“You know we won Georgia, just so you understand,” Trump said, spinning stories about votes in Georgia “coming out of ceilings and coming out of leather bags.”
Between attacking the election results and warning the crowd that Gov. Brian Kemp, “needs to be a lot tougher,” the president spoke about the two senators that he had ostensibly come to support, saying that Perdue and Loeffler are “respected by everybody.”
Republican strategists in Georgia have long believed that their best message heading into the runoffs would be the so-called “firewall” a Republican Senate would be against a Biden administration and Democratic House of Representatives.
Trump followed that line of reasoning, to a point. “Without these two, there’s going to be nothing to stop (the Democrats). You have no idea how bad it will be,” Trump said.
He called Perdue’s opponent, Jon Ossoff, “a radical left-wing zealot,” and Loeffler’s rival, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, “a dangerous extremist who is radically opposes your values.”
But mostly, Trump’s focus was on Trump — and all of the many people, circumstances and events, real and imagined, that led to his defeat in November, especially Kemp.
“This election was rigged, and we can’t let it happen to two of the most respected people in Washington,” Trump said. “Your governor could stop it easily if he knew what the hell he was doing.”
Trump urged the crowd to vote in January, even though that election, he said, is likely to be corrupt, too.
The task of unifying Republicans has been made necessary by Trump himself, who has aggressively lashed out at leaders of states that he lost, including Kemp, who has refused repeated demands from Trump to intervene in the state’s results and overturn the election in the president’s favor.
In a tweet moments before leaving for Valdosta, Trump lambasted Kemp and Arizona’s GOP Gov. Doug Ducey, whose state Trump also narrowly lost, saying the two governors, “fight harder against us than do the Radical Left Dems.” The president also added an ominous threat of future retribution, “Republicans will NEVER forget this.”
The tweets followed a lengthy call to Kemp earlier Saturday, when Trump pressed the governor to summon state lawmakers to the Capitol for a special session to overturn the November election result, according to two senior GOP officials. Kemp refused Trump’s demand, which the president has made more than once.
The relentless attacks on both Kemp and the integrity of Georgia’s elections have created a nightmare scenario for local Republicans, who now must convince the GOP base that their votes will count in January and that Loeffler and Perdue are the kind of Republicans that Trump loyalists should support.
In brief speeches ahead of Trump, neither Perdue nor Loeffler repeated Trump’s false claims of a rigged election in Georgia. Instead, both talked of stopping Democratic policies in Washington. “If we win Georgia, we save America,” said Perdue.
But when Loeffler took the stage later at Trump’s invitation, the crowd chanted at the senator, “Stop the steal!” The volume went up dramatically when Perdue went next, with Trump loyalists yelling at Perdue, “Fight for Trump!”
Prior to Saturday’s rally, Kemp has been measured in his response to Trump. He’s said he shares the president’s “frustration” at the election outcome, but he has repeatedly noted that Georgia law blocks him from “interfering” with the election.
After days of speculation about whether Kemp would even attend the rally, the unexpected death of Harrison Deal, a close family friend, kept the governor at home. Deal was an aide to Loeffler, and Kemp considered him a member of his family. Deal, 20, died in a traffic accident in Savannah on Friday.
Although Trump offered his condolences to Deal’s family in his remarks, he did not spare Kemp from the worst he could come up with.
In a barbed message to the governor, Trump called out to U.S. Rep. Doug Collins at one point, who made it known in 2019 that he hoped to be appointed to the Senate by Kemp, only for Kemp to appoint Loeffler instead.
“Doug, you want to run for governor in two years?” Trump asked.
“Your governor,” the president said later, “should be ashamed of himself.”