By Tom Baxter

A year or so ago, no one would have characterized Buzz Brockway as anything other than a Georgia Republican of the suburban variety. He served in the state House a few terms, ran for secretary of state in 2018 and lost in the GOP primary, and now is vice president of a conservative-leaning think tank.

Last Friday, after Donald Trump took at shot at Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in a tweet, Brockway went on Facebook to defend the Republican who beat him in the 2018 primary, calling Raffensperger “honest and a man of integrity” and a true conservative.

The replies, 175 as of Monday afternoon, are a microcosm of the civil war emerging within the Republican Party and the conservative movement. Some of his friends praised him for speaking up in Raffensperger’s behalf, and for being “a voice of reason.” Others were just as irate over any departure from the Trump position.

“You were my Representative & I miss you in that spot!” a former constituent wrote. “I also consider you my friend, but I seriously disagree with you! I am gathering from your posts that you never did support our President Trump?”

That response was fairly cordial compared to some.

“What traitors. Lots of people are making lists,” another wrote.

You can feel the same tensions in the awkward passoffs between the news side and the commentariat on Fox, the migration of some Trump voters from Facebook and Twitter to Parler and MeWe, and friction between Republican election officials and Trump supporters in other states.

What makes the battle in Georgia so fraught for Republicans is that this squabble over the last election is raging while the next election — the double runoff which will decide control of the U.S. Senate — is just around the corner.

Georgia Republicans have a long tradition of feuding with each and then patching things up in time present a united front against the Democrats. In 1988, the emnity between supporters of George H.W. Bush and Pat Robertson grew so heated that the factions split at the state convention in Albany and sent rival delegations to the Republican National Convention in New Orleans. By the fall they had reunited, and carried the state handily for Bush.

There isn’t nearly as much time to patch things up before the Jan. 5 runoff. More important, this is more complicated than the old battles between the center and the right of the party.

Despite some suspicions among themselves, it’s likely that almost all the Republicans on both sides of the divide voted for Trump, and nearly all of them would vote for David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler over Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. There aren’t going to be many voters like the Libertarian who replied to Brockway that he plans to vote for Ossoff and Warnock, after the two Republican senators’ attack on Raffensperger last week.

The greater danger for Republicans is that many of their voters will be left so leery of the voting process in general that they won’t vote in the runoff at all.

“There’s a great human capacity for inventing things that aren’t true about elections,” Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, told the New York Times last week. “The conspiracy theories and rumors and all those things run rampant. For some reason, elections breed that type of mythology.”

This isn’t unique to Republicans, by the way. If Trump had won an Electoral College victory, chances are we’d be hearing a lot more about the huge vote swings for Trump in the Rio Grande Valley and Miami. And we’d be hearing some of the same suspicions, from the other direction, about Dominion voting machines.

If the absence of Trump on the January ballot is a potential problem for the Republicans, it’s an even bigger one for the Democrats. Stacey Abrams, LaTosha Brown and other Democratic activists deserve the accolades they’ve received for registering so many new voters, making it possible for the party to flip Georgia to blue in the presidential election.

But the energy which drove those voters to turn out, often waiting long hours in line to cast their ballots, was their distress over Trump. Mitch McConnell doesn’t stir such passions, even if Democrats generally find his conduct as majority leader to be reprehensible.

With early voting happening during the holidays, and the runoff election on the day after a lot of people get back to work, can they stir their voters to come out again? That will be a stern test, especially when you look at how poorly Democrats fared in legislative races two weeks ago.

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern...

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