Donald Trump, at his rally on Saturday in Georgia, told his supporters not only that Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, was “a disaster” and that “the people of Georgia must replace” him, but even that the arch-progressive Democrat Stacey Abrams “might be better than having your existing governor, if you want to know what I think. Might very well be better.”
He threw in potshots at Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger and Arizona governor Doug Ducey. Tell me again how this is at all helpful to Republicans or to conservative governance. Abrams would be a disaster for both in Georgia in ways too numerous to recount, and as of now, she and Kemp are the likeliest contenders in next year’s gubernatorial election. Nothing good can come of convincing Republicans in Georgia to stay home or, worse, vote for Abrams.
In one sense, of course, Trump and Abrams really are kindred spirits, united by their common tactics and refusal to accept the legitimacy of election losses and their shared enmity for Kemp and Raffensperger (Abrams recently tried to get Raffensperger deplatformed from a speech on election subversion at UC-Irvine). But plainly, the real motive here is Trump’s bitterness and refusal to move on, eleven months later, from last November’s election.
The defense offered by Trump’s devotees is that he was joking. Now, Donald Trump does do a lot of joking riffs, and his critics have often tended to be overly literal about things that his rally-going fans understand as jokes. But while Trump was indeed speaking in the jocular tone common at his rallies, there are a couple of problems with just dismissing this as harmless comedy. One, as a rule, you should not tell people in politics how to vote unless you are willing to have them believe you. Two, the extended and bitter nature of Trump’s rant against Kemp — a lengthier version of things he has been saying for months — leaves no doubt whatsoever that he means to tell people that Kemp is bad and should be defeated. Three, you have to wonder what Trump’s defenders think a “joke” is. At the risk of explaining the obvious, if Trump said at a rally that Biden was 400 years old, that would be a joke in the tradition of political jokes — it tells a political truth (Biden is really old) in terms that are literally false (Biden is not actually 400 years old), but it’s not a lie, it’s a humorous exaggeration. The audience knows it’s an exaggeration, so they laugh at the joke, but they also get the point.
Is the humorous exaggeration here Trump actually endorsing Stacey Abrams? Sure. But the political truth the joke communicates is that Trump wants Brian Kemp to lose to Stacey Abrams, and he wants it so badly that he is willing to tell an audience of Georgia Republicans, “Stacey, would you like to take his place? It’s okay with me.” The obvious intent and likely effect of this, as Kemp tries to turn the page on 2020 and focus on next year’s re-election campaign, is to harden the willingness of Trump’s most passionate followers to withhold their votes from Kemp, and perhaps, in some cases, vote for Abrams out of raw spite. This is not speculation; let us recall what happened on January 5.
Control of the U.S. Senate was on the line, but many Georgia Republicans — at least some deterred by Donald Trump’s loss — stayed home rather than cast ballots in January’s runoffs. Their absence at the polls helped swing Georgia and the Senate to the Democrats. Over 752,000 Georgia voters who cast ballots in the presidential election didn’t show up again for the runoffs just two months later. . . . More than half of the no-shows were white, and many lived in rural areas. . . . The AJC’s analysis found that the drop in turnout was most severe in northwest and South Georgia, areas where Trump held rallies, in Dalton and Valdosta, to bolster support for the state’s Republican senators.
The Washington Post:
Republicans across Georgia stayed home, helping Democrats flip two Senate seats … turnout in Republican strongholds dropped by more. . . . Across conservative North Georgia, the state region where only about seven percent of people are Black, Republican David Perdue, whose Senate term expired Sunday, won by 48 percentage points, the same as in November. But it was a weaker showing in votes because turnout dropped, by more than any other region the state. . . . Just to the south in the most heavily Democratic heart of the Atlanta metro area, where Blacks are a majority, turnout dropped the least, and so Atlanta gained influence in this runoff.
What we are seeing in Georgia right now is that the GOP voters are not showing up and the Democrat voters are. The GOP reliably got over 50% of the vote in the combined legislative races for congress, state house, and state senate in November. Those voters are not showing up. Over three-quarters of Republicans who voted said they think the November election was stolen. The President’s campaign actually went on the air in Georgia in the last few days to tell Republicans that November was stolen. The Georgia Republican Party Chairman has been all over TV and the internet telling voters the November election was stolen. Turns out Republican voters took it all seriously. . . .
There were signs all over North Georgia saying “don’t vote”. If you went up 75 from Atlanta to Adairsville, GA there was a big sign when you got off the interstate that said, “They’re going to steal it again. Don’t vote.” Republicans in the state internalized the stolen election nonsense and cost themselves two Senate seats.
It’s hard to overstate how precedent-shattering this election was. Going into 2020, it was a political axiom that Democrats always fared worse in runoff elections than in the general; Republicans had improved on their margins in seven out of the eight previous runoff elections in Georgia history. . . . GOP turnout seems to have been down.
