Opinion: Stacey Abrams and Donald Trump aren’t two sides of the same coin

Rudy Giuliani walks to a senate hearing at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Thursday, December 3, 2020. The Georgia Senate Committee on Judiciary has formed a special subcommittee to take testimony of elections improprieties and evaluate the election process. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Rudy Giuliani walks to a senate hearing at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Thursday, December 3, 2020. The Georgia Senate Committee on Judiciary has formed a special subcommittee to take testimony of elections improprieties and evaluate the election process. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta J

Credit: Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta J

No, Donald Trump is not doing what Stacey Abrams did two years ago. Quibble if you must, but Abrams never rang up a governor to suggest that he dump nearly 5 million Georgia ballots into the Chattahoochee River.

Last week in a state Capitol hearing room, just as an infected Rudy Giuliani arrived to great applause on the other side of the door, the legal counsel for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger was wrapping up his presentation on election security in Georgia.

“Over the past few election cycles, we’ve had people from both sides of the aisle who are really spreading things that decrease trust in the system and the results of our elections,” Ryan Germany said.

“It was from the left in 2018 and now it’s from the right after 2020,” Germany said. “It’s kind of eerie how similar the claims are. It’s part of the same fact pattern that one side would call suppression and the other side calls fraud. That’s what we’re seeing.”

His boss was more specific. In an op-ed piece in Monday’s Wall Street Journal, Raffensperger accused Abrams of “establishing a playbook that President Trump is following to the letter now.”

You can understand the allure this kind of parallelism might have for Raffensperger, given his current circumstances.

The president of the United States and the chairman of the state GOP have accused the secretary of state, who was a good Trump-fearing Republican until Nov. 3, of conducting a presidential contest rife with “systemic negligent, intentional, willful and reckless violations of the Georgia Constitution.”

Enough votes were miscast, Trump and Georgia GOP chair David Shafer allege in the lawsuit filed on Monday in Fulton County Superior Court, to declare Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential victory in this state null and void.

But Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp have refused to budge on the arithmetic that handed Trump a loss in Georgia, and so are taking a great deal of heat from the president and his supporters. Saying that you’ve treated Donald Trump no better nor worse than Stacey Abrams at least gives one some footing among a few Republicans.

But to equate one with the other is to overlook the breathtaking audacity of Trump and his Georgia accomplices, who would take us down a dangerous and undemocratic path by handing over Georgia’s electoral college votes to the state Legislature.

Let us dispose of the small stuff first. It has been 36 days since Nov. 3, and President Trump has yet to admit he has lost. Abrams was defeated on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. Her campaign launched a flurry of legal actions to make sure provisional and absentee ballots were properly counted — remember that Hurricane Michael had ravaged southwest Georgia only a few weeks earlier.

But Abrams shut her campaign down on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. She didn’t use the word “concede,” but acknowledged that she wouldn’t be the state’s next governor. Kemp, her GOP rival, accepted that, praising Abrams’ “passion, hard work and commitment to public service.” They are not friends, and Abrams still questions the legitimacy of Kemp’s win, but at that moment both agreed that the race was over.

Abrams never challenged the results of the 2018 contest in court. Instead, she and a new organization she founded filed a massive federal lawsuit arguing for a top-to-bottom overhaul of Georgia’s election system. Unlike most of Trump’s recent legal challenges, it has not been dismissed. It is expected to go to trial in the next several months.

But here Abrams does have something in common with Trump. She was able to monetize the outrage over her defeat, raising millions in the name of voting rights — and to bolster a Democratic party she’ll need for a rematch with Kemp in 2022.

Trump, too, is monetizing his defeat, pumping out fundraising emails at a rapid rate. To what end, we don’t exactly know — yet. Some of the cash may have made its way into Trump’s current multi-state legal challenge of election results. Trump began leaning on Georgia last week — hard. It has been an orchestrated play, but just how well-orchestrated is up for debate:

  • Last Thursday, Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, made his surprise visit to the state Capitol, to read a laundry list of alleged election infractions, and to show a video clip of Fulton County election workers — which Giuliani said showed election workers hauling out secret suitcases filled with ballots. The secretary of state quickly debunked Giuliani’s interpretation.
  • Nonetheless, four state GOP state senators decided they’d heard enough. They began a petition for a special session of the Legislature, so that 236 lawmakers could substitute their judgment for 4,998,482 Georgia voters on the matter of who should be president.
  • The aforementioned lawsuit was filed Friday on Trump’s behalf, then rejected because his attorneys hadn’t paid the proper filing fees. (This is different from the “Kraken” lawsuit, filed by Trump supporter Sidney Powell, which was tossed from a federal courtroom on Friday.)
  • President Trump called Governor Kemp on Saturday morning to urge him to overturn Georgia’s election results and hand the matter over to the Legislature. Kemp politely explained that this would be illegal.
  • At Trump’s subsequent rally in Valdosta that night, he continued to push Kemp to embrace the idea. And hinted that an uncooperative governor could face U.S. Rep. Doug Collins in a 2022 GOP primary if he didn’t.
  • On Monday, the Trump lawsuit seeking to overturn the Nov. 3 election was re-filed in Fulton County Superior Court, with the proper fees paid.

This is where Abrams and Trump are the most unlike. Whether you appreciate her or not, you cannot dispute that Abrams is focused on bringing more individuals who are eligible to vote — but don’t — into Georgia’s electoral pool.

Trump has been focused on what he calls voter fraud since 2016, when he lost the popular vote but won the electoral college. He has occasionally slipped and admitted that the more people who vote, the less successful the GOP will be — at least in its current iteration.

The Trump lawsuit alleges that Nov. 3 votes were cast by felons, Georgians who don’t call Georgia home, and by those who live in P.O. boxes — among other miscreants. If the action proceeds, those specific charges will be ferreted out as true or false.

But the lawsuit’s most disturbing assertion is this line: “Citizens are entitled — and deserve — to vote in a transparent system that is designed to protect against vote dilution.”

Ineligible voters, Republicans have argued on the stump this season, diminish the influence of those who are eligible. But voter fraud — even as lavishly described in the Trump lawsuit — is the smallest part of shrinking GOP influence.

When you voted in the 2016 presidential contest, you were one in 4 million. Last month, you were one in 5 million. Your vote has been diluted by 25% in just four years. Your personal influence has declined. This is how democracy works.

If that is the kind of dilution that Trump and his GOP supporters are trying to stop — by taking matters out of the hands of voters when things don’t go their way, then we have some very serious times ahead of us.

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