It was an act of political terrorism in plain sight. Donald Trump blackmailed Georgia Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. He knew and they knew that if they failed to do what was expected of them, he had the power to destroy their careers with a single tweet. They are both wealthy — among the wealthiest members of the Senate — and they could afford to ignore him and do the right thing. But you can’t put a price on power.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the target of the President’s ire after Georgians threw their electoral votes to Joe Biden, had done nothing wrong. To the contrary, Raffensperger was just doing his job, and had done it well. Perdue and Loeffler knew that, and they knew that what they were about to do could destroy his career. Indeed, it could put his life at risk. But this was not personal; it was strictly business.
In theory, the Republican Party should be delighted that Donald Trump lost. His continued rage tweeting and his emotional instability since Election Day should be warnings that his defeat at the polls is offering them a chance — perhaps their last chance — to move the party in a new direction. Instead, with few exceptions, Republicans in the nation’s capital remain paralyzed. With the January 5th runoff in Georgia looming, and Trump willing to turn on Perdue and Loeffler, Trump holds all the cards. He knows it, and they know it.
So no one was surprised when Perdue and Loeffler issued a public statement this week demanding that Raffensperger resign from office, pillorying him for overseeing an election permeated with mismanagement and fraud. “Every legal vote cast should be counted,” they lashed out. “Any illegal vote must not. And there must be transparency and uniformity in the counting process.”
Of course, the legal votes had been counted and there was transparency, and neither Perdue nor Loeffler offered any evidence of election fraud or misconduct to justify their attack. Indeed, the Election Security Rumor Control group within Donald Trump’s own Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has examined and dismissed the myriad claims of election fraud that have flooded the Internet over the past ten days. Yet Perdue and Loeffler gave no heed to the facts on the ground. That Raffensperger is a fellow Republican mattered not one whit, and not a single national Republican came to his aid. Once someone is in Trump’s crosshairs, to come to their defense is out of the question.
The death threats were sure to come, and they have. Trump’s supporters include some seriously crazy people. They show up with their long guns if he gives the slightest nod. All it took was a tweet,”LIBERATE MICHIGAN” or “LIBERATE VIRGINIA,” for them to don their camo and tactical gear, stride menacingly around state capitals, and plot to kidnap governors who dared to cross the President. They love to do their Taliban imitation — driving around in pickup trucks with Trump flags and American flags flapping in the wind. Those flags flying side by side are the definition of irony. There is little alignment between what Donald Trump is all about and what America aspires to stand for. If anyone had any doubts, he confirmed it this week.
Lindsey Graham — whose metamorphosis from John McCain’s wing-man to Donald Trump’s odalisque will be the subject of any number of psychohistorical dissertations in coming years — had it exactly backwards when he pronounced on Fox News the other day, “If Republicans don’t challenge and change the US election system, there’ll never be another Republican president elected again.” The threat to the future of the GOP is not the election system. Republicans actually did quite well on Election Day. And having secured control over a large majority of state governments in a decennial redistricting year, their prospects for the coming decade are brighter than predictions of an inevitable demographic decline otherwise suggest.
The problem facing the Republican Party lies not with the electorate, but with the President himself. Republicans avoided the widely-predicted electoral collapse on Election Day and gained ground in the House and in state-level elections, even as Donald Trump suffered the most devastating loss in the popular vote by an incumbent president since FDR defeated Herbert Hoover 57% to 40% in 1932.
Yet despite the electorate conveying a clear message that they are fine with the GOP, but cannot abide another four years of the political, physical and metaphysical carnage Donald Trump has unleashed on the nation, the President’s hooks remain deeply set in the body of the GOP in a way that neither Hoover nor Carter could have ever imagined after being sent home after their first term. After four years of being repeatedly asked when they would stand up for country over party, Republicans across the capital, with few exceptions, continue to answer: Not Today.
While Republicans have privately been on tenterhooks, wondering when they can cut bait on Trump and move on, he has given them a clear answer: Over my dead body. This week, Trump established the “Save America” political action committee to fund his political activities after January 20, 2021, and is reportedly contemplating launching his 2024 comeback bid as soon as Joe Biden’s victory is certified. Meanwhile, Don Jr. and his girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, are reportedly making moves to take over the Republican National Committee, with their sights set on supporting a Trump restoration.
If you follow the money, it tells you that Donald Trump knows he has lost. His campaign has demanded a recount in Wisconsin, but thus far has declined to put up the $3 million to pay for it. True to his grifting ways, he has already begun diverting contributions his team has been raising for his Election Defense Task Force to his new political slush fund.
Congressional Republicans might want to believe that if they pander to Donald Trump’s emotional frailty just a little longer, he will accept the results and allow everyone to move on. But they are mistaken. To the contrary, Trump famously holds grudges — many point to Barack Obama’s mocking him at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2011 as the root cause of his continuing rage at his predecessor; and moving on is not in his lexicon. With the loss of the White House barely two months away, securing his power over the GOP is critically important, whether to assure support for his or his children’s future political aspirations or to assist in his defense against the prosecutions that many believe are coming.
The post-apocalyptic landscape that lies ahead for the GOP is coming into focus if they cannot craft a strategy to extricate themselves from Donald Trump’s clutches. Even in defeat, they fear him. The President who led them to unexpected success at the polls is quickly morphing into his next role as a political terrorist. His interests are his own — as they have always been — and as long as a large share of the Republican Party base remains loyal to him, he will wield a sword of Damocles over the Republicans in Congress. Perdue and Loeffler might have been his first victims, but they won’t be the last.
Follow David Paul on Twitter @dpaul. He is working on a book, with a working title of “FedExit! To Save Our Democracy, It’s Time to Let Alabama Be Alabama and Set California Free.”
Artwork by Joe Dworetzky. Follow him on Twitter @joedworetzky or Instagram at @joefaces.