That worked out so well in January 2021. It may cost the nation literally trillions of dollars. Why not try again?
Lest you doubt my assessment of Trump’s remarks this weekend, you can watch the whole thing here and read a full transcript here. I’ve provided a lengthy excerpt below to make the context crystal clear:
When Stacey Abrams says, “I’m not going to concede,” it’s okay.” No. When Stacey Abram[s] says, “I’m not going to concede,” that’s okay. No problem. Oh, she’s not going to concede. She’s not going to concede. Of course having her, I think, might be better than having your existing governor, if you want to know what I think. Might very well be better. But when she says that, no problem. When crooked Hillary Clinton says, “Don’t ever concede,” but she conceded. Of course, I got her at three o’clock in the morning. There was something going on there. . . . But she conceded. She probably regrets it, but I never conceded, because I saw what was happening and I can’t do it. I can’t do it, because I have a commitment to you, and I can’t do it. . . .
Now the people of Georgia must replace the RINOs and weak Republicans who made it all possible. In particular, your incompetent and strange … there’s something wrong with this guy. Your secretary of state, Raffensperger. Raffensperger. I’m telling you, I think there’s something wrong with him. And we give him so much. Could you look at this? Could you look at that? Election integrity. Could you? And sometimes, “Yes, I’m going to look at.” Nothing ever happens. Raffensperger. Something really strange with him. Your terrible lieutenant governor who’s no longer running because he knew that he wasn’t doing a job. He was going to lose. And your RINO governor, Brian Kemp, who’s been a complete disaster on election integrity, a complete and total … And I’m not looking to say that. I’m not looking to say that. He’s been a complete and total disaster on election integrity. If you go in with a complaint about election integrity, you get investigated instead of investigating a crooked election. It’s the craziest . . .
And Stacey Abrams, who still has not conceded, and that’s okay. Stacey, would you like to take his place? It’s okay with me. She still has not conceded, but we had, just so you understand, we had the most incredible rallies, the most incredible rallies. And I said, “Brian, you’re going to win.” “Oh, I don’t think so.” “No, you’re going to win. I’m telling you.” And he ended up winning by like two points, right? And then when I called him about election integrity, it’s like, “I’m sorry, sir. I can’t do that.” I said, “No, no.”
Yeah, actually, it was very interesting. I called my people. I said, “We got to find out what happened with this election, because there’s something wrong with this election,” as you obviously know, and by, other than the fake news, has been covered pretty good. But if these guys would come back, young guys, “Sir, we spoke to Governor Kemp. Sir, he will not do anything on election integrity.” I said, “No. Just call him again.” I mean, maybe he never got the message. They come back the next day, “Sir, Governor Kemp won’t do anything on election integrity.” Remember we wanted to call a special election, so that we could go, Marjorie, into election integrity. What is wrong with that? And he said, ‘No, we won’t.” And I think the governor is the only one that can call it.
And he wouldn’t do it. He wouldn’t do it. So when these guys, they’re young and nice guys, they came back, they said. “He won’t do it.” So I said, “Let me handle it. This is easy.” I got this guy elected. One thing has nothing to do with the other. One thing has nothing . . . there’s no quid pro quo. You remember that word from the fake Ukraine deal. The fake Ukraine . . . We had Russia, Russia, Russia, Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine. They were both fake deals. Okay? I got impeached twice on fake news, but I said to these young people, “Let me handle it.” I was going to show them how good I am. “Let me handle it. I’ll call them up.” I said, “Brian, listen. You have a big election integrity problem in Georgia. I hope you can help us out and call a special election and let’s get to the bottom of it for the good of the country.”
Let’s get to the bottom of it for the good of your state. Let’s go election integrity. What could be better than that? “Sir, I’m sorry. I cannot do that.” I said, “Whoa.” I said you cannot do that. And that’s why . . . Let me tell you, this guy’s a disaster. He’s a disaster. They ignore . . . and just, he’s been a real horrible. . . . I could have anybody else. . . . You have another bad one, by the way. You have another bad one, Ducey in Arizona. He’s another beauty, but not as bad as what you have here. Not as bad. They ignored monumental evidence of rampant fraud. We’ve all seen the video of ballots being pulled out from under the tables after kicking out all of the observers. Remember that? Based on a made-up story of “Sir, there’s a major water main break clean out.” Water main break that never happened.
Remember they said, “Water main break, everybody get out.” And then the people came back in, and they were stuffing, stuffing, stuff. But supposedly caused the vote counting to be shut down for hours and hours. So everyone was out except for these people that were on tape. In addition, Brian Kemp, Raffensperger, and your state leaders surrendered Stacey Abrams. They totally surrendered to her. I think he’s afraid of Stacey Abrams. I don’t understand that. Stacy, you have a great team. Okay?