It’s not clear if the president’s continued lies about a “rigged” election will help or hurt GOP efforts to get voters to turn out for the Jan. 5 run-off.
President Donald Trump is heading to Georgia Saturday for a rally on behalf of Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. But some fear the president, fond as he is of conspiracy theories about the election, may do more harm than good and depress turnout.
Increasingly incendiary rhetoric is splintering the unity of rank-and-file Georgia Republicans, Trump supporters, and conspiracy theory-prone extremists, weakening the GOP’s chances ahead of the vital Jan. 5 runoff election. At stake are Georgia’s two US Senate seats, which will deliver narrow control of the chamber to whichever party is victorious.
Since Trump’s narrow loss in the state, Georgia election officials have endured numerous death threats as they performed multiple recounts, including one at his request. Trump’s repeated tweets calling the election “rigged” and referring to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a fellow Republican, as an “enemy of the people” have fanned the flames.
Raffensperger’s wife has received death threats; Gabriel Sterling, another Republican who manages Georgia’s voting system, has had to have 24-hour security detail; and even contract workers conducting the recount have been harassed. At a press conference this week, Sterling announced a likely loss for the president and took Trump to task.
“You have the rights to go through the court. What you don’t have the ability to do—and you need to step up and say this—is stop inspiring people to commit potential violence. Someone’s going to get hurt. Someone’s going to get shot. Someone’s going to get killed. It’s not right,” he said.
Meanwhile, pro-Trump lawyer Lin Wood, who has over 720,000 Twitter followers, has been vocally discouraging Republican voters from participating in the run-off—and causing alarm on the national stage. Wood and Sidney Powell, a former member of Trump’s legal team, are doubling down on the president’s claims of massive election fraud and taking it several steps further by urging Georgians not to vote at all.
“Why would you go back and vote in another rigged election?” Wood challenged the crowd at a “Stop the Steal” rally Wednesday night.
A MAGA boycott could hurt GOP hopes to control the Senate. Trump made a private phone call telling Wood and Powell to “knock it off,” a source told Politico, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who helped engineer Georgia’s modern GOP, said Wood and others are whipping up fringe fears to build their own followings. “Lin Wood and Sidney Powell are totally destructive,” he tweeted Thursday.
The repercussions of Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud have been felt far beyond Georgia. Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos said his election team received a voicemail referencing execution by firing squad Tuesday. Election workers in Arizona, New Mexico, and Michigan also received threats. Menacing election workers makes it difficult to administer votes safely and securely, experts say, yielding results that are less likely to have the confidence of the people.
“How the heck are we going to recruit election workers and election administration officials going forward if they think they’re going to get death threats online and in person?” said Christopher Krebs, former director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. “It’s well beyond time for everyone on both sides of the political spectrum to call for an end and to call for … our certification process to move on into the next administration.”
Loeffler, who is facing a tight race against Democrat Raphael Warnock in January, weakly condemned the threats of violence before shifting back to casting doubt on the democratic process. Loeffler campaign spokesman Stephen Lawson responded, “Like many officials, as someone who has been the subject of threats, of course Senator Loeffler condemns violence of any kind. How ridiculous to even suggest otherwise. We also condemn inaction and lack of accountability in our election system process — and won’t apologize for calling it out.”
Trump is grappling with even more divisions within his camp, as this week Attorney General William Barr contradicted his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, saying there was no widespread fraud in the election.