The Republicans’ nightmare in Georgia

8 November 2020

2:40 AM

8 November 2020

2:40 AM

Joe Biden is the President-elect. President Trump, however, at the time of writing, continues to dig in. With lawsuits filed in several key states and the President making increasingly deranged statements around ‘illegal votes’ and the illegitimacy of late-counted mail-in ballots, it seems possible that he’ll refuse to leave the White House quietly. Some in Trumpworld have even made the outlandish suggestion that the Pennsylvania state legislature, controlled by Republicans, should override the election result and nominate their own slate of electors to choose the President.

But the President’s defeat isn’t the only part of this week’s election. In down-ballot races, Republicans outperformed their wildest expectations: while many predicted a bloodbath in the Senate, the Republicans have held on to their seats in the vast majority of competitive races. Nancy Pelosi’s House majority has also fallen drastically, and no incumbent Republicans were defeated. Republican state legislatures — which control the crucial redistricting process next year — have remained with the party in key states. Rarely has a supposedly defeated party been left with so much power.

In the Senate, however, the election isn’t quite over yet. A quirk of Georgia law means that if no candidate receives over 50 percent of the vote, a second-round runoff between the top two candidates must be held. It just so happens this year that Georgia also had a second senate election, which means that two seats will go to the runoff in January — a historic first.

To heighten the stakes, the Senate will almost certainly end up with 50 Republicans to 48 Democrats. If the latter party can pull off victory in these runoff elections in January, they can level Republicans in the Senate. Any votes which are tied would then be broken by Kamala Harris as vice president, effectively giving Democrats control of the chamber. The consequences for the Democrats’ agenda from voting rights and court reform to healthcare and statehood for Washington, DC are hard to overstate.

Republicans would start as favorites to win both seats. A Georgia political strategist I spoke to yesterday pointed out that Republicans are better at maintaining their turnout levels in runoffs. The 2018 Secretary of State election in the state saw the GOP extend their lead from 0.4 points to 3.8 between the first and second round of voting. However, given that Joe Biden seems likely to win the state (although by an incredibly narrow margin) Mitch McConnell and Georgia Republicans will be taking nothing for granted.

The simplest way for Republicans to hold these seats and the Senate is to pitch themselves as a balancing force against Biden, preventing him forcing his ‘radical liberal agenda’ on what is still a moderate-to-liberal state. For this to work, however, they need President Trump — who will still have two weeks in office when the runoffs are staged — out of the picture.

If the Trump meltdown does drag out until January, it will have a big impact on upscale, high-turnout swing voters in the Atlanta suburbs, and may end up costing the party its seats. One of the big reasons these voters have shifted away from the GOP was their objections to Trump’s lack of presidential style — which could well be writ large in the coming months.

This leaves the Republicans with an uncomfortable dilemma. If the leadership is seen to be throwing Trump under the bus and not helping him remain in office, their base may well punish the party. Eric Trump, the President’s son, tweeted yesterday: ‘Where are Republicans! Have some backbone. Fight against this fraud. Our voters will never forget you if your sheep!’

A lot of Georgia outside Atlanta is solid Trump country. Marjorie Taylor Greene, an advocate of the QAnon conspiracy theory, managed to win just under 75 percent of the vote in rural northwest Georgia. A firebrand who is already a concern to the Republican leadership, she has dedicated her Twitter page in the past 48 hours to ‘stopping the steal.’

It’s not hard to imagine a situation in the weeks leading up to January 5 where the President has not yet conceded. But even if Trump does stand down, his rallies and showmanship that so boosted the party’s turnout would have disappeared, while much of the base would feel that the GOP leadership in Washington stabbed them in the back. Some have even called the hard-right Trump ally, Georgia governor Brian Kemp, a RINO (Republican In Name Only) for allowing Joe Biden to win the state.

On the other side of the aisle, Democratic leaders like President-elect Biden, Vice President-elect Harris and Barack Obama will be able to barnstorm Democratic strongholds in Atlanta and Savannah — putting healthcare and an economic stimulus at the forefront of their message. Nancy Pelosi may even ensure the House passes legislation that invests specifically in Georgia, forcing the Republican Senate to shoot it down.

The next few weeks will tell us a lot about the future of the Republican electoral coalition after Trump. How the party deals with the President and the effect it has on these elections in Georgia in just a few weeks, may shape American politics for many years to come.

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