President Donald Trump’s demonization of mail-in voting may have cost him votes in the recent election. Now, his demonization of Georgia’s entire electoral system is hurting his party’s chances at keeping the Senate.
Driven by Trump’s insistence that Georgia’s elections are indelibly rife with fraud, conspiratorial MAGA figures are calling for a boycott of the two Senate runoff races, slated for Jan. 5, that will determine which party controls the upper chamber.
Their reason: The two GOP candidates, Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, are not only insufficiently pro-Trump, they may be complicit in Georgia’s electoral fraud.
It doesn’t matter that both candidates are essentially lock-step with Trump, or that there is no evidence of links to electoral malfeasance. On Twitter and its less-restrictive alternative Parler, Trump’s more hardline followers have linked the duo to the president’s favorite — and untrue — voter-fraud theories. Hashtags like #CrookedPerdue and #CrookedKelly are flying around. The two lawmakers’ Parler accounts are brimming with posts accusing them of being secret “liberal DemoRats.”
The swelling anger is not just emanating from everyday QAnon believers in the MAGAverse. It’s also coming from prominent lawyers working on Trump’s behalf, including Sidney Powell, who was briefly a lead attorney in Trump’s push to overturn the election.
The growing chorus has caught the attention of some of Trump’s top surrogates, who have scrambled to push back against the movement. “I’m seeing a lot of talk from people that are supposed to be on our side telling GOP voters not to go out & vote for @KLoeffler and @Perduesenate. That is NONSENSE. IGNORE those people,” implored Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son and typically a MAGA world leader, in a Monday tweet.
The top comments below the tweet disregarded the plea: “We’re telling everyone to write in Donald J Trump!” one read.
Although Trump pledged Thursday to visit the state in early December, the tensions symbolize the broader fights likely to erupt as Trump’s presidency dwindles. Trump was always an insurgent figure who grafted his loyal base onto the GOP. Once Trump is no longer the top elected Republican, that base may simply follow him wherever he goes — attacking anyone who shows daylight with Trump, spinning up “evidence” for Trump’s preferred conspiracies and, as in Georgia, boycotting the political system as punishment for betraying their leader.
And while it’s hard to tell exactly how much of the online chatter reflects wider voter sentiment, some Republicans are worried the conspiracy talk could shave off just enough MAGA voters to hand a tight race to the Democrats.
“Whenever you have a close election, any distraction can be decisive, and by all accounts, the runoffs in Georgia are going to be close, just like they were in November,” said Alex Conant, a political strategist and the former communications director for Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign in 2016. “I think Republicans need to focus the runoffs squarely on stopping Joe Biden’s agenda. If it’s about Trump and conspiracy theories, that only divides our party and emboldens Democrats.”
Loeffler’s campaign did not return a request for comment, and Perdue’s campaign declined to comment.
Statewide races in Georgia have become tossups in recent years.
Trump lost by roughly 12,000 votes in the Nov. 3 election, two years after Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp narrowly bested Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams by just under 55,000 votes. The 2020 Senate races have been no different. Both moved to runoffs after no candidate could secure the state’s required 50 percent threshold on Election Day.
But the races aren’t identical. Perdue was running against one opponent, Democrat Jon Ossoff, and earned 88,000 more votes on Nov. 3.
Loeffler, meanwhile, was running in a special election after Kemp appointed her to a vacant Senate seat last year. In the field of 20 candidates, Loeffler got the second-most votes behind Democrat Raphael Warnock and faced a strong Repubilcan challenger in Rep. Doug Collins, a congressman popular among the MAGA set.
With Collins not advancing to the runoff, Loeffler was clear to potentially inherit his supporters. But Loeffler, a multimillionaire financial executive and WNBA franchise co-owner, came to the Senate viewed as a political moderate, even if she has since clung tightly to the president. For instance, Loeffler recently joined Purdue to call for the state’s Republican secretary of state to resign over unproven allegations of voter fraud in the Nov. 3 election.
Still, Trump’s most fervent supporters have not always flocked to Loeffler’s side. And now they’re being egged on by some of the president’s close allies.
Powell, Trump’s erstwhile attorney, turned parts of the MAGA community against Loeffler when she started pushing an untrue allegation that Loeffler had somehow conspired with a voting technology company, Dominion Voting Systems, to suppress votes for Collins.
The QAnon-leaning MAGA community has long looked to Powell as a leading authority on such deep state plots against Trump’s supporters, especially after she took over as Michael Flynn’s attorney. The one-time Trump national security adviser had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, but Powell came in and started alleging the authorities had actually duped and coerced him, a narrative that played well to Trump’s base. Trump on Wednesday formally pardoned Flynn after months of speculation.
And Powell isn’t the only Trump-affiliated attorney demeaning Loeffler and Purdue to the MAGA crowd.
Lin Wood, a prominent Georgia attorney who filed his own suit to overturn the state’s results, has repeatedly called for Loeffler to drop out of the race, pressed Perdue to show more Trump loyalty and for them both to begin “investigations” into the election.
“Threaten to withhold your votes & money,” he directed his followers on Twitter.
Wood seems to hold a special ire for Loeffler, tweeting about unrealistic scenarios in which she could be replaced by Collins and threatening to turn his “patriots” against her.
The vitriol is not necessarily widespread in the MAGA crowd, though.
Debbie Dooley, a founder of the Tea Party movement in Atlanta and vocal Trump supporter, had supported Collins in his race against Loffeler. While she was still undecided on whether to vote for Loeffler in the runoff, she called the chatter about boycotting the race the “most asinine thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”
“When you call on the Republican secretary of State to resign, that’s pretty strong,” Dooley said in an interview. “I don’t know what more people want them to do?”
It might seem counterintuitive that QAnon adherents, a group of pro-Trump diehards, would actively try to damage his Republican allies. Yet the Q mythology has little to do with the fortunes of Loeffler and Perdue, much less the Republican Party. At its core, it’s a theory that Trump is the sole savior from a cabal of satan-worshipping, pedophiliac Washington elites.
“It’s really hard to put aside that worldview, even for just a couple months, to get behind a conventional election,” said Mike Rothschild, a writer and researcher on conspiracy theories who is working on a book about QAnon.
“When you’ve been spending years thinking all elections are rigged, the deep state controls everything, nothing you do matters and the only way to stop it is for Donald Trump to win every state, be president for life and destroy his enemies — you’re so caught up in believing this radically enormous thing, that you miss the very small thing right in front of you,” he said.
Even endorsements for the senators from popular QAnon figures, such as Congresswoman-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene, wouldn’t be enough, Rothschild noted.
And the pleas from people like Trump Jr. have done little to stop the disagreements.
“Some leaders in GA & National GOP complain I am hurting chances of @KLoeffler &@sendavidperdue to win runoff & save Senate control,” Wood tweeted on Wednesday to his 613,000 followers. “They are ones hurting those chances by failing to publicly demand investigation of fraud & special session of legislature. Look in mirror.”
To Dooley, the Tea Party activist, the fighting is illogical.
“That’s like cutting off your nose to spite your face,” she said. “The Republicans have to win one of those seats. … If Democrats win both of those seats, if you boycott the runoff or you write in names, you are giving Democrats control of the Senate and they will have total control of the government.”
But pragmatism, Rothschild warned, may not be enough to sway conspiratorially minded Trump supporters.
“They’re still so very deep in the mythology and the conspiracies and the double dealing and the chicanery,” he said. “It’s like they can’t get out of their own way to see what an opportunity they have here, and how bad it will be for them if things go wrong.”
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