COMMENTARY

Trump's guys may lose in Georgia — but his Big Lie is going strong

Trump likely won't get revenge on Brian Kemp — but across the country, GOP legislators are bending the knee

Published May 23, 2022 11:04AM (EDT)

Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, left, and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, left, and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

The whole country has its eyes on Georgia this week in anticipation of the big Republican primary showdown between Gov. Brian Kemp and former President Donald Trump. Trump isn't actually in the race, of course but he might as well be. He reportedly harangued former Sen. David Perdue to run in an effort to vanquish Trump's hated enemy Kemp, who refused to help the then-president overturn the 2020 election.

Likewise, Trump has energetically endorsed Rep. Jody Hice to replace Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state who famously released the recording of a phone call from Trump in which he asked Raffensperger to "find" the necessary votes to hand him the state's electoral votes. The most recent polling has Raffensperger and Hice likely headed to a runoff — but Kemp is probably heading for a landslide victory. Trump's former vice president, Mike Pence, is scheduled to show up at a rally for Kemp on Monday, in one of the biggest signs of a permanent Trump-Pence split. 

Trump is predicted to have at least one winner on the day: Former football star Herschel Walker will be the GOP nominee for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Raphael Warnock. There are so many questions about Walker's fitness that he is far from guaranteed to win in the fall. So Trump is looking at a possible 2022 shutout in the vital swing state of Georgia.

RELATED: Mike Pence and top Republicans flock to Georgia to defeat Trump's candidate in key primary

But so what? All that means is that Trump's followers may love him but they don't think they have to follow his recommendations for other offices. If it's supposed to signal that the rest of the party will then reject his anti-democratic agenda, there is no evidence they have any intention of doing that.

Let's face facts: They don't want to. It's their best (and perhaps only) path to victory.

Apparently, early voting is very heavy for the Georgia primary, and many in the media see that as proof that concerns over the vote-suppression legislation enacted by Republicans was overblown.

Perhaps the voters of Georgia have accepted that they have to jump through ridiculous hoops to exercise their right to vote and are determined not to let it stop them. That certainly doesn't make it right, especially since there was no reason to enact any of those restrictions in the first place. It's important to note that laws against mail-in voting and ballot drop boxes are only a small part of the assault on democracy Republicans have been conducting for the past year and a half. Those things are unfair, of course, but voters can at least overcome them with effort. The even more serious problem is election subversion.

In April of 2021, the New York Times' Nate Cohn sounded the alarm:

Beyond any provisions on voting itself, the new Georgia election law risks making election subversion easier. It creates new avenues for partisan interference in election administration. This includes allowing the state elections board, now newly controlled by appointees of the Republican State Legislature, to appoint a single person to take control of typically bipartisan county election boards, which have important power over vote counting and voter eligibility.

The law also gives the Legislature the authority to appoint the chair of the state election board and two more of its five voting members, allowing it to appoint a majority of the board. It strips the secretary of state of the chair and a vote. Even without this law, there would still be a risk of election subversion: Election officials and administrators all over the country possess important powers, including certification of election results, that could be abused in pursuit of partisan gain.

This has been happening all over the country, but the media has been strangely lackadaisical about reporting it. So it's hard to grasp just how successful Republicans have been at putting these new laws in place, or where the greatest threat of the next coup will come from. This past weekend, the New York Times ran an important front-page story pulling together all the threads of this story from across the nation. It's very sobering.


Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.


Their report found that "at least 357 sitting Republican legislators in closely contested battleground states have used the power of their office to discredit or try to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election," which adds up to 44% of all elected Republicans in state houses across the nine states where the election was the closest. The damning statistics keep coming: about 23% of Republican legislators "took steps to delay the vote count or overturn the election," 11% supported sending alternate slates of Trump electors, 7% were in favor of "decertification" of the election after the fact (which is not possible) and 24% voted for "audits" of election results, to be conducted by blatantly partisan outside firms.

The groundwork has been laid: In close elections, we'll see Republicans spread confusion and chaos, seeking to overturn the will of the voters.

The Times notes that some Republicans have resisted all this, and that many of the craziest schemes have not been enacted. But their analysis concludes that in all the battleground states, groundwork has been laid for more robust interference with election results. It's clear that this is now on the GOP agenda, and in close elections we will see Republicans seek the advantage through creating chaos and uncertainty, potentially creating circumstances that could invalidate or overturn the will of the voters:

In an interview with The Times, Mr. Trump acknowledged that in deciding whom to endorse in state legislative races, he is looking for candidates who want state legislatures to have a say in naming presidential electors — a position that could let politicians short-circuit the democratic process and override the popular vote.

Republicans in Pennsylvania just nominated a far-right extremist and 2020 election denier for governor, who promises that if elected he will make sure that the GOP-majority legislature has the final word on which candidate is certified as the winner of the state's electoral votes. Unless the Congress gets off the dime and passes some reform to the Electoral Count Act, it seems more likely than not that some swing-state Republican governor is going to try this.

Back in 2000, Republicans first got a taste of how to use the levers of local political power, combined with a partisan Supreme Court majority, to declare themselves the winner in a close election. (The "independent state legislature doctrine" that underlies this plotting was first raised in Bush v. Gore by the conservative justices.) The GOP no longer has even the slightest concern about the legitimacy conferred by a popular-vote victory, since it's only won one in the last 30 years.

Trump may have turbocharged the Republicans' anti-democratic strategy with his Big Lie, but the party is smoothly adjusting itself to the idea that the norms and traditions that kept power-hungry politicians from exploiting the flaws in the system, for fear of the people losing faith in democracy, are no longer necessary. That stuff is for losers, and they simply don't care about any of it anymore. 

Read more on Trump's Big Lie and its corrosive effects:


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.

MORE FROM Heather Digby Parton