When Donald Trump took office, both Georgia and Arizona were solidly red states. Neither had voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1992 and 1996, respectively, and both were represented in the U.S. Senate by two Republicans. Today, those states have transitioned from reliably red to a distinctly cerulean shade of purple. And although the conditions that contributed to this trend are multifarious, Trump’s addiction to cultural combat and his efforts to undermine Republican lawmakers in both states exacerbated those conditions.
Trump’s self-serving efforts culminated in last night’s stunning defeat of two incumbent Republicans in Georgia, handing Democrats unified control of the federal government for the first time since early 2011. The GOP is in a shockingly weak position considering where it was just four years ago, and it is Donald Trump’s fault.
What? How can you say this is Trump’s fault?
Because it was.
How did Trump lose two runoff elections in Georgia?
Well, almost from the minute the polls closed in November, the president declared total war on virtually every prominent state-level Republican in the Peach State. He vilified Georgia’s secretary of state and its Republican governor, who he pledged to campaign against in 2022. When he bothered to talk about these runoffs at all, neither Trump nor his allies ever devoted much attention to Senate Democrats, who are now poised to take control of the upper chamber of Congress. The president elided the stakes associated with Republican losses, and they are profound. Instead, both Trump and his partners in his narcissistic escapade made empty promises to GOP voters that some ex machina development could reverse the results of the last election. And when he didn’t promise his voters the impossible, Trump insisted that the electoral process itself is a sham—a fool’s game that cannot be honestly won. Analysts and Republicans alike had long feared that these tactics would depress the Republican vote, and that’s exactly what happened. For decades, Republican candidates had routinely overperformed in Georgia runoff elections, but not this time. On Tuesday, GOP turnout was actually down relative to the November elections.
Nonsense. He literally told Republicans to go vote.
He did, yes, but only in a brief and perfunctory aside amid a two-month-long tantrum over how poorly those same voters had been treated by the very party they were supposed to vote for. And there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of malfeasance at the polls—an attractive fantasy that excused his fans of any responsibility for their own misfortunes—were widely believed by rank-and-file GOP voters in Georgia. Some of those voters even confessed outright that they were too discouraged to vote for the GOP. What’s the point if the outcome is preordained? Trump’s team even bought airtime in Georgia with a spot that implied Georgia’s Republicans were at least complicit in a conspiracy to rob the president of his rightful victory.
So why isn’t the takeaway here that Republicans only win when Trump is on the ballot?
Well, November’s results do suggest that Republicans in more rural districts did benefit from Trump’s presence on the ballot. But that was not the case in suburban and exurban areas of the country, where Republicans managed to outperform Trump in ways the polls did not predict. And when it comes to Georgia’s special elections, the suburban voters who soured on Trump still seem to have turned out. The Republicans who stayed home are more likely to have been Trumpism’s true believers. “The area of the state that saw the GOP mostly like to stay home is the area of the state with the QAnon Congresswoman who has vocally complained the election was stolen, and everything is rigged,” wrote Georgia native and political analyst Erick Erickson. “The area of North Georgia where Donald Trump went on Monday night turned out at a lower rate than the rest of the state.”
Meh. Both David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler were bad candidates.
You could certainly make that case—more so for Loeffler than Perdue. She never made for a particularly convincing populist, and Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to appoint her to fill former Sen. Johnny Isakson’s seat over Trump’s handpicked successor, Rep. Doug Collins is the source of much of Trump’s (and, therefore, Trump’s voter’s) frustrations with the Georgia GOP. And yet, even without the president’s backing, Loeffler still managed to beat Collins in November’s “jungle primary” by nearly 300,000 votes. So we cannot say the president’s judgment about what Georgia voters really want is especially sound.
And, by contrast, Perdue was a far more adroit politician and capable candidate. In November, he soundly defeated his challenger, now Senator-elect Jon Ossoff, by almost two full points. In fact, it is easier to make the case that Ossoff, who finished with nearly 100,000 fewer votes than Joe Biden in November, was the weak candidate. He was already beaten, and he should have been beatable again in precisely the same way two months later. The fact that he improved on his margins isn’t attributable to high turnout among energetic Democrats or African-American voters alone. As the Washington Post’s Philip Bump demonstrated, “Perdue’s vote total decreased the most relative to November in more-heavily-white counties.” Once again, Trump voters stayed home because he implied that they should.
Okay, but this could have been avoided if Republicans in Congress just went along with Trump’s call for $2,000 checks.
That gambit almost certainly contributed to the GOP’s misfortunes, and we cannot rule out that this was Trump’s intention. Trump introduced that $2,000-check idea like a bolt from the blue, and only after several months of negotiations between Congress and his own Treasury Secretary produced a deal that had been codified into legislation and passed by both chambers of Congress. When the ink was dry on the deal, he outbid his own administration in the effort to sabotage it. In the process, he gave Democrats a rallying cry. House Democrats quickly went to work crafting an amendment that offered voters the enticing prospect of voting themselves the contents of the Treasury, and every Democrat from Joe Biden on down told Georgians that all they would ask in return for such beneficence would be their vote.
The move put Republicans in the Senate on the backfoot, and Trump didn’t seem to mind watching them squirm. He spent the next several weeks attacking the Senate GOP for being all but useless by not acceding to this new demand, which would have effectively reset the process of getting necessary relief into the hands of COVID-affected individuals and businesses. Not only did Trump essentially align himself with congressional Democrats, he literally set their agenda—and only to punish Republicans like Mitch McConnell for failing to reinforce his deluded belief that the election was stolen from him.
But Trump’s right. The GOP is useless and probably corrupt. Georgia Republicans, in particular.
Precisely the opposite, in fact. Donald Trump has made several entreaties in public and private to Georgia officials clearly suborning corruption, but those requests were rebuffed. What Donald Trump means when he accuses people of engaging in “corruption” is the antonym of its dictionary definition.
Whatever. Your feelings about Trump are clearly emotional and irrational.