Nearly nine months after Donald Trump cost the GOP two Senate seats in a runoff election in Georgia, and handed control of the upper chamber to Democrats, Republicans heard him tacitly endorse Democrat Stacey Abrams for governor Saturday night in the Peach State. As outrageous as it is to Republicans, and as damaging as it is to their turnout strategy in next year’s midterm elections, the comment isn’t remotely surprising.
While Trump was in Georgia to tout the candidates he has endorsed for Senate, secretary of state and lieutenant governor, he spent time — just as he did in January — attacking the governor, Brian Kemp. Trump has yet to find a primary challenger to run against Kemp, and Abrams is believed to be prepping for another run against him.
“Stacey, would you like to take his place?” the former president said. “It’s OK with me.”
It wasn’t just an aside, a moment of Trumpian exuberance — because he also said this:
“Of course, having her, I think, might be better than having your existing governor, if you want to know the truth,” Trump said about Abrams. “Might very well be better.”
Sure, Trump needs an enemy and a fight, but notice he is training his fire on Republicans and not Democrats, Joe Biden, or the media. The headlines he intentionally made is that he’s ready to destroy Republicans who have gone against him.
This wasn’t the first time Trump has expressed support for Democrats running against Republicans who either voted for his impeachment or have defied his Big Lie and backed the legitimate results of the 2020 election Trump attempted to steal. Referring last week to Rep. David Valadao, who voted to impeach him, Trump said in a radio interview on “The John Fredericks Show,” “I would almost rather have a Democrat win than those people.”
He is also fond of trashing any election process, not Georgia’s, to feed his Big Lie. Before a recall effort to unseat California’s Democratic governor was defeated in a landslide on Sept. 14, Trump said the balloting would be “totally rigged.” In Georgia last January, his words were harsher — he said the Senate races would be “illegal and invalid” — but the effect is the same.
Republicans can spin this all they want, but they know what Trump is doing is straight-up voter suppression. To stay on his good side, members of the GOP have to back the Big Lie, then accept that, come next November, there is a good likelihood he will be telling his voters the elections are rigged. Should anyone Trump is targeting with a challenger survive their primary, he is likely to tell voters in that district they would be better off with the Democrat instead. And Republicans will do little to stop him.
Georgia GOP officials were so angry at Trump Saturday night that they … sent texts to Greg Bluestein, political reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, stating it was “a new low,” an “s-show,” and another lamented, “I am just so mad — beyond words.” Not one has said anything publicly.
Indeed, publicly Republicans still pretend that Trump — and his efforts to destabilize our elections — is just fine. The chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Rep. Tom Emmer, told CNN that Trump should, you know, just do his thing. “The former president can do whatever he wants. It’s very personal to him. I get it. We’re focused on winning the majority. And that's what we’re going to do.”
So Trump’s focus is most certainly not on Republicans winning the majority, and he has made it clear he will get in the way of the party’s plans whenever he wants to. While he has not backed challengers to all 10 Republicans who voted to impeach him for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection, he is eager to defeat them all and has made that clear repeatedly. When Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, one of the 10, announced last week he would retire rather than fight for his seat and return to a Trumpified GOP House conference, Trump’s response was, “1 down, 9 to go !”
And news that the House Republican leadership, which traditionally stays neutral in primaries, has helped some of the 10 with fundraising, infuriated Trump. He bragged that he would stop House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy from supporting any of them, saying on Fredericks’ radio show last week: “I’m going to see who he is funding and if he is, I’ll stop the whole deal, I’ll stop it.”
Trump has, since losing the election, broken off with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell officially, attacking him with great frequency. And according to “Peril,” by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, Trump has said McCarthy is using him to become speaker in 2023. “This guy called me every single day, pretended to be my best friend, and then, he f----- me," Trump said. "He's not a good guy." An attempt by Trump to mount a challenge to McConnell as leader, reported by the Wall Street Journal, has failed as no senator will take up the charge. But over on the House side, McCarthy will face opposition, should he run for speaker, from Trump-backed challengers who — like the former president — are angry McCarthy said back in January that the president was partially responsible for the Capitol insurrection.
As Trump escalates the intra-party fight, the membership fee in his GOP — backing the Big Lie — has grown far more costly. In just the last two weeks we have learned:
- The Trump campaign itself had debunked election conspiracies that Trump allies were eagerly spreading and are now taken as gospel among millions of the Trump faithful. It’s a jumble of conspiratorial crap about Dominion machines and Venezuela, etc., that court records revealed the campaign knew wasn’t true just two weeks after Election Day, though they would push the lies for two more months until Trump left office (and still do today).
- The fake audit of the Arizona results, a nearly $6 million “Stop the Steal” undertaking to sow doubt using a company called The Cyber Ninjas, came up with nothing — and reported the tally for Joe Biden was larger than the certified total he won the state with in 2020. Trump told rally-goers Saturday exactly the opposite, a stunning lie that anyone there who cares to follow these endeavors would know was false, and he received enthusiastic applause.
- Mike Lee and Lindsey Graham reviewed Trump’s claims of election fraud right after the election and dismissed them as unconvincing, according to “Peril.” Trump’s response after the book’s excerpts were made public was to insist that he spent “virtually no time” with the two senators and to say that “Lindsey and Mike should be ashamed of themselves for not putting up the fight necessary to win.”
- Trump sent a letter, not one of his faux-tweet press releases, asking that Georgia’s secretary of state “decertify the election” and “announce the true winner.” Yes, more than 10 months after the election and numerous recounts and audits in Georgia that certified Biden as the winner. Trump added that Brad Raffensperger and Kemp “are doing a great disservice to the Great State of Georgia, and to our Nation — which is systematically being destroyed by an illegitimate president and his administration.”
So, there’s new evidence that key Republicans knew right away — both internally and among congressional allies — that Trump’s fraud claims were bogus, along with public notice that the former president is still attempting to overturn the election in September of 2021 and be reinstated. Normal stuff, right?
Congressional Republicans, perfectly aware not only that Trump lost the election but why, are eying his abysmal approval numbers and clearly hoping swing voters just won’t be paying attention to his dangerous lies (and their shameful silence) between now and Election Day in 2022.
In exchange for their silence, they hope Trump will energize his fervent supporters to turn out for the GOP next year and help return them to majorities in the House and Senate. What he will more likely do is continue to bash their leaders, including McConnell and McCarthy, and insist the process is rigged. He may believe it won’t help him win in 2024 if Republicans win back control next year and energize Democrats.
It will be a long 13 months for Republicans as their party leader undermines and attacks them. But he’s out for number one, and thinks they’re suckers. And they know it.