If either Senator Kelly Loeffler or Senator David Perdue lose their runoff elections on Tuesday, they can blame Donald Trump for the defeat.
It’s only fair. If Trump is going to take all the credit for their victory, he should accept the lion’s share of the blame for their loss.
One thing is certain; his appearances on behalf of the candidates have been used not to promote the candidacies of Loeffler and Perdue, but as a platform to spout his theories on how the presidency was stolen from him. For example, at a rally for Loeffler and Perdue in Dalton on Monday, Trump spent almost the entire speech repeating his claims about the Georgia vote and calling for Georgia Governor Brian Kemp to face a Republican challenger in the primary next year.
Trump made good on that promise, using much of his roughly 70-minute speech to spout off numbers of ballots he claimed were missing from the final vote counts, despite there being no evidence to back up his allegations.
“I’m going to be here in a year and a half and I’m going to be campaigning against your governors and your crazy secretaries,” Trump said, spelling out a fear that many Republicans have had that defending the integrity of the November election could come at the risk of losing the president’s support.
Trump did not specifically tell the crowd not to participate in the runoff election, but we won’t know the effect of his claims that the vote in Georgia was rigged until after Election Day. Some in the crowd are apparently going to vote despite their belief that the Democrats will try to steal the election.
Still, it remains unclear how much Trump’s words will impact the outcome. More than 3 million people have already voted in the Georgia runoffs, shattering turnout records for an off-cycle race, and many supporters at the Monday night event said they had already cast their ballot for Perdue and Loeffler.
“They may be RINOs, but at least they’re not communists,” said Gilbert Deloye, 68, of the Republican Senate candidates.
“Those votes in November were stolen,” he added. “You can’t put lipstick on a pig. So, yea, I still voted this time because I know the Democrats are already working on stealing this one and our best hope is that they get caught red-handed.”
Trump’s claims that Democrats stole the Georgia presidential election and are trying to steal the runoff races will almost certainly result in some Republicans staying at home on Election Day. The problem is that even if a small number of regular voters stay away, that might mean the difference between victory and defeat. Both races are in a statistical dead heat. Even a tiny number of Republicans refusing to vote would be enough to throw one or both elections to the Democrats.
Is this what Trump really wants? It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Trump sees a personal advantage in Republicans losing the Senate. If Trump can purge the GOP of all anti-Trump influences and demonstrate his nearly unlimited sway with the Republican base by disciplining those who cross him, he will become the most powerful politician in the country — both king and kingmaker.
It would be unprecedented for a defeated one-term president to enjoy that kind of influence. But the breaking of precedent has been Trump’s raison d’etre for four years and he has no reason to change now.