The Memo

The Memo: Georgia voters deliver blow to Trump

Democrats looked set to take control of the Senate on Tuesday as they closed in on a stunning double victory in runoff races in Georgia.

The likely victories, for Raphael Warnock over Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) and for Jon Ossoff over Republican incumbent David Perdue, were a startling rebuke to President Trump, who held a rally for both Republican candidates on the eve of the election.

The results — which seemed highly probable, even though they had not been officially called near 2 a.m. Eastern Time — are also sure to deepen GOP infighting.

The president has repeatedly insisted that the presidential election results in Georgia in November were fraudulent despite no evidence. He has attacked Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger (R). On Sunday, a recording of a phone call from the previous day, in which Trump harangued Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to deliver the state to him, sparked a firestorm.

Republicans have long feared that his antics and allegations could depress turnout among his supporters for the runoff elections.

Their fears appear to have been well-founded. Broadly speaking, turnout lagged behind November’s levels by greater margins in Republican-leaning counties than it did in their Democratic-leaning counterparts.

The drop-off was not huge, but it made all the difference. Perdue had bested Ossoff by almost 2 percentage points in November, and only just failed to reach the 50 percent mark that would have spared him from a runoff contest. This time around, he appears to have been edged out by a narrow margin.

Warnock is on course for an easier victory over Loeffler.

Warnock is the senior pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church — a role once held by Martin Luther King Jr. — and racial dynamics were to the forefront of the campaign. He is set to become only the second Black senator elected from the South since Reconstruction.

In remarks delivered via video after midnight, Warnock paid tribute to King and also to his own mother, citing her vote for him.

“The other day, because this is America, the 82-year-old hands that used to pick someone else’s cotton went to the polls and picked her youngest son to be a United States senator,” he said.

Warnock also had an advantage over his opponent.

Loeffler, a wealthy businesswoman married to the CEO of the company that owns the New York Stock Exchange, had never won election to the Senate, having instead been appointed by Kemp. During the campaign, she came under fire for stock dealings that her critics argued showed her taking advantage of briefings she had received early in the coronavirus pandemic.

Loeffler denied wrongdoing, and the Senate Ethics Committee ceased an investigation into the matter.

Republicans must now confront Trump’s impact on the party overall — something that they did not have to do in November, when GOP Senate and House candidates performed better than many pundits predicted even while Trump lost the presidency.

Now, not only has Trump become the first GOP presidential nominee to lose Georgia since 1992, but also the apparent loss of two GOP senators from the state will hand control of the upper chamber to Democrats. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will no longer be majority leader.

In a 50-50 Senate, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will hold the deciding vote once she is inaugurated. That will help President-elect Joe Biden confirm his Cabinet nominees, make the appointment of judges easier and give him a much greater chance of enacting his domestic agenda.

Late Tuesday night, Trump was already suggesting there was something nefarious about the results. Soon after 10 p.m., he tweeted that it “looks like they are setting up a big ‘vote dump’ against the Republican candidates.” Later he contended that extra ballots had been “found” in Fulton County.

There is no evidence to support those charges.

Urban counties typically report results later than rural counties for the simple reason that they have more votes to count. More than 440,000 votes were cast in Fulton County, for example, where Atlanta is located. In several rural counties, the total votes cast numbered fewer than 10,000.

The Senate runoffs were held at a moment when American politics resembles a tinder box.

On Wednesday, the president will address a rally of his supporters. He has encouraged members of his base to come to Washington to protest the presidential election results. There were street clashes between protesters and police Tuesday evening, and the capital is bracing for the possibility of worse trouble Wednesday.

The other drama of the day will happen on Capitol Hill, where Congress is meeting to count the electoral votes. Trump has asserted that Vice President Pence has the ability to somehow refuse to recognize those votes, a claim that is dismissed by almost all constitutional scholars.

The president released a statement as the Georgia results were coming in, pushing back on a New York Times report regarding Pence.

The paper had reported that Pence had told Trump “that he did not believe he had the power to block congressional verification” of Biden’s victory. Trump, in his statement, insisted that “the Vice President and I are in total agreement that the Vice President has the power to act.”

Even if Pence attempted to take such action, the chances of Trump’s presidency extending beyond Jan. 20 are vanishingly small.

Tuesday’s results in Georgia were just more proof of the waning of his power as his time in the White House runs out. 

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.

Tags Brian Kemp David Perdue Donald Trump Georgia Joe Biden Jon Ossoff Kelly Loeffler Mitch McConnell Raphael Warnock Senate runoff

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