President Donald Trump has been waging war on Georgia Republicans the past month, spreading disinformation and conspiracy theories about the Senate runoffs — and Democrats are praying he keeps on talking.
That’s because Republican voters who believe Trump’s claims are growing skeptical of the election. They’re flocking to Facebook, Parler and Gab and they’re threatening to sit this one out — putting Republican’s grasp on the Senate at risk if they follow through on Jan. 5.
Democrats are delighting in the GOP dissension, seeing it as the perfect opportunity to gin up their base. Yes, Trump told voters to elect incumbent Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. But the president is more worked up over a pair of top Georgia Republicans he thinks wronged him in the November election, calling Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger “clowns” and amplifying a supporter who said the two “will soon be going to jail.”
“I think Trump wants Loeffler and Perdue to lose so he can blame Kemp. It’s the craziest thing I’ve seen,” said James Carville, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton. “If he keeps it up, it’s good for us.”
High-profile Democrats, from Julián Castro to Barack Obama to Joe Biden, are converging on Georgia ahead of the Jan. 5 runoff election. The Democratic campaigns and liberal groups alike are pouring millions of dollars into television and radio ads and billboards in hopes of securing a Democratic Senate majority with the same heavy voter turnout that delivered a win for President-elect Joe Biden.
But as they see it, some of the best advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts are coming directly from Trump himself. This week, they plastered Trump’s tweets on billboards throughout Georgia, even pulling Arizona into the fray. One Georgia billboard quotes a Trump tweet dissing the Republican governors of both states: "Why vote for Republicans if what you get is Ducey and Kemp?"
“Trump is helping our case,” said Cliff Albright, co-founder and executive director of the voting rights group Black Voters Matter. “If he had just taken the loss and just gone into a corner and just been quiet, then people would still just be celebrating the general election.
“But because he’s still out there actively trying to steal the election — trying to steal Black votes or discount Black votes — it has basically allowed it to still be a referendum on Trump. Because he hasn’t shut up.”
In the aftermath of the November election, the president and his allies have become chief spreaders of disinformation and wild conspiracy theories. Some of it targets the two Democratic candidates Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, but really, they just can’t get over Trump losing the election.
So they are unfurling electoral fraud claims, all of them false and many of them absurd: Kemp and Raffensperger are agents of the Chinese Communist Party. Or the state’s voting machines have automatic “vote flipping” features and are tied to Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan leader who died more than seven years ago.
The pressure has grown so intense that Kemp lashed out Thursday at pro-Trump conspiracy theorists for attacking his family, including his daughter who is mourning the death of her boyfriend, a former Loeffler staffer, in a recent car accident. “It has gotten ridiculous — from death threats, [claims of] bribes from China, the social media posts that my children are getting,” Kemp told reporters, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We have the ‘no crying in politics rule’ in the Kemp house. But this is stuff that, if I said it, I would be taken to the woodshed and would never see the light of day.”
Mainstream Republicans in Georgia have been urging voters to disregard the disinformation being spread by Trump allies, like Georgia-based attorney Lin Wood and former Trump campaign attorney Sidney Powell. Beyond spreading baseless claims, Wood has been at the center of a push to get Trump supporters to boycott the election.
Even Trump in a recent Georgia visit — after much criticism and concern from his own party — urged supporters to put aside their grievances and vote. “Don’t listen to my friends,” he said. But the problem is: Trump himself has only further amplified the false messaging — the opposite of what Republicans want him to do.
On Tuesday, Trump retweeted a tweet from Wood that claimed Kemp and Raffensperger would soon be in jail for not interfering in the presidential election. The tweet included a photo of the two Republican leaders sporting photoshopped masks emblazoned with the Chinese flag.
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Trump “gave @BrianKempGA & @GaSecofState every chance to get it right. They refused. They will soon be going to jail,” Wood wrote. Similar posts can be seen across right-wing social media platforms like Parler and Gab, where conspiracy theories alleging Kemp’s involvement with the Chinese Communist Party have spread since the election.
Republicans are growing increasingly concerned that Trump’s decision to turn on his own — like Kemp and Raffensperger — for not aiding him in his crusade to reverse the election results will cost them the Senate. And it looks like Trump could be fine with that. The president has been aggressively fundraising for the Georgia runoffs, but most of the proceeds are going toward his newly launched PAC — not the candidates.
So far, both Democrats and Republicans are focused on whether Trump’s false fraud claims will impact GOP turnout. But analysts say it will be hard to gauge the impact of Trump’s disinformation campaign, even after the results of the Jan. 5 election. That’s because there are so many reasons why voters show up — or don’t show up — at the polls. But a number of GOP strategists across the state say they’re worried that Trump’s insistence on disputing the presidential election results will only help Democrats keep voters energized.
“We know that the concept of suppression or voting issues actually motivates Democratic voters,” said Heath Garrett, a Republican strategist and former campaign manager to Sen. Johnny Isakson. “It’s absolutely — in the medium term and long term — going to be a problem because we now have Republicans using the same legal and political arguments that the Democrats have been using.”
Democrats are taking advantage of Republican talking points, spinning them for their own benefit. One group, the ReallyAmerican PAC, has aimed to raise $100,000 for billboards across the state slamming Loeffler and Perdue for their underperformance during the general election. The group has put up a dozen billboards in rural Georgia towns with the message: “Perdue and Loeffler didn’t deliver for Trump. Don’t deliver for them.”
“It just goes to show you how insane some of this rhetoric is about this that the Democrats are just licking their chops — spending money — to repeat the message,” said Brian Robinson, a Georgia GOP strategist and former spokesman for former Gov. Nathan Deal.
Still, Republicans like Robinson say they still expect the GOP-leaning state to elect Perdue and Loeffler, pointing out that more Georgians voted for the Republican candidates in both the Senate races that led to the Jan. 5 runoffs.
In a recent statement, Justin Horwitz, Really American PAC’s executive director, acknowledged it was a “rare twist of fate” to see Trump supporters and those backing Warnock and Ossoff finding consensus: "seeing the two Republicans who failed to deliver a victory for Trump [Loeffler & Perdue], lose.”
Trump lost Georgia by more than 11,000 votes, while Perdue secured about 88,000 more votes in the November election than Ossoff. Loeffler, for her part, got fewer votes than Warnock in the November special election. But theirs was a crowded race with one of Trump’s staunchest allies, Rep. Doug Collins, also on the ballot. Collins came in third.
While they’re taking advantage of Trump’s spin, Democrats also are battling misinformation among their voters. On a call with reporters on Thursday, Ashley Bryant, co-founder of the group Win Black, which targets disinformation among Black voters, said falsehoods about the election suppress Black votes. During the general election, misinformation tactics around the country typically included pamphlets with incorrect election dates and fake polling locations.
"There are an incredible amount of resources going into the state to deter Black voters from showing up and making their voices heard from now through January 5," she said.
A new pro-Warnock radio advertisement from BlackPAC on the airwaves in Georgia this week argues conservatives are "spreading misinformation, trying to suppress our vote and disrespecting the name of Reverend Raphael Warnock."
Nsé Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project, which is leading the effort to turn out key voting groups in January, said “stop the steal” rallies and smaller, pop-up election protests around the state are sowing fear and confusion among Democratic voters in the state, too. It’s why her team is making extensive efforts not just to disprove these claims but “amplify the facts.”
“To be posting disinformation saying, ‘This is not true’ is actually not helping,” Ufot said. “We want to round that out with information that people can actually rely on.”
Marc Caputo contributed to this report.