Republicans to Trump: Georgia fraud claims could cost us the Senate

By Andrew Desiderio and Marianne LeVine
·5 min read

Donald Trump’s sustained attacks on the integrity of Georgia’s presidential election tally are threatening the Republican Senate majority — and GOP senators are starting to fret.

Even as the key battleground states have certified their results and Trump’s legal challenges are crumbling, the president is refusing to let go of his baseless claims of widespread voter fraud and fight to overturn the election results. Moreover, the official presidential transition is already in motion, and President-elect Joe Biden received his first presidential intelligence briefing on Monday.

But Republicans are increasingly seeing Trump’s posture as not just rhetoric. They view it as a self-serving quest that could imperil the GOP’s grip on the Senate by depressing turnout in two runoffs races that will decide which party controls the upper chamber. And they are publicly hoping he will refrain from pushing his false fraud claims when he visits the Peach State this week to campaign for Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.

“Making an allegation without having facts to back it up could be detrimental to his long-term legacy,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said flatly, arguing that a GOP-controlled Senate will be the guardian of that legacy.

“I would hope when the president is in Georgia Saturday he talks about the importance of turning out the vote,” added Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of GOP leadership. “And I think what he says on that trip will probably matter more than what he’s said up until now.”

Republicans believe Trump’s involvement is key to motivating their voters for the Jan. 5 runoffs. But there are already signs that Republicans are trying to avert a collapse in Georgia, where the candidates and outside groups are raising millions.

Advisers to the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., are launching a super PAC aimed at turning out supporters in the runoffs — some of whom are calling for an all-out boycott of the races. And over the weekend, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel tussled with a Trump backer who claimed the twin Senate races had already been “decided,” essentially echoing the president’s claims of voter fraud.

“It does no good if they self-fulfill a prophecy of refusing to vote, and lose the legacy that the president provides,” Rounds said when asked about the boycott that some of Trump’s supporters are plotting.

Even as Trump urges his supporters to vote for Perdue and Loeffler, he is continuing to hammer Georgia’s secretary of state and governor — both Republicans — for what he calls a “fraudulent” result in favor of Biden. Trump even said he was “ashamed” of his endorsement of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in 2018, and on Monday called him “hapless.”

Republicans in Georgia are exasperated with his rhetoric, and they’re publicly urging the president to avoid talking about the Nov. 3 election.

“It’s time for this to be over,” said former Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who previously held Perdue’s seat. “When he comes, he needs to not be talking about his race; he needs to be showing his support for the two candidates in Georgia and put to rest anybody who makes any comment about the fact or has any idea about not voting because they might think these two candidates aren’t doing enough to question the election.”

Both Perdue and Loeffler have called on the secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, to resign, in an overt nod to Trump and his challenges to the Georgia election results. But they’ve declined to more fully embrace his arguments, even as top GOP officials — like Raffensperger — are actively pushing back.

“The ridiculous things claimed in some of these lawsuits are just that — they’re insanity, fever-dream, made-up internet cabal,” said Gabriel Sterling, a Republican and the voting system implementation manager for Georgia’s elections.

Even as Trump continues to wage his implausible legal fight, Senate Republicans are coming around to acknowledging Biden’s victory. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said it’s “becoming clearer by the minute” that the former vice president won and, as a result, “I’m already moving on.”

And Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said the General Services Administration's move last week to allow the presidential transition process to move forward after weeks of stalling “suggests [Trump] understands which way it’s headed.”

Republicans, meanwhile, were offering their thoughts on Biden’s choices for his Cabinet, another sign they are preparing for the inevitable.

Underscoring Trump’s influence over the GOP, only a minority of Republicans are calling out the president for seeking to overturn the results of the election in battleground states. And most are waiting for the Electoral College to formalize the election results on Dec. 14 before officially declaring Biden the president-elect.

But a handful of Republicans are starting to express concern about the long-term impact Trump’s false allegations of a “rigged election” and widespread voter fraud could have on the country.

“There has not been evidence presented yet of any systematic or substantial nature, and so I think it’s most unfortunate and damaging to the cause of democracy to make serious accusations without serious evidence,” said Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, a frequent critic of the president who did not vote for Trump in November.

“I just worry about the erosion of the public’s confidence in our electoral process,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said of Trump’s allegations, and on Monday urged him to concede. “It’s pretty integral to who we are as a country.”

Burgess Everett contributed to this report.