Republicans fear Trump's false claims could hurt party in Georgia runoff

Sam Levine in New York
<span>Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump is set to host a Saturday rally in Georgia amid concerns he is discouraging Republicans there from turning out to vote in a critical runoff contest by attacking top GOP officials and falsely claiming fraud and voting-machine irregularities cost him the November election.

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The event will be Trump’s biggest public appearance since losing Georgia, and the presidential race, last month. He will rally on behalf of Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, two Republican senators in runoff contests. Republicans need to win at least one of the contests in order to retain control of the US Senate and maintain a veto over the next four years of Joe Biden’s presidency.

Trump is urging supporters to vote for Perdue and Loeffler, but some Republicans worry he could be hurting their chances of winning. Even after a hand recount confirmed Trump lost Georgia by about 13,000 votes, the president has continued to falsely claim fraud cost him the election. By undermining confidence in the election, Trump could also be telling his supporters that their votes won’t matter.

L Lin Wood and Sidney Powell, two prominent conservative attorneys who have filed a spate of baseless pro-Trump lawsuits alleging election malfeasance, encouraged supporters in Georgia on Wednesday not to vote in the runoff election.

“We’re not gonna go vote 5 January on another machine made by China. You’re not gonna fool Georgians again,” Wood said on Wednesday. “If Kelly Loeffler wants your vote, if David Perdue wants your vote, they’ve got to earn it. They’ve got to demand publicly, repeatedly, consistently, ‘Brian Kemp: call a special session of the Georgia legislature.’ And if they do not do it, if Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue do not do it, they have not earned your vote.

“Don’t you give it to them. Why would you go back and vote in another rigged election?”

Ronna Romney McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, faced skeptical voters in Georgia last weekend and had to reassure them the Senate election was not yet decided, according to CNN. Donald Trump Jr tweeted last month that calls to boycott the runoff were “nonsense” and allies plan to launch a Super Pac aimed at turning out the president’s supporters in January.

Trump previewed an attempt to balance his endorsement of Perdue and Loeffler with his attacks on voting during a 46-minute video statement released on Wednesday filled with blatant lies about voting.

“David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are two tremendous people. Unfortunately, in Georgia, they’re using the same, horrible Dominion system,” he said, referring to a company that makes voting equipment that Trump and his allies have baselessly attacked. “Hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots have been requested. You check it out who’s requesting those ballots. The difference is it’s one state and we will have our eyes on it like nobody’s ever watched anything before. Because we have to win those two Senate seats.”

Several well-known Georgia Republicans, including former governor Nathan Deal and former senator Johnny Isakson, also released an open letter on Wednesday warning the attention around fraud was taking away attention from the runoff race.

“We have watched with increasing concern as the debate surrounding the state’s electoral system has made some within our party consider whether voting in the coming runoff election matters,” they wrote in the letter, according to the New York Times.

Trump will also arrive in Georgia having launched an internal war among Republicans. He has repeatedly attacked fellow Republican Brad Raffensperger, the state’s top election official, for not helping him overturn the election results. Perdue and Loeffler have asked Raffensperger to resign over his handling of the election, even though there is no evidence of wrongdoing in the state.

Raffensperger has loudly pushed back on Trump’s accusations, saying the president’s own fearmongering about vote by mail is what may have cost him the election. Trump also attacked Brian Kemp, the conservative governor of Georgia, calling him “hapless” on Monday, saying he regretted endorsing him, and asking him to exercise emergency powers to overturn the results of the election. Kemp released a statement in response saying Georgia law prohibited him from interfering in elections.

Jay Williams, a Republican strategist in Georgia, said Trump’s attacks on the election were not particularly helpful, but said he did not think they would ultimately have much of an impact on the election.

“Most of these voters who show up in these runoffs are fairly sophisticated and understand what’s at stake and in Georgia specifically,” he said. “It’s not ideal from a unity standpoint, from a messaging standpoint.”

Eric Johnson, a former Republican state lawmaker who is now advising Loeffler’s campaign, also predicted that Trump’s attacks would not dramatically affect the election results. Still, Johnson said Trump’s message about the election had been “complicated” and he hoped he would change his tone at the Saturday rally.

“The way I’ve been phrasing it is, ‘Let the lawyers focus on the last election. Those in the grassroots need to focus on the next election,’” he said. “He doesn’t have to accept what happened in Georgia, but he can say, ‘We still need to go to the polls. We still need to trust that we’ve learned from what happened on November 3 and move forward.’”

Johnson said he had been encouraging people in Georgia to sign up to be poll workers and poll watchers for the runoff, and that Republicans would ultimately be motivated to vote by the potential for Senate control.

“Republicans do the math, they know what 50-50 looks like, and they know what 52-48 looks like,” he said. “Everybody that voted for President Trump doesn’t want the far-left agenda. They want the president’s legacy, if he’s not re-elected, to stand, and the Senate is the finger in the dike.”