Trump's baseless claims of Georgia voter fraud spark fears among Republicans

Miranda Bryant

Despite giving his strongest hints yet that he is coming to accept his loss of the White House to challenger Joe Biden, Donald Trump’s continuing reluctance to leave office and baseless claims about electoral fraud are increasingly worrying his own party.

In particular, Republicans are concerned that the chaos caused by Trump’s stance and his false comments on the conduct of the election in the key swing state of Georgia, which Biden won for the Democrats, could hinder his party’s efforts to retain control of the Senate.

Related: How Trump is destroying the presidential transition process

Control of the key upper chamber of the US Congress hangs in the balance as runoff races for the state’s two Senate seats play out over the remainder of 2020, with an election scheduled in early January. If Democrats win those seats, they grab the Senate while if Republicans emerge victorious, they keep control and can seriously hinder Biden’s agenda, including his ability to freely pick his cabinet.

Trump has attacked the election system in Georgia, even though it is headed by Republicans, after Biden flipped the southern state to the Democrats for the first time since 1992.

On Thanksgiving – a day usually reserved for presidential platitudes – Trump broke with tradition and repeated those attacks in a now rare face-off with journalists. “I’m very worried about that,” Trump said when asked about his previous baseless claims of fraud in Georgia. “You have a fraudulent system.” He then called Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, who has defended the state’s election process, an “enemy of the people”.

Such attacks have Republicans worried as they seek to motivate Georgia voters to come to the polls in January, volunteer for their Senate campaigns and – perhaps most importantly of all – dig deep into their pockets to pay for the unexpected runoff races.

In particular Trump’s comments have spurred conspiracy theories that the state’s electoral system is rigged and prompted some of his supporters to make calls for a boycott of the coming vote – something that local Georgia Republicans desperately do not want. “His demonization of Georgia’s entire electoral system is hurting his party’s chances at keeping the Senate,” warned an article published by Politico.

Even Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr, has jumped into the fray, tweeting: “I’m seeing a lot of talk from people that are supposed to be on our side telling GOP voters not to go out & vote.. That is NONSENSE. IGNORE those people.”

The president has also pledged to visit Georgia to hold rallies in support of the two Republican candidates, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. The first of those events is expected to be on Saturday 5 December and could be a double-edged sword. Trump is still a powerful force with a loyal following whose endorsement is a key mobilizing tool for the race. On the other hand, in his freewheeling rallies, Trump may spout conspiracy theories that undermine their campaigns.

Certainly Trump’s mood has become increasingly erratic even as he has made the clearest signs yet that he will eventually leave the White House, which he convincingly lost to Biden in both the popular vote and the vital electoral college that actually picks the next president.

On Thanksgiving Day, Trump grumpily said he would leave the White House when the electoral college voted for Biden. He has so far defied tradition by refusing to concede defeat and launching legal attempts to challenge the outcomes in battleground states including Georgia, Pennsylvania and Michigan. So far, those efforts have largely failed.

New court defeat for Trump

On Friday, Trump’s legal team suffered yet another defeat as a federal appeals court in Philadelphia roundly rejected its latest effort to challenge the state’s election results.

Trump’s lawyers vowed to appeal to the supreme court despite the judge’s assessment that the “campaign’s claims have no merit”.

The case had been argued last week in a lower court by Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani without tangible proof presented. “Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here,” Judge Stephanos Bibas wrote for the three-judge panel on Friday.

On Thursday, Trump had declined to say whether he would attend Biden’s inauguration, which is due to take place on 20 January, and called one reporter a “lightweight”, telling him: “Don’t talk to me like that.”

Trump continued his rant on Friday, producing a long string of retweets and tweets making untrue claims about the election and his opponent. “Biden can only enter the White House as President if he can prove that his ridiculous ‘80,000,000 votes’ were not fraudulently or illegally obtained,” he tweeted.

He even retweeted a video of a fight between a lion and a pack of attacking hyenas, over which was narrated a piece of movie dialogue by the actor Christopher Walken, taken from the film Poolhall Junkies. “So much truth,” Trump remarked.

The Republican party has shocked many observers by mostly continuing its adherence to Trump and backing his wild claims and legal efforts, though daylight has started to appear between some top party figures and the White House.

“We’re going to have an orderly transfer from this administration to the next one,” Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, told reporters recently. “What we all say about it is, frankly, irrelevant.”

Also on Friday, Republicans picked up their third US House seat in California. David Valadao reclaimed the seat he lost two years ago, defeating the Democratic representative TJ Cox.