Trump Is Burning Down the GOP on the Way Out

And it could cost Republicans control of the Senate.
December 1, 2020, 9:03pm
President Donald Trump walks on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020, after stepping off Marine One. Trump is returning from Camp David.
President Donald Trump walks on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020, after stepping off Marine One. Trump is returning from Camp David. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

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If President Trump can’t have nice things, then no one can.

The president of the United States has spent recent days attacking key Republicans in two emerging swing states, sowing discord and internal party strife that Republicans worry could cost them the Senate next month and hurt their long-term chances in both Arizona and Georgia.

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Trump has been on the warpath against GOP officials who refused to go along with his attempt to overturn his losses in key states and instead followed the law and certified their states’ election results for Biden. The president has gone even further in recent days by publicly attacking Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, both Republicans.

The assault could have long-term implications in both states, which broke for Democrats for the first time in a generation this past election and are emerging as crucial electoral battlegrounds.

But the most immediate concern from Republicans is the potential damage he’s doing to Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, a pair of Georgia Republicans in heated runoff elections against Democrats that will determine which party holds the Senate on Jan. 5.

“It’s a family discussion that spilled outside of the dining room into the living room. We’ve got to get it back under control. We do want to have a unified party,” former Rep. Jack Kingston, a Republican from Georgia and  Trump ally, told VICE News Tuesday afternoon. “I don’t think anyone would say this is productive.”

Trump has spent weeks attacking Republican Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for pushing back on the president’s claims that Georgia’s election was rigged against him. But his attacks against Kemp, who won the 2018 primary for governor largely because of Trump’s endorsement, could do significantly more damage both now and in the future. Trump said on Fox News over the weekend that he was “ashamed that I endorsed” Kemp, and followed up by calling him “hapless” on Monday.

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On Monday night, it was Ducey’s turn in the barrel:

Trump hasn’t gone after Loeffler and Perdue, but they’ve been dragged into the intraparty brawl anyway. The senators followed Trump’s lead and called for Raffensperger to resign soon after the election, even though there’s no sign he’s done anything wrong. And while Trump hasn’t attacked the senators, others in Trump’s orbit sure have.

Lin Wood, a Georgia-based attorney who has filed suit to try to reverse Trump’s loss in the state, has repeatedly attacked Perdue and Loeffler for not doing enough to help him challenge the results in the state:

And some activists have begun to call for Republicans to boycott the election entirely — or write in Trump.

Those attacks have been damaging enough that some Trump-loving Republicans are wondering whether they should vote at all. As Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel campaigned for Perdue and Loeffler on Sunday, local GOP activists  confronted her and asked her whether it was even worth voting in what they saw as a rigged election.

“He’s certainly made things more challenging,” one national GOP strategist involved in the Georgia races told VICE News about Trump’s attacks. 

Even Trump’s son seems to sense that his father’s feuds could risk splintering Republicans and depressing turnout ahead of two crucial runoffs that will decide Senate control.

“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,” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted last week. “That is NONSENSE. IGNORE those people.We need ALL of our people coming out to vote for Kelly & David.”

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Trump Jr. is fronting a new super PAC focused on winning the races and launched a radio ad Tuesday with the aim of turning out Trump voters for Perdue and Loeffler.

“The U.S. Senate is on the line and my father’s accomplishments are on your ballot,” Trump Jr. says in the ad. “On Jan. 5, vote Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue for Senate.”

But Trump could help fix the mess he’s created. The president is scheduled to come to Georgia for a campaign event with the senators on Saturday, and Republicans are glad he’s coming to town to rally the troops. They just hope he can stay on script.

“Runoffs are base turnout elections and no one turns out the base better than Trump. We welcome him for that dynamic. But the question everyone is talking about is, what is he going to say?” Georgia GOP strategist Chip Lake said. “What else does he talk about when he’s making his remarks?”

“The stakes are high and I hope the president recognizes that,” Lake added.

The damage may not be limited to just these races, either.

Both Arizona and Georgia have emerged as key battleground states following years of demographic shifts, as Trump’s narrow losses last month proved. 

And Trump’s attacks against each state’s top GOP official could damage their political futures and his party’s hopes to win future races. Republicans have begun to buzz that Kemp may now face a primary challenge in 2022 — perhaps against former Rep. Doug Collins, a close Trump ally who just lost his Senate bid against Loeffler — ahead of what could be a tough reelection campaign against Democrat Stacey Abrams. Raffensperger is almost guaranteed to face a primary as well.

And while Ducey is limited to two terms as governor and is done in two years, Republicans have quietly begun to discuss him as their best option to run against Arizona Senator-elect Mark Kelly, a Democrat who has to run for a full term in 2022. 

And as much as some Republicans wish Trump would quiet down, the outgoing president has made it clear he has no plans to relinquish his iron grip on the GOP.

Trump retweeted a tweet Monday night mocking people who expected him to “just go away,” adding: “Think I’ll stick around for awhile!”