Tensions in Georgia GOP rise over Trump

Pressure is mounting on Georgia’s Republican senators to acknowledge President TrumpDonald TrumpCaitlyn Jenner says election was not 'stolen,' calls Biden 'our president' Overnight Health Care: FDA authorizes Pfizer vaccine for adolescents | Biden administration reverses limits on LGBTQ health protections Overnight Defense: US fires 30 warning shots at Iranian boats | Kabul attack heightens fears of Afghan women's fates | Democratic Party leaders push Biden on rejoining Iran deal MORE’s loss after top officials in the state criticized the president and his allies for failing to condemn threats of violence against election workers.

Tensions between Georgia officials and Republicans in Washington have been rising for weeks. But they came to a head Tuesday when Gabriel Sterling, the state’s voting systems manager, lashed out at Trump and his supporters for their sustained assault on the integrity of the election, accusing them of tacitly encouraging threats against both high-level state officials and low-level election workers.

“This has to stop. We need you to step up. And if you take a position of leadership, show some,” a visibly angry Sterling said, later adding: “I’m talking about Sen. David PerdueDavid PerdueGeorgia Republican secretary of state hits Loeffler as 'weak,' 'fake Trumper' Warnock raises nearly M since January victory Georgia's top election official looks to shake political drama MORE and Sen. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerGeorgia Republican secretary of state hits Loeffler as 'weak,' 'fake Trumper' Loeffler asks Georgia attorney general to investigate Raffensperger over 2020 election Former Rep. Doug Collins won't enter Georgia Senate race MORE, two people whom I still support. But they need to step up.”


Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, echoed that sentiment Wednesday morning after Trump repeated the false claim that Georgia’s election results were marred by “massive voter fraud.” That rhetoric, Raffensperger said, is responsible for “the growing threat environment for election workers who are simply doing their jobs.”

The tensions between Georgia Republican officials and the president have put Sens. David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) in a tight spot at a critical moment in their political careers. Both are facing competitive runoff elections against well-funded Democrats on Jan. 5 that will determine the balance of power in the Senate for the next two years.

“It’s pretty shocking to see,” one GOP political consultant in Georgia said of the recent backlash from state officials. “I was not expecting that. It certainly makes things more difficult for [Loeffler and Perdue].”

On one hand, Trump’s ongoing criticism of Georgia Republican officials and attacks on the state’s election system have stoked fears among some that he may be dividing the GOP at a time when the party is seeking to unify its voters around Loeffler’s and Perdue’s runoff campaigns.

On the other, Trump has refused to concede the 2020 election to President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenCaitlyn Jenner says election was not 'stolen,' calls Biden 'our president' Manchin, Biden huddle amid talk of breaking up T package Overnight Energy: 5 takeaways from the Colonial Pipeline attack | Colonial aims to 'substantially' restore pipeline operations by end of week | Three questions about Biden's conservation goals MORE, and an acknowledgement of his loss by either Loeffler or Perdue could be interpreted by the president’s supporters as an act of disloyalty or betrayal.

The Republican consultant acknowledged that the intraparty feud in Georgia is less than ideal for the state’s incumbent senators but cautioned against doing anything to isolate Trump’s conservative base, especially given the outsize role those voters will play in the runoffs.


“My philosophy on turnout in these kinds of runoffs — it’s base turnout,” the consultant said. “There’s not a persuasive message going on right now.”

Both Loeffler’s and Perdue’s campaigns issued statements after Sterling’s remarks on Tuesday condemning violence. But neither offered any criticism of Trump, who has repeatedly and falsely claimed that he won the presidential election and has urged Georgia Gov. Brian KempBrian KempKemp signs bill repealing citizen's arrest law after Ahmaud Arbery shooting Stacey Abrams says she 'absolutely' hopes to be president one day Georgia governor signs bill barring large cuts in police budgets MORE (R) to use nonexistent emergency powers to “overrule” the election results.

“Senator Perdue condemns violence of any kind, against anybody. Period,” said Casey Black, a spokesperson for Perdue’s campaign.

“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,” said Stephen Lawson, a spokesperson for Loeffler’s campaign.

Both campaigns said that the senators “won’t apologize” for demanding accountability and accuracy in the elections process.

Since Election Day, Trump’s campaign and conservatives have filed a number of lawsuits in state and federal courts contesting election procedures, counting processes and vote certifications. Those legal challenges have so far seen little success.

A recount in Georgia requested by the Trump campaign last week was completed on Wednesday. Representatives for Perdue’s and Loeffler’s campaigns did not respond to emails Wednesday asking whether they would acknowledge Biden’s win if the recount upholds his lead in Georgia.

Jon Ossoff, the Democrat challenging Perdue in the Jan. 5 runoff, called on Georgia’s senior senator on Wednesday to apologize for “enabling” threats of violence, saying his “refusal to stand up to this president and defend democracy is a disgrace.”

“He should defend Georgia voters whether they supported him and Donald Trump or not,” Ossoff told reporters. “He should show some spine, some courage and some statesmanship at a moment when we need everybody to be defending this democracy.”

The Rev. Raphael Warnock, who’s challenging Loeffler in the runoff, criticized Loeffler last week for refusing to acknowledge Biden’s win in Georgia — a criticism he echoed in a statement Tuesday following Sterling’s remarks.

“I again ask Senator Loeffler to join me in standing up for Georgia voters, our elections and to stop putting her own political interests ahead of Georgia,” Warnock said.

Despite the continued refusal by Trump and his allies to admit defeat, the presidential transition is already underway. Last week, the Trump administration began allowing Biden and his team access to government resources and the ability to coordinate with federal officials, a key step in the formal transition process.


Biden has also begun to name key Cabinet nominees, including his picks for secretary of State, Treasury secretary, Homeland Security secretary and director of national intelligence. On Monday, Biden got his first full intelligence briefing as president-elect after weeks of delay by Trump.

A small but growing number of Republican officials have acknowledged Biden’s win in the presidential race. In remarks directed at Trump on Tuesday, Sterling said that from “everything we’re seeing right now, there’s not a path” to victory for the president.

And on Wednesday, Raffensperger acknowledged that Biden would likely carry Georgia in the presidential race and is poised to succeed Trump in the White House, urging voters to move on from the presidential race and turn their attention to the January Senate runoffs.

“As many of us have said, we wish that our guy would have won the election. But it doesn’t look like our guy has won the election,” he said. “It looks like Vice President Biden will be carrying Georgia and he is our president-elect.”

There are few if any signs that Trump will change his tone toward Georgia officials. He claimed once again late Tuesday night that the election results were tainted and demanded that election workers verify voter signatures on ballot envelopes — something that has already been done and can’t be done again.

“Rigged Election. Show signatures and envelopes. Expose the massive voter fraud in Georgia,” Trump tweeted. “What is Secretary of State and @BrianKempGA afraid of. They know what we’ll find!!”