A House Built On Sand
The Georgia Senate runoff races are in full swing and the stakes couldn’t be higher. The outcomes will determine who will control the Senate. The G.O.P. has wasted no time in trying to get out in front of Democrats, but another political enemy threatens Republican hopes in Georgia: Themselves.
Little Room to Build
In the November 3rd elections, a few vulnerable Republican Senators (Susan Collins, Thom Tillis, and Joni Earnst) were able to come out ahead unscathed, managing to win over moderate suburbia without losing the base of the party. Others (Cory Gardner and Martha McSally) were not so lucky, losing suburbia and ceding their seats to Democrats.
There was a trend here. Republican Senators lived or died by which Presidential candidate won their state. Susan Collins was the exception to this rule, and it’s perhaps an indication that her vote against recently confirmed Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett played well with moderates in Maine.
But in Georgia, where Joe Biden flipped the state blue for the first time in nearly 30 years by less than 1%, the trend is not so clear.
Senator Perdue outpaced his Democratic opponent Jon Ossoff by less than 2 points, yet fell short of the 50% threshold to win the race outright. Senator Kelly Loeffler faced a field of 20 or so candidates in her race, and came in second place to her Democratic opponent Raphael Warnock, with 25.9% to his 32.9%.
The story being told by the numbers is hard to discern, considering that Republican votes largely split between Loeffler’s nearly 26 points to Representative Doug Collins’ 20 points. But what is clear is that both races are looking to be extremely close. Neither party has much more space to grow into and little ground to gain. The twin races, as others have noted, will largely be about turning out those who voted on November 3rd and finding new voters as well — but primarily, it will be about each party’s base.
And for Republicans, that could spell disaster.
The Call Is Coming from Inside the House
Straight out of the gate after the election, Loeffler and Perdue aligned themselves with Donald Trump by calling on Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to resign. In recent days, they have slightly pivoted. “We held the line already one time on November 3rd. Thank you for that. But today we’re the last line of defense,” Senator David Perdue told a crowd shouting “stop the steal” at a rally last week. Perdue later told Fox News that Senate Republicans are going to “…protect everything that President Trump has accomplished in the last four years, and make sure that the people of Georgia know that.”
But this change in messaging — that a Republican-controlled Senate will provide a check on a Biden Presidency — undermines Trump’s attacks on the integrity of the Presidential election because of what it implies: That Biden won.
Perdue and Loeffler are left with the same electoral quagmire of trying to appease the base of the party while holding onto moderate suburban voters. But unlike other Republican Senators, their tightrope act takes place above a post-November 3rd political landscape, one where the divide between the Republican base and suburbia is coming to a head. On this field, an intruder is tugging on the rope: Sidney Powell.
In a declaration of war ipso facto on the Republican Party, Sydney Powell, the attorney recently dismissed from working with the Trump legal team in challenging election results, along with attorney and Trump loyalist Lin Wood, called on Trump supporters in Georgia to boycott the Senate runoffs at a “Stop the Steal” Rally last week. “I think I would encourage all Georgians to make it known that you will not vote at all until your vote is secure,” Powell said. Wood reiterated and targeted Perdue and Loeffler specifically, telling the crowd that the Senators “have not earned your vote” and asking “Where’s Kelly Loeffler? Where’s David Perdue? They outta be standing right here.”
Drawing Lines and Choosing Sides
The shockwave was felt throughout the G.O.P. Party insiders across the country have grown increasingly worried that Trump’s attacks on the integrity of the election could backfire, depressing base-voter turnout in January. The fear of losing the Senate has forced Republicans to pick sides in the internal conflict. Just last week, Republican Representative Dan Crenshaw took a swipe at Lin Wood, tweeting:
“Lin Wood is a Democrat that wants Republicans to self-destruct. Just because he wears a MAGA hat does not mean he shares a single value with you. He just wants your donations for his legal fees. He’s a grifter.”
The MAGA world shot back. Michelle Malkin, fringe conservative host of NewsMaxTV, attacked Crenshaw late last Thursday evening by tweeting:
“Dan Crenshaw is a globalist John McCain in an eyepatch who loves to party hardy while our country burns. PROTECT OUR SYSTEM & OUR COUNTRY, NOT THE GOP SWAMP!”
Crenshaw, a veteran who lost his right eye in an IED explosion while deployed in Afghanistan, appears now to be both at the vanguard of the G.O.P.’s new line of attack against Powell and Wood, as well as a new MAGA target.
Meanwhile the Trump campaign appears also to have aligned with the party’s establishment. Just days after Sidney Powell stood alongside Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani in a press conference on unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, Giuliani released a statement claiming that Powell “is not a member of the Trump Legal Team. She is also not a lawyer for the President in his personal capacity.”
In the wake of Powell’s “Stop the Steal Rally” this last week, the alt-right Breitbart published an article on Lin Wood’s past of donating to Democrats. The article was retweeted by the Trump campaign’s twitter account, The Trump War Room, while Trump himself reportedly told Wood on a phone call to “knock it off.”
Two Kinds of Faith
In an opinion piece written for Politico last week, Rich Lowry noted that Trump’s recognition that protecting his legacy involves keeping the Senate collides with his inability to admit that he lost — resulting in attacks on Republican Georgia officials while supporting Perdue and Loeffler.
It’s a pained and transparent attempt to resolve the dissonance. And it’s incredibly risky. As Lowry observes:
“Perhaps Republican voters will ignore all of this come January. But there’s a reason parties seek unity before important elections. At best, Wood-Powell are distracting from the GOP message in the races, and at worst, they are convincing persuadable Georgians that it is the Republican Party that needs to be checked, not Joe Biden.”
The incoherent messaging and the internal political brawls testify to a fundamental difference between the party’s establishment and the Trump voters that make up the party’s rank-and-file. It’s a fundamental difference in the kind of faith that both display in Donald Trump.
For his most loyal supporters, that faith is built on true conviction. But for Congressional Republicans, that faith is built on political expediency. One is a house built on rock, the other on sand — prone to the constant shifting of the political landscape and uncertain to weather a storm.
The exteriors of both faiths are about to be stripped, and the G.O.P. will soon discover whether or not MAGA loyalty is shared with the Republican Party or belongs to Trump alone. There is no doubt that the G.O.P.’s surprise counter-strike on Powell and Wood was a strike on the party’s own ranks.
Republican turn-out may only be depressed at the margins, and the party may pull through on January 5th. But it’s in tight races like these where the margins can prove decisive.
Only time will tell if the foundation of sand the G.O.P. has built their house upon will hold. But the margins will matter.
And there’s a storm coming.