The Jolt: A Trump-fueled rift in the Georgia GOP takes hold

11/11/2020 —  Atlanta, Georgia — With a handful of Georgia county elections directors behind him, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announces the start of a hand recount of the November 3 presidential election during a briefing outside of the Georgia State Capitol building in downtown Atlanta, Wednesday, November 11, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer /

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

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11/11/2020 — Atlanta, Georgia — With a handful of Georgia county elections directors behind him, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announces the start of a hand recount of the November 3 presidential election during a briefing outside of the Georgia State Capitol building in downtown Atlanta, Wednesday, November 11, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer /

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

President Donald Trump’s false attacks on Georgia’s election system aren’t just undermining the integrity of the state’s vote. They’re also foreshadowing a rift inside the Georgia GOP that could dog the party in 2022.

Most Georgia Republicans still won’t acknowledge Trump’s defeat, a paralysis that reflects his continuing grip on the GOP — and worries that triggering him could scuttle the party’s chances of winning the Jan. 5 runoffs by alienating his loyal base.

But a series of Trump tweets over the weekend targeting Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger served up a reminder of how the outgoing president’s ire could shape the party well beyond January.

Last year, Trump made no secret that he wanted Kemp to tap U.S. Rep. Doug Collins to the open Senate seat instead of Kelly Loeffler, but he seemed at ease with the governor’s decision months later, telling crowds the bitter brawl would help drive up GOP turnout.

If it did, it didn’t matter: Trump lost the state to Joe Biden by roughly 14,000 votes, and the GOP rift may have dragged down U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who is now locked in one of two cliffhangers that will decide control of the Senate.

Collins is now serving as Trump’s point-man in Georgia fighting for a recount, even though state officials say there’s no sign of widespread fraud or irregularities and that Biden’s lead will hold.

It’s an open secret in Georgia GOP circles that Collins, a four-term congressman, might challenge Kemp in 2022 or mount a rematch against Loeffler (if she defeats Warnock and finds away to write off his endorsement of her) — possibly aided by Trump’s full support.

But the fallout goes beyond the congressman. Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan is under attack by some in the base for going on CNN to repeat the facts that there is no evidence of systemic ballot fraud.

Recall that one of his fiercest rivals is Georgia GOP chair David Shafer, who narrowly lost to Duncan in the 2018 GOP runoff. Shafer has loudly embraced the president’s line and in a message to fellow Republicans, panned the “Duncan/Raffensperger narrative.”

As for Raffensperger, there were rumblings of a primary challenge long before the November vote put him in the spotlight, partly due to his decision to mail absentee ballot request forms to all active voters ahead of the June primary.

Now with the residue of Trump’s attacks working against Raffensperger, convincing the GOP base to return to his side will pose an enormous challenge.


Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger isn’t taking his beating from President Trump and supporters lying down. Over the weekend, on his Facebook page, the secretary of state put up post after post defending himself from pointed attacks -- including from U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, now walking point for the Trump recount campaign here. A sampling:

My team secured and strengthened absentee ballots for the first time since 2005. As Secretary of State the first thing I did was push legislation that —OUTLAWED—absentee ballot harvesting in Georgia.

Next, for the first time in the history of Georgia, Absentee ballots submitted through our electronic portal required photo ID. My team—we made that happen.

Lastly, let's address this disinformation about signature match. We strengthened signature match. We helped train election officials on GBI signature match—which is confirmed twice before a ballot is ever cast. Failed candidate Doug Collins is a liar— but what's new?


On the same note, Democrats don’t want you to forget about the brutal feud between U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins.

The state Democratic party released a video Monday packed with scathing attacks between the two rivals. Loeffler scored a six-point victory over Collins on Election Day, landing a spot in a Jan. 5 runoff against Democrat Raphael Warnock. Watch the ad here.


Meanwhile, Senate Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock is adjusting to the new reality of wearing a bullseye for Republican attacks. Over the weekend, voters were reminded of a 2016 sermon he delivered where he asserted: “America needs to repent for its worship of whiteness.”

