OPINION: Stopping the Steal. Trump’s steal

Gov. Brian Kemp greets Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, right, before speaking to members of the Georgia Senate in the Senate Chambers on Sine Die, day 40, of the legislative session in Atlanta on June 26, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Gov. Brian Kemp greets Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, right, before speaking to members of the Georgia Senate in the Senate Chambers on Sine Die, day 40, of the legislative session in Atlanta on June 26, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler has repeatedly said that she and fellow GOP running mate, Sen. David Perdue, are the “firewall to stopping socialism.”

This week, Asbestos Kelly agreed to try to overturn an American election in exchange for President Donald Trump not trashing her. She is merely the latest example of a party that has traded in courage for subservience.

Over the past two months, it has gotten strange, and even scary, how some normally sane people continue to spout outlandish — and disproven —conspiracy theories about a stolen election. Georgia, of course, has been the center of this crisis of anger, antipathy and threats.

In the midst of this, another firewall has been erected, a firewall for reality, one that has stood fast against the increasingly irrational #StoptheSteal horde. The trio of elected Georgia Republicans pushing back against the forces of absurdity has been led by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp, and includes Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan. (You can add Attorney General Chris Carr to that list. He fought off those Texas marauders who tried to tell us Georgians how to run elections. Several opportunistic lawmakers joined in.)

Now, it might sound like I’m praising people for simply following the law and doing their jobs. And I am. You might ask: When did we start praising people for not walking in and robbing a bank? Answer: These days.

Raffensperger famously fended off the president’s request to go in and sneak 11,780 votes out of his desk and hand him a victory. Trump, who has called Raffensperger and Kemp everything but children of God, sounded like a mob boss talking to an underling, “Make this problem go away.”

(Now, Dems, don’t go all gaga over Raffensperger. He wants to slash absentee voting, the tool that helped catapult Joe Biden to the White House.)

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger speaks at a press conference at the state Capitol in Atlanta on November 7, 2020. (STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger speaks at a press conference at the state Capitol in Atlanta on November 7, 2020. (STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

It stands to reason that if the secretary of state and the governor were going to do their jobs properly, they would have to stand up to Trump and his forces. Interestingly, Lite Gov Duncan didn’t necessarily have to. But he did.

Early in November, after Loeffler and Perdue cravenly demanded that Raffensperger resign for some untold “failures” in counting votes, Duncan quickly went on CNN to defend the secretary of state, saying he hadn’t seen any substantial fraud. At a later date he even went so far as to publicly utter that Biden did indeed win. He also pushed back against some state senators who wanted to have a special session to help nullify the election.

Most recently, he went public in criticizing Trump’s call to Raffensperger, saying it was “inappropriate,” which is about as neutral and polite a term as one can use to describe it.

I had to ask Duncan why he’s stepping out to do this. A quick perusal of his Twitter account found the following responses to him: Spineless. Snake. Wimp! Coward. TRAITOR! He will almost undoubtedly face a challenge in next year’s primaries, as will Raffensperger and Kemp. Is Duncan being brave, clever or just really politically dumb?

First off, the former minor league pitcher, who won an underdog Republican primary in 2018, said he was simply stepping up to protect his teammates. “Also, I’m raising three boys, and we talk a lot about doing the right thing, even when it’s not popular, even when it’s not easy.”

“This is the right thing to do even if the president of the United States doesn’t agree with me,” he added. “I’m still basing my comments on facts and figures.”

I asked Duncan what it’s like to have the Leader of the Free World publicly castigate you.

From left: Minority Leader Steve Henson, D-Stone Mountain, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, and Majority Leader Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton during a coronavirus-related special session of the Georgia Legislature on March 16, 2020.  (BOB ANDRES / robert.andres@ajc.com)
From left: Minority Leader Steve Henson, D-Stone Mountain, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, and Majority Leader Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton during a coronavirus-related special session of the Georgia Legislature on March 16, 2020. (BOB ANDRES / robert.andres@ajc.com)

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

“It wasn’t on my bucket list. It’s certainly been a difficult, disorienting period of time,” Duncan said. “You never felt your phone do the things it can do until the president tweets your name negatively.”

He believes most Republicans will return to reality, get past the anger, and see that this was all caused by people who were “upset they lost and they unfortunately fanned the flames to flip an election.”

Well, where does all this come from?

“It starts at the top,” said Duncan, who paused to say Trump had done a lot of good in his four years. “This confusion is because the tip of the spear is willing to fan the flames with misinformation.”

About pushing back against a special session of the Legislature to nullify the election, Duncan said: “The folks who wanted it couldn’t articulate why. When you first talked to them they said it was to change the electorate (to the Electoral College). When they realized the ridiculous nature of how it sounded coming from their lips, they pivoted and said it was about a consent agreement, and then it was something else.”

“There was no need for a special session. We were not going to go against the will of the people,” he said.

I called several people who know Duncan. One said the lieutenant governor “stuck his neck out unnecessarily” and now is vulnerable in a Republican primary next year. The consensus is Raffensperger will have the toughest time.

Chip Lake, a GOP operative who worked alongside Duncan for a couple of years and then broke with him in 2019, called the Lite Gov a narcissist who “loves attention. He loves the press. This is a good opportunity to increase his exposure.”

He said Duncan loves the trappings of office and the pulpit. “He believes the Lord sent him to save the world,” Lake said. “He believes the Lord sent him to save the world from Donald Trump.”

I called former Republican state Rep. Allen Peake, who served with Duncan in the Legislature and considered running for lieutenant governor in 2018. “I’m proud of Geoff,” he said. “I’m proud he stood up to Trump. It’s hard to find any elected official who will. It’s a political reality that people are fearful of Trump.”

Peake, who voted for Trump, added: “Trump is delirious. He’s like a jilted lover at this point. The majority of the U.S. citizens are not into him anymore. It’s sad to watch. It’s embarrassing. He’s gone off the deep end.”

Then-Rep. Allen Peake on the floor of the Georgia House in February 2017, holding a bottle of cannabis oil as he presents a medical marijuana update bill. (BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM)
Then-Rep. Allen Peake on the floor of the Georgia House in February 2017, holding a bottle of cannabis oil as he presents a medical marijuana update bill. (BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM)

Peake said Duncan’s stand might even help him in the long run. “I think people like it when someone stands up to a bully like Trump,” he said.

Duncan said he is thinking of the long term, not of the sugary high one gets from the anger of the moment.

“If we can’t communicate beyond 280 characters on Twitter, I’m afraid that we’ll continue to see disappointing results in these big elections,” Duncan said. The party needs to employ a “PET project,” he said, which is “policy, empathy and tone.”

He figures the current madness will subside. “People are always going to find the truth. It might take a little more time to believe it. But the good news is the Constitution is still standing.”

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