Trump's bizarre Georgia play: He wants to show Republicans he's still the boss

Georgia Republicans have descended into backstabbing, with the Senate on the line. Trump probably likes it that way

By Heather Digby Parton


Published November 25, 2020 8:55AM (EST)

Kelly Loeffler, David Perdue and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Kelly Loeffler, David Perdue and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Despite having begrudgingly allowed the General Services Administration to issue an "ascertainment" that Joe Biden is the president-elect and the normal transition process could begin, Donald Trump is still relentlessly flogging the lie that the election was stolen by the Democrats and he is the rightful winner. And he's sending out a daily fusillade of emails begging for money, with the alleged goal of overturning the results.

There is no record of how much the Trump campaign have raised with his grift. According to some reports, they were taking in $10 million a day shortly after the election was called. It appears Team Trump plans to use most of the money for a post-presidency slush fund, either to finance Trump's hypothetical 2024 run or to curry favors with Republican politicians. I don't think we need to wonder whether any of it will wind up in Trump's pockets, because of course it will.

So far, the legal challenges have all been thrown out of court since they offered no real evidence. Once all the lawyers who cared about their reputations dropped out, the only ones left were a clown car full of fools driven by Rudy Giuliani, with the even more delusional legal sidekick Sidney Powell riding shotgun.

Powell was shoved out the door this week when her conspiracy theories proved to be too much even for the Trump campaign, which should tell you everything you need to know. But for a worked-up, cult-like base primed by the likes of Pizzagate and QAnon to believe anything, Powell's wild stories about how the election was stolen from Trump make perfect sense.

Powell's "theory" isn't worth going into here because it's utter nonsense. But that's not the reason she was canned. She made the mistake of saying that Republicans and Democrats alike were on the take, which didn't sit well with the party. But her bigger error was in focusing on Georgia and ranting against Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, the pair of Republican incumbents who are fighting to hold their seats — and a GOP Senate majority — in the January runoff elections. And Powell had the audacity to air some of the party's dirty laundry.

Recall that Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia was one of Trump's made men in Congress, vociferously defending him through thick and thin. When Sen. Johnny Isakson resigned due to poor health, Trump wanted Republican Gov. Brian Kemp to appoint Collins to the Senate. But Kemp preferred the moneyed-up Loeffler — who, together with her husband, New York Stock Exchange chair Jeffrey Sprecher, is reportedly worth at least $800 million — and she was ultimately given the seat. Trump wasn't happy about that and there's apparently some lingering bad blood between him and Kemp. You know how he is.

Collins ran against Loeffler in the November special election — a nonpartisan "jungle primary" — and finished third, splitting the Republican vote and leading to Loeffler's January runoff against the Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat. (Powell claimed the vote was rigged against Collins in favor of Loeffler.) Trump then put Collins in charge of his fruitless recount effort in the state — having already completed a hand audit of all the votes, Georgia is now conducting a second machine recount — and there's a lot of back-stabbing going on among all the players, complicating their ability to show a united front.

Trump has of course waded in, tweeting one bogus claim about voter fraud and election irregularities after another, all of them false. Loeffler and Perdue, the other incumbent Republican senator headed for a runoff in January (against Democrat Jon Ossoff), sought to please Trump by demanding the resignation of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who had the temerity to run an honest election. Collins dutifully echoed Trump's inane tweeting, garnering a harsh rebuke from Raffensperger, who called him a "failed candidate" and "a liar." (One can't help but suspect he was indirectly addressing the big guy, who fits that bill even better than Collins.) Trump has been tagging Kemp with every one of his outrageous tweets, undoubtedly taking pleasure in taunting the Georgia governor for refusing to show proper fealty by appointing Collins in the first place.

So, the Republican Party in Georgia was already a big mess, with its various players and the president engaged in a circular firing squad armed with rhetorical AR-15s. Along came Sidney Powell, seemingly implicating the state party in a massive kickback and voter-fraud conspiracy which had to make Mitch McConnell get a little bit twitchy. Unfortunately for Mitch, Georgia Republicans may not be able to put that toothpaste back in the tube. All this infighting hasn't just tapped into the paranoid strain among the base, it has revitalized one of the most powerful themes of the old conservative movement: a powerful hatred of "RINOs," or Republicans in Name Only.

Morning Consult recently polled Republican voters and found that the vast majority see Trump as reflecting their values far more than GOP leaders do:

Nearly 7 in 10 Republican voters (68 percent) said they consider Trump to be more in touch with the party's rank and file, compared with 20 percent who said the same of Republicans in Congress.

Attacking Republican officials who fail to toe the line is comfortably familiar to GOP base voters. (Just ask former House Speaker Paul Ryan.) They've been ruthlessly culling their herd this way for a couple of decades now, and are always eager to show their power.

Across social media, Trump followers are calling for Loeffler and Perdue to step in and demand that the state's presidential vote be audited yet again, with all signatures checked on absentee ballots. As mentioned above, there has already been a hand count, and a machine recount is now underway. Rechecking signatures is literally impossible, since signed envelopes were already checked and separated from the ballots in order to protect the secrecy of the vote. Right-wing Georgia attorney Lin Wood (who is also representing Kenosha vigilante Kyle Rittenhouse) is one of those leading the charge with threats to withhold his vote if the two Senate candidates fail to take action:

He has not backed off even in light of Powell's removal, and he's not alone. The Daily Beast reports that a couple of shady groups affiliated with Roger Stone are involved as well, encouraging voters to write in Trump's name in the Senate races to show the RINOs who's boss. A lawyer for one of these groups admits that Stone is a client but denies knowing anything about it. (We know Stone would never be involved in any sort of dirty tricks, so that's that. )

If Stone is involved, these shenanigans are almost certainly being conducted with Trump's approval. From his point of view, maybe that makes a certain amount of sense. Trump doesn't care whether the Senate stays in Republican hands, even if he's actually planning another run in 2024. The idea that he's anybody's team player is laughable, and he may see his personal interest in demonstrating how much power he still has with the base as he plans his next moves. It wouldn't surprise me if Trump's inner circle sees an advantage in a narrative that Loeffler and Perdue were defeated because his base rejected Republicans who refused to put it all on the line for Trump.

It's obvious that Donald Trump is in torturous psychological turmoil right now. Demonstrating a little dominance — over whoever happens to be vulnerable — might be just what the doctor ordered.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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