We have more on that here.


Some of you might recall the day that President Donald Trump endorsed then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp in his GOP runoff against Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle in July 2018.

Both Sonny Perdue, the former governor turned ag secretary, and Nick Ayers, a former Perdue aide who was then chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, were at a White House cabinet meeting that adjourned at 12:22 p.m. At 3:25 p.m., Trump issued his endorsement of Kemp – via a time-stamped Twitter message, of course.

Our WSB Radio colleague Jamie Dupree points out that we may another coincidence of timing. At 7:13 p.m. Friday, U.S. Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia tweeted out a photo of herself in the White House for a presidential meet-and-greet with incoming House Republicans.

At 7:50 p.m., the president of the United States, who likely doesn’t know Brad Raffensperger from Adam’s housecat, tweeted out this message:

Georgia Secretary of State, a so-called Republican (RINO), won't let the people checking the ballots see the signatures for fraud. Why? Without this the whole process is very unfair and close to meaningless. Everyone knows that we won the state. Where is @BrianKempGA?


Speaking of Marjorie Taylor Greene. She and Georgia’s other three new members of Congress are in D.C. for orientation. Over the weekend, the QAnon fan spoke at the pro-Trump demonstration. But she may not be making the best impression among her U.S. House colleagues. On Twitter, she mischaracterized the D.C. shutdown, falsely stating that gyms and health clubs were closed -- and posting a video of her being “forced” to engage in a workout in her hotel room. Her House colleagues helpfully pointed out several gyms were open -- and very close by.

Finally, though she is months away from her next campaign, Greene has launched a new fundraiser that includes a raffle for an AR-15 firearm.


A couple historical notes:

-- President Trump and his supporters have accused Democrats of attempting to do away with the electoral college. But some of us remember Feb. 11, 2016, when a group of lawmakers filed Senate Bill 376. The measure was designed to circumvent the electoral college, and the lead author was David Shafer, who is now chairman of the Georgia GOP.

Three days earlier, state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, had introduced a similar measure, HB 929. Whose was the second signature on that bill? Why, House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta.

Newt Gingrich had also endorsed the National Popular Vote movement. But that was before Trump won the GOP nomination for president -- and Republicans figured out that the electoral college gives their party a rural-state advantage.

-- Once upon a time, after Republican Paul Coverdell defeated incumbent Wyche Fowler in a U.S. Senate runoff, Democrats changed state law to do away with runoff elections. Max Cleland won his U.S. Senate seat in 1996 with 48.9% of the vote.

The runoff in statewide contests was reinstated by Gov. Sonny Perdue. That might be something he and cousin David Perdue want to talk about over Thanksgiving. The incumbent U.S. Senator won 49.71% of the vote on Nov. 3, and is now in a highly inconvenient runoff.


In an op-ed in the Augusta Chronicle over the weekend, state Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, promised changes to Georgia’s absentee ballot laws. Given the fact that he’s chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, this is an important paragraph:

Democrats are relying on the always-suspect absentee balloting process to inch ahead in Georgia and other close states. If elections were like coastal cities, absentee balloting would be the shady part of town down near the docks you do not want to wander into because the chance of being shanghaied is significant. Expect the Georgia Legislature to address that in our next session in January.


The stellar opening lines of a New York magazine column by Ed Kilgore, once a denizen of the state Capitol:

When Georgia was called for Joe Biden on November 13, I was instantly transported back to the last time my home state went Democratic in a presidential election. On Election Night in 1992, I was sitting near the television in Atlanta's premier political watering hole, Manuel's Tavern, when almost immediately after the polls closed Georgia was called for Bill Clinton.

At the same place a few weeks earlier, I had noticed a lot of security around, and when I asked about it, the bartender laughed and said: “Yeah, Jimmy's in the back room showing Clinton and Gore how to drive nails for a Habitat event they're doing tomorrow." In Atlanta, then and now, the 39th president was known simply as “Jimmy."