OPINION: The Trump show in Perry was a warning about 2024

We need to take a minute to unpack what happened on stage at the Donald Trump rally in Perry, Ga. Saturday night. As usual, the former president audaciously, theatrically, and inaccurately insisted, again and again, that he won the 2020 election in Georgia.

But for the first time ever, Trump was also joined on stage by a parade of hand-picked statewide Republican candidates for office in Georgia in 2022. All but one, Herschel Walker, said in one way or another, that they won’t let Donald Trump lose in Georgia the next time around.

If you think there won’t be a next time, you weren’t listening Saturday night.

“We never forget 2020, just in case you have any questions,” Trump told his cheering audience. “The most corrupt election in the history of our country, most corrupt election in the history of most countries, to be followed by an even more glorious victory in November 2024.”

Because the former president will never forget 2020, we shouldn’t either.

After weeks of counting in Georgia, Joe Biden won Georgia with a razor-thin margin — just shy of 12,000 votes out of about 5 million cast. With Trump refusing to concede, election officials conducted a statewide hand recount and a statewide machine recount, which both upheld Biden’s victory.

As Trump demanded an audit of signatures, the Secretary of State’s office ordered a review of Cobb County signatures to verify the state’s matching process had worked as intended. It had.

Still refusing to concede, Trump and his allies filed nearly a dozen lawsuits against Georgia officials, including Gov. Brian Kemp, in state and federal court.

Nearly all of the cases were dropped or dismissed for a variety of reasons, including a lack of merit, lack of evidence, and in one case, Lin Wood’s failure to file court fees and complete basic paperwork. Once the paperwork snafu was corrected, the Georgia Supreme Court dismissed the case entirely.

The U.S. Supreme Court had a chance to hear a case, too, but declined. Even Trump dropped his own lawsuit against Kemp in Cobb Superior Court by January.

Away from the court process, the Georgia Legislature went on to overhaul state voting laws, rewriting rules that Republicans said needed to change for voters to have confidence when casting their ballots.

Even with the laws rewritten, Republicans in charge, and every legal avenue still open to Trump, he relitigated his 2020 loss on Saturday night as if it happened the day before.

And by the way, maybe Barack Obama stole his election, too?

“Obama won, maybe he won, but with elections these days, who the hell knows if he won?”

Trump didn’t stop at declaring his own election “rigged.” He told the audience they were all the victims and the only way not to be victims the next time around is to “replace the RINO’s and weak Republicans, who made it all possible.”

You see where this is going, right?

On Trump’s list of “RINO’s” were Secretary of State Brad “a very strange guy” Raffensperger and Gov. Brian “a total disaster on election integrity” Kemp.

Are they really Republicans in name only, as Trump claims? That’s entirely possible, if being a Republican in Georgia today means picking up the phone and doing what Donald Trump says.

The candidates for being that kind of Republican joined Trump in Perry Saturday.

First up was Vernon Jones, the Democrat-turned Trump Republican who is running for governor against Kemp in the GOP primary.

“We have to audit the votes,” Jones bellowed, to the crowd’s delight. “No more [expletive] It’s time to uncover that lie.”

Jones didn’t say how that “audit,” would differ from the counts, recounts, and court appeals that have happened already.

Also up was state Sen. Burt Jones, who is running in the GOP primary for lieutenant governor.

Less strident than Vernon Jones and more logical than Trump, the senator has said all he wants related to 2020 “is a simple investigation.”

His spokesman has said Jones is focused on a review of Fulton County absentee ballots, which are already available online. But Trump supporters have sued to review the ballots by hand, which a judge will eventually rule on.

On Saturday, Burt Jones also promised to get rid of Georgia’s new voting machines, which were approved and purchased by state Republicans and used for the first time last year.

Finally, Jones said this to Trump on stage: “Thank you so much for your endorsement. I can assure you, had I been the lieutenant governor, we would have gotten to the bottom of this thing.”

In addition to the two Jones was U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, who is challenging Raffensperger in the GOP primary for secretary of state.

“Nobody understands the disaster of the lack of election integrity like the people of Georgia and now is our hour to take it back,” Hice said to Trump on stage.

“We’ve got incredible leadership from Mr. Trump and we need this kind of leadership again...the greatest president in our lifetime, the greatest fighter of our lifetime. God bless you, sir.”

It’s tempting to dismiss the entire evening in Perry as just another day of crazy on the Trump train. There were so many lies, exaggerations and obfuscations littering the four-plus hour show that it became exhausting to wade through.

But the frequency of bad actions should never be mistaken for normalcy. What Donald Trump is trying to do in Georgia — setting up a slate of state officials to ease his way back to power here and across the country — has to be called out for what it is.

With more allies in the right places instead of state leaders following the law, the next time around, crazy could easily turn to reality before we’re done counting votes.

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