one point, a proposition that implied the loss of both the White House and the Senate.
Notably, the very issue that had fueled Trump’s political rise — the construction of a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico — had also undergone a notable revision.
“And that’s right, Mexico is paying for the wall — or if I were here they would be. Because we were going to charge them a nice fee right at the entry points.”
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