OPINION: Donald Trump will never surrender, even at the Fulton County Jail

Credit: John Spink

Credit: John Spink

You can take as many mug shots as you like, but Donald Trump will never surrender. In fact, he may even take his mug shot, put it on a t-shirt and sell it, as his campaign did Thursday night, blasting out a fundraising apppeal following his legal surrender at the Fulton County jail with the message: #NeverSurrender.

Here we go again. If there’s one thing we in Georgia have learned about the former president in the three years since the 2020 elections, it’s that Trump won’t give up, no matter what it does to his party, to his country, to his family, or to the people around him.

We know Trump won’t concede an election he lost or admit to a lie he told. He’ll accuse his opponents of stealing an election while trying to steal the same election himself. He’ll call prosecutors criminals and, allegedly, make criminals out of friends. And he’s doing it all for you, he says, for the American people.

“You can’t ever accept what they steal and rig and rob,” he told a rally in Valdosta in December of 2020 as his legal team and supporters worked to reverse his November loss. The Valdosta event was supposed to be about Georgia’s two GOP senators, who had been forced into a runoff on the same day of Trump’s November loss. But really, the South Georgia rally was about him.

“We will not bend, we will not break, we will not yield,” he called out over chants of “Stop the Steal!”

“We will never give in, we will never give up and we will never, ever surrender!”

The saga of the 2020 elections has been so ceaseless in Georgia since that night that, in many ways, it feels like the election never ended. Ballot counts turned into recounts, which became more than 60 court cases, none successful.

Trump called for a special session, and a second chance, and for the governor, secretary of state, and attorney general to help him win Georgia, even though he had already lost.

He told Republicans not to vote in those 2021 Senate runoffs because the elections could not be trusted, and because the Republican senators hadn’t done enough to help him win. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler both lost their races as a result and Senate Republicans in Washington lost control of the U.S. Senate, all because Trump wouldn’t give up.

Months later, state GOP lawmakers pushed to change Georgia’s voting laws to ensure “election integrity,” all because Trump said he won when he hadn’t.

The new laws were in place for the primaries the next year, when Trump came back to Georgia for revenge, not against Democrats, but against his fellow Republicans.

Gov. Brian Kemp, he said, was a “weak loser,” because he didn’t do the right thing in 2020. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, too. Trump ran his Republican friends against them, only to lose badly because Kemp had the good sense to look forward and not back.

In the year since then, state and federal investigations have revealed details about the events in Georgia in 2020 that we didn’t fully understand at the time. We knew Rudy Giuliani had become Trump’s attorney, but we didn’t know the White House counsel’s office had already told Trump he’d lost.

We knew that Giuliani showed up at a state Senate hearing to make outrageous claims about Fulton County election workers, but we didn’t know that those workers would be harassed and intimidated for years as a result.

We knew in December of that year that Republicans met at the state Capitol, secretly at first, to cast electoral ballots for Trump, even after Biden won. But we did not know identical efforts were underway in other states at the exact same time. All because Trump wouldn’t surrender.

We knew Trump supporters showed up at the state Capitol chanting “Stop the Steal!” But we had no idea a larger, more deadly protest would unfold in Washington days later on Jan. 6, with many of the same people involved.

And it all happened — to Georgia, to America, and now to Trump’s own lawyers and supporters who have been indicted along with him — because Trump refused to give up.

It’s fitting that the three-ring, never-surrender circus came back to Fulton County Thursday night, where it all started.

The 2020 campaign is now the sole topic of his 2024 presidential campaign. But Republican leaders in Georgia worry Trump can’t win again in this battleground state if he’s obsessed with the past. The trend lines for the party’s nominees were already going in the wrong direction.

Mitt Romney won Georgia by eight points in 2012, but Trump won by just five points in 2016. Fast forward to 2020, and Trump’s narrow defeat didn’t come as a surprise to anyone watching the election carefully.

Suburban neighborhoods that had been dotted with Trump signs in 2016 had no sign of Trump placards by 2020. GOP events that might have been packed four years earlier were less so, or beset with divisions as the election approached. Biden was not beloved, but voters told us he was a good enough alternative to Trump, when “good enough” was just that.

Republicans now have a choice to make. They can surrender to Trump themselves, as many of the candidates on the GOP debate stage in Milwaukee did Wednesday night, half-raising their hands when asked if they’ll support Trump for president, even if he’s convicted in Georgia and elsewhere for trying to illegally overturn the 2020 elections.

Or they can accept that the indictments against Trump aren’t a distraction from the GOP primary campaign, they are the GOP primary campaign. And Trump is winning it by a landslide right now, even after his trip to the Fulton County Jail.