Conviction, cowardice, tactics: The Republicans are standing by the incumbent president for different reasons. His influence on the party will remain great.
David Perdue just didn’t show up. When the Republican senator from the state of Georgia was supposed to be standing on stage Sunday to debate his Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff, there was only an empty lectern in Perdue’s spot. “Where is Senator Perdue?” Ossoff asked repeatedly. He called his competitor a coward and otherwise chatted the rest of the evening about his agenda.
Sen. Perdue didn’t consider it necessary to present to the voters one more time on TV before the runoff election for the state Senate seat because in his world he won the election on Nov. 3. A classic Donald Trump move. Because even the U.S. president in these last weeks of his term is living like never before in his own world with his own truths.
However, the reality in Georgia is that Perdue had less than a 100,000 vote lead on Ossoff in the election and therefore has to go to a runoff election Jan. 5. It went similarly for his fellow Republican, Kelly Loeffler. She has to go to a runoff election as well, however, she wasn’t even ahead of her Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock in the first election. While Loeffler did at least show up to her TV debate against Warnock, she didn’t manage to acknowledge Joe Biden’s election victory there. Yet another Trump truth.
It is the Perdues and Loefflers who dictate the tone and tactics of the Republican Party. This is especially a problem for the basic understanding of democracy in the country, but also for the future of conservatives. This Tuesday, the “safe harbor” after the election was reached. By now, every state must have counted its votes, judicial disputes must have been resolved and the results must have been confirmed. Georgia, where Trump egged on his audience with the supposed voter fraud at an appearance over the weekend, confirmed Biden’s victory on Monday for the third time. “We have now counted legally cast ballots three times, and the results remain unchanged,” said Georgia’s secretary of state Brad Raffensperger. The third count was one of many unsuccessful attempts by the president to somehow bend the election results in his favor.
Trump Won’t Change his Narrative
Now, it’s also over for Trump judicially. This coming Monday the Electoral College will vote for Biden as the next president. Trump’s narrative won’t change that. He will rant and tweet against the supposedly stolen election from the White House until Jan. 20 and after that foreseeably from his resort Mar-a-Lago in Florida.
However, after the transition in the White House, his party won’t retreat to a golf course and won’t be able to badmouth Washington D.C. The Republicans can keep engaging in politics, whatever they may understand that to be in the future. However, this presents them with the dilemma that they must slowly free themselves from Trump’s narrative, which they have so far loyally given into for different reasons: conviction, cowardice, tactics.
Senators Loeffler and Perdue in Georgia, for instance, seek reelection in a rather conservative southern state. Trump’s base there is large, even if Biden narrowly won the state for himself in this election. Things are going similarly for many other members of Congress in the House and Senate. The next congressional elections are in two years. Election campaigning never actually ends and because Trumpism in the country won’t disappear, many conservatives will continue to count on this strategy to offer a home to Trump’s voters. Fittingly, only 27% of Republicans in Congress acknowledge the election result, according to a survey from The Washington Post. Two believe Trump is the victor and 220 prefer to just say nothing at all.
At the same time, it hasn’t been ruled out that Trump will run yet again in 2024. His power within the party is great. More than 74 million people voted for Trump, 11 million more than four years ago and 15 million more than for Mitt Romney in 2012. Ronna McDaniel is the chair of the Republican National Committee, the political committee that leads the Republican Party. She is facing reelection to a third term and has Trump’s support. A clear sign that the president is not thinking of giving up his influence on the party and completely retreating from politics. Even if every one of his decisions is inconsistent, the Trump name will endure for Republicans because in case of doubt there are still his children. Donald Trump Jr. has taken a liking to politics – just like his father does it. Like campaign stages, he plays social media well.
The Party Can’t Stab Trump in the Back
How difficult it will be for the party to return to democratically dealing with victory and defeat and the transition of power, is revealed through William Barr. The attorney general has shown himself so far as anything but critical of or even distanced from Trump. He often acted more like Trump’s attorney instead of the county’s attorney general. However, in the past weeks, Barr told The Associate Press that there is no evidence for Trump’s claims that the election was stolen: “To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.”
A sentence fit for an attorney general and its role, but not for an attorney general in a Trump Cabinet. Just one day later the question of whether Trump still had trust in his attorney general was no longer being answered in the White House. Rarely a good sign. It would not be the first dismissal shortly before the end of Trump’s presidency. The president replaced the secretary of defense in November. Barr is still attorney general, according to The New York Times he is considering giving up his office, which he only holds for a few more weeks anyway.
Mitch McConnell Sneaks up
In the party, Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader and one of the most powerful Republicans, is probably navigating the best through these last uncertain weeks of Trump’s presidency. McConnell will make governing as difficult as possible for Biden – assuming his party holds the majority in the Senate. In dealing with Trump he is counting on a flexible strategy: He won’t let the incumbent president fall and doesn’t openly show disloyalty. Furthermore, McConnell did not counter Trump’s claims. However, he is also not directly repeating them. He put it somewhat more deftly that every president has the right to check for irregularities. And just as deftly McConnell dropped a hint in the past weeks to the new government when it came to negotiations over a second stimulus package: “I think we all know that after the first of the year there’s likely to be a discussion about additional, some additional package of some size next year, depending upon what the new administration wants to pursue.”
McConnell doesn’t just let that slip out. This is how one can sneak up on a new President Biden, who can be congratulated when he’s sworn in without stabbing Trump in the back.
It’s a problem for the country when one of the two parties supports democracy-endangering claims and lies. And this will possibly become an essential part of their future campaign strategy, though perhaps not in the same aggressive and obvious way as Trump. It will be difficult to detach themselves from his success with a wide voting bloc, even if this raises fundamental questions of whether other conservatives will still identify with the party.
Just like the president despises losers, only one thing counts for Republicans in the end: winning. And the weeks since the election loss have shown that they are prepared to unite for this.