Trump’s final push for Georgia runoff dominated by personal grievances
President Trump on Monday sought to thread a difficult needle on the eve of the Georgia runoff elections that will determine control of the U.S. Senate, simultaneously encouraging supporters to vote en masse while inaccurately claiming the state’s election in November was fraudulent.
“Our country is depending on you. The whole world is watching the people of Georgia,” Trump said, urging supporters to turn out and defeat both Democratic candidates so handily that there is little doubt about the outcome.
Trump’s push to get out the vote the day before the two Senate runoff races was at odds with his insistence that November’s election was “stolen,” and the speech was consumed by his grievances over his own defeat.
“I want to thank you very much. Hello, Georgia. By the way, there’s no way we lost Georgia. There’s no way. That was a rigged election. But we’re still fighting it,” Trump said in his first words after stepping up to the lectern.
The crowd chanted “Fight for Trump” when the president introduced GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who is facing Democrat the Rev. Raphael Warnock. Trump called his own presidential race “rigged,” complained he got “screwed,” and spoke repeatedly about the presidency as if it were still up for grabs.
The president signaled he had his eye on Wednesday, when a joint session of Congress will certify the Electoral College results and affirm Joe Biden as the next president. But several of Trump’s allies in both chambers have said they will object to the certification of certain states.
The stunt will not change the result, but it will lead to hours of debate. Still, Trump and some of his supporters have held out hope that there will be some final intervention to swing the election in his favor.
“I hope Mike Pence comes through for us, I have to tell you,” Trump said, referring to the vice president’s ceremonial role on Wednesday. “I hope that our great vice president comes through for us. He’s a great guy. Of course, if he doesn’t come through I won’t like him as much.”
Trump’s speech in Dalton, Ga., marked his latest assault on the integrity of the presidential election, and on Georgia officials in particular.
Trump has lambasted Gov. Brian Kemp (R) for declining to intervene in the state’s presidential results or call a special legislative session to review the results. The president last week called on Kemp to resign.
Trump has also savaged Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, with the tensions hitting a boiling point over the weekend when The Washington Post released audio of the president pressuring Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to tip the state in his favor.
The crowd on Monday booed at the mention of Kemp and Raffensperger, and Trump suggested he would even return to the state next year to campaign against the governor.
Georgia has undergone multiple audits and hand recounts, with each one confirming Biden had won the state by roughly 12,000 votes.
The state’s voting systems manager earlier Monday delivered a point-by-point dismantling of Trump’s numerous claims of fraud in the 2020 presidential election, standing beside an easel that offered specific fact checks debunking several of the most common false allegations about felons, dead people and underage teenagers voting in large numbers. Trump repeated many of those claims during Monday’s rally.
The president went on to allege that there were irregularities in Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that cost him the election, though his legal team has failed to produce any evidence of widespread fraud in any of those states resulting in several legal defeats, including at the Supreme Court.
He questioned the legitimacy of Dominion Voting Systems, repeating a widely debunked theory that the company’s machines somehow contributed to the manipulation of votes. The company has threatened to sue Trump and his allies for defamation for spreading inaccurate information about the machines.
Trump’s rhetoric has fanned concerns among Republicans that he will discourage Georgians from voting in an election that will be won by whichever party can turn out more voters. In a string of tweets on Friday, he suggested that the runoff elections were somehow “invalid.”
Trump rallied thousands of supporters in Dalton, a small city in northeast Georgia, on the eve of the runoff elections that will determine control of the Senate for the next two years. Should one or both Loeffler or David Perdue prevail over Warnock or Jon Ossoff, respectively, Republicans will retain majority control of the upper chamber. If both Warnock and Ossoff win, the chamber will be split 50-50 between the two parties, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris serving as a tie-breaker.
Biden held a rally of his own in the state earlier Monday in a nod to the importance of Tuesday’s vote.
Trump is the most popular figure in his party and boasts a formidable base of supporters. Many Republicans believe having him in the state on the eve of the runoff outweighed the risks.
“I think there’s a lot of frustration and anger about November,” said Ralph Reed, whose Georgia-based Faith and Freedom Coalition has knocked on thousands of doors in a massive get out the vote push in recent weeks. “But I don’t think that energy is a negative energy that is going to cause people to stay home.”
Perdue was unable to attend Monday night’s rally in person while he quarantined following exposure to COVID-19. The virus otherwise went unmentioned at the rally, where attendees packed in closely with few wearing masks.
Perdue and Loeffler have pinned their hopes for reelection entirely on loyalty to Trump. The two have seldom broken with the president or acknowledged that he will no longer be in office later this month.
Earlier Monday, Perdue defended Trump’s call to Raffensperger, instead blaming the secretary of state for leaking the recording.
Loeffler later in the day said she would object to the state’s electoral results on Wednesday when Congress certifies the votes. When she announced her plans during Monday’s rally, she was met with applause.
The GOP senators’ unflinching devotion to Trump is a bet on the president’s popularity in a state he narrowly lost in November, but it also served as a main line of attack for Biden when he rallied in Atlanta earlier in the day.
“As president, I don’t believe your United States senators work for me. I believe they work for the people of Georgia,” Biden told supporters at a drive-in event. “That’s why I’m not asking your Senators to be loyal to me. I believe they should be loyal to you, to Georgia, and to the United States Constitution. And if you vote for Jon and the Reverend — that’s what you will get.”
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