ATLANTA — Just two days before the Georgia runoffs that will determine the leadership of the Senate and one day before a rally on behalf of the Republican candidates, President Trump has continued to unload on the GOP officials leading the state.
In an extraordinary development, Trump attempted to cajole Republican Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, according to the Washington Post, which published audio of their call on Sunday.
“So look. All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” Trump told Raffensperger, laying bare his overriding goal of overturning the November election results.
President-elect Joe Biden won Georgia on Nov. 3, the first time the state had gone for a Democratic candidate since 1992. Despite three vote recounts, Trump has continued to insist that the voting was tainted, casting a wide range of allegations without any credible evidence to back up his assertions.
Trump continued to attack Raffensperger while addressing their call hours before the Post published the audio.
“I spoke to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger yesterday about Fulton County and voter fraud in Georgia,” Trump tweeted. “He was unwilling, or unable, to answer questions such as the ‘ballots under table’ scam, ballot destruction, out of state ‘voters,’ dead voters, and more. He has no clue!”
“Respectfully, President Trump,” Raffensperger replied on Twitter, “What you're saying is not true. The truth will come out.”
On Sunday afternoon, the truth did come out in the form of the Post publishing audio of the conversation. In the course of the call, Trump attempted on multiple occasions to induce Raffensperger to change the results of the election, one way or another.
“The people of Georgia are angry, the people in the country are angry,” Trump said. “And there’s nothing wrong with saying, you know, um, that you’ve recalculated.”
“Well, Mr. President,” Raffensperger responded, “the challenge that you have is, the data you have is wrong.”
Trump’s extraordinary attacks on Georgia’s electoral process come at a particularly perilous time for Republicans, who are seeking to maintain their majority in the Senate. Incumbent GOP Sen. David Perdue and Sen. Kelly Loeffler are in tight races against Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock, respectively.
If Republicans win either of the two races, they’ll keep their Senate majority and the ability to constrain Biden’s agenda and key nominees. If Democrats win both races, the Senate will be split 50-50, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris breaking the tie in the party’s favor.
Trump’s focus on his electoral loss in Georgia has forced Loeffler and Perdue to walk a rhetorical tightrope, trying to woo voters to return to the polls while not actively countering Trump’s claims that Georgia’s election system can’t be trusted. And Trump has shown no signs of relenting in his criticism of the state’s electoral process.
“Republicans in Georgia must be careful of the political corruption in Fulton County, which is rampant,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “The Governor, @BrianKempGA, and his puppet Lt. Governor, @GeoffDuncanGA, have done less than nothing. They are a disgrace to the great people of Georgia!”
There are nevertheless signs that the Republican candidates are trying to put some daylight between themselves and Trump. Loeffler’s statewide December barnstorming tour, for instance, was called the “Senate Firewall Tour” — a concept that appears to accept the reality of the incoming Biden administration and Harris’s potential tie-breaking vote in the Senate.
More significantly, neither Loeffler nor Perdue has signed on to an effort by nearly a dozen Republican senators to oppose certification of election results. Trump noticed, retweeting a call for the two Republicans to join him: “Why are my own #GA Senators @KLoeffler & @Perduesenate not supporting this effort?”
Trump is set to speak Monday night in Dalton, Ga., in support of Loeffler and Perdue. But in his previous rally in December, Trump spent little time whipping up enthusiasm for the candidates, instead focusing on himself and his electoral loss.
The president’s supporters have gone so far as to tell Republicans not to vote in the election in order to expose the alleged corruption in the system. Billboards around Georgia have appeared with Loeffler and Perdue’s photos and the accompanying slogan “Perdue/Loeffler didn’t deliver for Trump. DON’T deliver for them.”
Trump seemed to feed into that on his call with Raffensperger. “You have a big election coming up and because of what you’ve done to the president — you know, the people of Georgia know that this was a scam,” he said. “Because of what you’ve done to the president, a lot of people aren’t going out to vote, and a lot of Republicans are going to vote negative, because they hate what you did to the president. OK? They hate it. And they’re going to vote. And you would be respected, really respected, if this can be straightened out before the election.”
Multiple Republican voters interviewed by Yahoo News over the course of the campaign have indicated that they intended to vote, but not without some trepidation.
“I have no clue how they do [voting tabulation] today,” said Doug Wright of Milton at a recent rally featuring Ivanka Trump. “But I will always vote for the Republican Party.”
“We’ve been concerned about a lot of what the president’s been saying, people voting from out of state, dead people voting,” said a man at the same rally who would identify himself only as “Andrew.” But when asked he and his wife, Brandy, would vote, both immediately answered, “Absolutely.”
Early voting in the runoff election has concluded, and Election Day is on Tuesday.
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