By Tom Baxter
Suppose that after an hour’s badgering, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger had given in and promised to “find” those 11,760 votes President Donald Trump was asking for. What then?
If there even was a “what then.” The news that Trump attempted to call the Georgia official 18 times over the past couple of months belies any notion that the call on Saturday was part of the buildup to the last-ditch effort to block congressional certification of the Electoral College vote this Wednesday. It’s been on Trump’s mind continuously since the election.
If he could by extraordinary means have gained Georgia’s 16 electoral votes, Trump would still have been short of what he would need to change the outcome of the presidential election. Georgia attracted the president’s interest because it was his closest loss, and of course because of the intense attention the dual Senate runoffs have received. Maybe Lin Wood has had something to do with it. But despite these reasons to be distracted by it, Georgia can’t give Trump what he really wants.
Nor will bringing caravans of supporters into Washington Wednesday as the Senate labors through what is likely to be a protracted session concluding with the certification of Joe Biden’s victory. But it will be quite a show.
Into all the buzz about the phone call and its potential impact on the runoffs came the news Monday afternoon that B.J. Pak, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, was resigning his post due to “unforeseen circumstances.” A Trump appointee who has generally been given good marks for his job performance, Pak had said previously he would stay on until Jan. 20. His abrupt departure, still mysterious, was another jolt for already rattled Georgia Republicans.
One of the reasons Trump gave Raffensperger as proof that he really won Georgia was the size of his rallies in the state compared to Biden’s, albeit that the Trump campaign encouraged big crowds while Biden’s was more COVID-conscious. There were only a few hundred supporters at Biden’s appearance in Atlanta Monday afternoon for Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, ahead of the throngs expected Monday night for Trump’s rally in Dalton for David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.
But Biden looked loose as a goose Monday, exhorting Democrats to turn out for “Jon and the Reverend” and donning a “VOTE” face mask after his stump speech. He made no mention of the Trump tape story, although he lambasted the Trump administration for “surrendering” to COVID-19. He didn’t seem very worried about what Trump might do to hang on to the presidency, even though all 10 living former secretaries of Defense were concerned enough to send a public letter to Trump declaring the election over and warning against involving the military in politics.
Trump’s speech in Dalton several hours later was a marked contrast to the one he gave in Valdosta last month, even though he said a lot of the same things, and the crowds at both rallies cheered him enthusiastically.
But in Valdosta he was on time and focused, and seemed to genuinely connect with his audience. The Dalton rally looked on television more like an aging rock band’s greatest hits tour. Trump even brought up Hillary Clinton and got the old “Lock her up” chant.
“By the way, we won this state,” were virtually his first words after stepping off the Marine One helicopter. He put Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Mike Lee publicly on the spot to help block Biden’s certification, promised — twice — to return to Georgia to campaign against Gov. Brian Kemp and the “crazy” Raffensperger, and took complete credit for the elections of Kemp and Karen Handel.
Occasionally, the president got around to Tuesday’s runoffs, although as he mentioned a couple of times, he wasn’t crazy about doing rallies for other people. He’d get no credit if they win, he lamented, and if they lose, “they’ll blame Trump.”
The outcome of Tuesday’s runoffs will be as important as they’ve been ballyhooed to be. But no matter what combination of the four candidates gets to Washington, they’ll be walking into a deeply fractured chamber. At least a dozen Republican senators are defying Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to object to Biden’s certification Wednesday, signaling the end of his iron grasp on the GOP caucus. And a short walk by Joe Manchin could be disastrous for a Democratic majority.