President Donald Trump’s lies about the election being stolen from him are having an unintended consequence: There are now members of his base who are advocating for Republicans not to vote in the Georgia runoff for two vital Senate seats.
Democrats can take control of the US Senate if both Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff defeat Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in the upcoming runoffs. But Trump has been hurting his party’s cause by attacking two state Republican officials — Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican Trump has demeaned as a “RINO,” or Republican in name only — for their supposed involvement in a far-fetched scheme to throw the state’s presidential election for Joe Biden. (In reality, both Raffensperger and Kemp are Trump supporters.)
Georgia Secretary of State, a so-called Republican (RINO), won’t let the people checking the ballots see the signatures for fraud. Why? Without this the whole process is very unfair and close to meaningless. Everyone knows that we won the state. Where is @BrianKempGA?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 14, 2020
A faction of Trump’s base — including a PAC with ties to Roger Stone — has taken Trump’s conspiracy-mongering and attacks on Kemp and Raffensperger as a call to sit out the runoffs. Those rumblings have been significant enough that on Monday, Donald Trump Jr. felt compelled to weigh in with a tweet in which he dismissed talk of withholding votes from Perdue and Loeffler as “NONSENSE,” adding, “We need ALL of our people coming out to vote for Kelly & David.”
That is NONSENSE.
IGNORE those people.
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) November 23, 2020
The irony, however, is that the Trump fans Don Jr. admonished are simply taking their cues from his father, who continues to push baseless conspiracy theories about the election being stolen from even after he halfheartedly endorsed the General Services Administration’s move on Monday night to officially begin the transition to Biden.
On the right-wing social media platform Parler, investigative reporter Marcus Baram has documented how posters are saying things like “Don’t vote! Don’t be a part of the corruption” and “With the Dominion voting machines our votes aren’t gonna be counted anyway. The only way to show the corruption is by boycotting the election or writing in Donald Trump instead.”
Of course, the idea that fraud involving Dominion Voting Systems, an electronic voting system used throughout the country, somehow rigged the election for Joe Biden is an evidence-free MAGA fever dream. But it has been relentlessly pushed by Trump and is at the center of demands he continued to make on Tuesday for a redo of the election.
The notion that Trump fans should boycott the Georgia runoffs as a form of punishment for establishment Republicans has resonated beyond Parler. At a “Stop the Steal” rally held in Georgia over the weekend, for instance, a speaker was cheered while he attacked Raffensperger and Kemp as “traitors” and said, “Any Republican who allows this to happen is complicit and we will finish you! … We will do whatever it takes to completely destroy the Republican Party.” (Trump tweeted his support for the rally.)
And it’s not just randos who are publicly calling for Trump fans to sit out the runoffs. On Tuesday, Lachlan Markay and Will Sommer wrote for the Daily Beast about how “conservative operatives and a super PAC with ties to infamous GOP dirty trickster Roger Stone are calling for Trump supporters to punish Republicans by sitting out Georgia’s crucial Senate runoffs or writing in Trump’s name instead.”
Meanwhile, a lawyer who has worked for the Trump campaign in Georgia, L. Lin Wood, tweeted on Saturday that unless Purdue and Loeffler do more to push for investigations of Trump’s (baseless) allegations of fraud, “I will NOT vote in GA runoff.”
Why are they doing little or nothing to support efforts by GA citizens to address unlawful election & need for @BrianKempGA to order special session of legislature?
If not fixed, I will NOT vote in GA runoff.
— Lin Wood (@LLinWood) November 21, 2020
It should be noted that some of these efforts are remarkably half-baked. The Stone-affiliated PAC, for instance, is encouraging Trump fans to write in Trump’s name, even though the Georgia runoff ballot doesn’t allow for write-ins. But considering how close the Warnock-Loeffler and Perdue-Ossoff races are expected to be, demoralizing even a fraction of the Republican electorate could swing the crucial races for Democrats.
Now that he is indeed on his way out of the White House, it’s unclear how much Trump cares about Republicans maintaining control of the Senate. Nor is it clear that he’s thinking about the implications of the conspiracy theories he’s been pushing, considering just last week he endorsed Loeffler and Purdue.
But Don Jr.’s tweet to ignore calls made by fellow MAGA supporters around voting illustrates one of the big challenges that face the Republican Party as it emerges from Trump’s defeat. Is it possible to satisfy Trump fans who refuse to believe their leader was defeated while also existing in a world where elections still have consequences? The early returns seem to indicate it’ll be difficult.