The Georgia GOP tries to rewrite the 2020 election history

11/06/2020 —  Atlanta, Georgia — Georgia Republican Chairman David Shafer (left) and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel (second from left) prepare to make remarks during a GOP elections briefing at the Georgia Republican headquarters in Atlanta’s Buckhead community, Friday, November 6, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
11/06/2020 — Atlanta, Georgia — Georgia Republican Chairman David Shafer (left) and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel (second from left) prepare to make remarks during a GOP elections briefing at the Georgia Republican headquarters in Atlanta’s Buckhead community, Friday, November 6, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

An AJC analysis

The Georgia GOP is trying to rewrite history to absolve itself of blame for devastating losses in the last election cycle that cost Republicans control of the U.S. Senate and helped tank Donald Trump’s bid for a second term as president.

Typically, political parties use setbacks as a chance to learn from their mistakes, try out new messaging and offer advice for a future generation of candidates on how to wage a winning campaign in the next election cycle.

But there was no introspection or soul-searching in the Georgia GOP’s high-gloss “After Action Report,” even in a year following Joe Biden’s narrow victory in the state in November’s presidential election and the Democratic sweep of U.S. Senate runoffs in January.

The publication distributed by the state party at district meetings across the state over the weekend, and obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, read as a manifesto about what the party did right — and scapegoated Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a fellow Republican, for what went wrong.

It highlighted the tremendous influence that Trump still exerts on the state Republican Party, even after his lies about widespread election fraud triggered a Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. The cover page of the report featured Trump’s endorsement of Georgia GOP Chair David Shafer: “HE NEVER GAVE UP!”

Shafer faces reelection to the party post in June, so he and his allies used the report as a chance to tout his pro-Trump leadership rather than an examination of what went wrong — and how the party can win in 2022.

The document only made brief mention of the fact that Republicans lost Georgia for the first time in a presidential race since 1992 and were subsequently swept in the U.S. Senate runoffs.

Much of its pages were framed through the lens of Trump’s false claims about Georgia election fraud, blaming Raffensperger for “foolish legal settlements and feckless ‘emergency’ rules.”

“The Georgia Republican Party, on three separate occasions, sued the Secretary of State to force him to obey the law and do his job,” the report states.

12/14/2020 —  Atlanta, Georgia — Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger during a press conference at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Monday, December 14, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
12/14/2020 — Atlanta, Georgia — Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger during a press conference at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Monday, December 14, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Left unmentioned was the fact that Raffensperger and other officials found no evidence of widespread irregularities. Three separate tallies of the results confirmed Biden’s victory, an audit of absentee ballot signatures found no cases of fraud, and pro-Trump lawsuits were dismissed from court.

The report provides a window into the ongoing focus from state GOP activists who continue to repeat pro-Trump conspiracy theories about the election despite no proof of any systemic wrongdoing.

It lists five separate lawsuits the state party filed against Raffensperger, each of which failed to yield any substantive victories. (The report asserts that one case led the secretary of state to expand access for poll watchers before asserting without evidence that “massive violations of state law remained unchecked.”)

Shafer’s allies defended the document. Joseph Brannan, the state GOP treasurer, called it a “great summary of the work done by the grassroots” under Shafer’s leadership that “tells the story of the unprecedented level of engagement” by the party.

Not surprisingly, it elicited cackles from Democrats.

“If the Georgia GOP defines success as losing the presidency, both U.S. Senate seats and a House seat, we wish them nothing but success going forward,” said Scott Hogan, the executive director of the Democratic Party of Georgia.

1/4/21 - Dalton, GA - President Donald Trump holds a rally in Dalton, GA, to campaign for Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler on the eve of the special election which will determine control of the U.S. Senate.   (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
1/4/21 - Dalton, GA - President Donald Trump holds a rally in Dalton, GA, to campaign for Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler on the eve of the special election which will determine control of the U.S. Senate. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

But the outrage over Trump’s defeat has also been a boon to Georgia Republicans. A surge of new faces gathered at weekend GOP meetings held in 13 of Georgia’s 14 congressional districts, where many heard from speakers who echoed Trump’s false claims of a “rigged” election.

The uptick in participation evoked memories of the round of Republican meetings in 2016, when Trump brought legions of new conservative supporters to sleepy party gatherings often dominated by establishment figures or long-standing volunteers.

In west Georgia’s 3rd Congressional District, former state Sen. Josh McKoon asked for a show of hands and was surprised to find more than half of the 274 delegates had never attended a convention before.

Likewise for Brandon Phillips, chair of the 2nd Congressional District in South Georgia, who posted a picture of dozens of newcomers with the caption: “Y’all better keep up in Atlanta.”

Metro Atlanta conventions held their own, too. Marci McCarthy, the chair of the DeKalb County GOP, said an influx of new faces “who are turning their anger into action and advocacy” signed up as convention delegates for the first time.

And Brad Carver of the 11th Congressional District, which covers a stretch of northwest Georgia’s suburbs, said more than half of the delegates who attended Saturday’s convention had never shown up to a GOP meeting before this election cycle.

In all, Shafer said there was record turnout for district meetings — and that roughly half of the members participated for the first time.

Newcomers to Georgia Republican meetings raise their hands during the 1st District GOP convention on May 15, 2021.
Newcomers to Georgia Republican meetings raise their hands during the 1st District GOP convention on May 15, 2021.

Credit: Brandon Phillips

Credit: Brandon Phillips

Veteran activists welcomed the new members, but they also stressed the need for party unity at a time when Trump’s feuds with Republican officials have exacted damage.

Raffensperger is a decided underdog in his 2022 reelection bid, Kemp faces promises of payback from grassroots Republicans angry that he refused to overturn the election results, and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who also drew Trump’s fury, announced this week that he wouldn’t run for another term.

“The only way back to where we need to be is getting everyone back to wearing the Team R logo and behind Gov. Kemp,” John Wood said, pointing to the increase in GOP attendance in South Georgia.

“That doesn’t happen if you don’t get out there and do the work,” said Wood, a longtime conservative grassroots leader from coastal Georgia. “That’s where victory lies.”

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