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In Georgia, cross-currents make life complicated for Republicans

If the plan was to keep Georgia Republicans unified ahead of the Jan. 5 runoff elections, the GOP apparently needs a new plan.
Image: Republican Senators David Perdue And Kelly Loeffler Running For Reelection In A Closely Watched Run-Off Hold Rally
Georgia Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler speaks at a campaign event on Nov. 13, 2020 in Cumming, Ga.Megan Varner / Getty Images

Plenty of conservative media outlets would like to start running reports about how awful Joe Biden will be in the White House, but as Politico reported last week, they're holding off. It's not that they're sympathetic to the Democratic president-elect; it's that to attack him would be to acknowledge his election victory.

And since the right feels compelled to play along with the fiction that Donald Trump secretly prevailed, actual election results notwithstanding, conservative media can't start targeting Biden in earnest. One high-level employee at a conservative media outlet said, "Trump is basically the assignment editor for the conservative press."

But the same article flagged a related dynamic in Georgia:

As Trump declines to travel to Georgia — instead criticizing the state's recount efforts in a series of tweets — conservatives have also become increasingly concerned that the Democratic candidates competing in a pair of Senate runoff races there will glide to victory if Republicans fail to communicate, due to fears of upsetting Trump, what Biden and a Democratic Senate could accomplish.

A prominent elected Republican told Politico, "The winning narrative in Georgia would be that Republicans need the Senate to counter Joe Biden and [Vice President-elect] Kamala Harris when they're in office. The problem is you can't make that case effectively when you've got the president telling some of his voters, 'Don't worry, Joe Biden is not going to be president.'"

Quite right. In reality, we know that Biden and Harris will take the oath of office in 58 days, and that Georgia voters will vote in two U.S. Senate runoff elections in 43 days. We also know that the results of those Georgia contests will determine which party has control of the Senate for the next two years.

But for those who genuinely believe that Trump won, and that the Republican president will remain in office, it's an entirely different story. If Trump holds onto power, that means Mike Pence will remain vice president. And if you're convinced that Pence will be the vice president for the next four years, it means the GOP will control the Senate no matter what happens in Georgia's Senate runoffs.

The result is an awkward dance for the Republican Party: to stress the importance of the Georgia contests is to acknowledge that Trump lost. But to acknowledge Trump's defeat risks drawing the ire of the president and his most rabid followers.

It was against this backdrop that the New York Times reported the other day on a big GOP rally in Georgia, where leading party officials "toed a careful line," trying to rally the base while "carefully avoiding any mention" of Trump's failure to win a second term.

What an unnecessary mess.

Complicating matters, the cross-currents are making life quite complicated for Republicans in Georgia right now. While the party scrambles in the hopes of keeping control of the Senate, Trump has lashed out against the state's chief elections official -- Georgia's Republican secretary of state -- as if voters should see him as untrustworthy.

At the same time, Sidney Powell, before parting ways with the president's legal team, publicly went after Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) -- a steadfast Trump ally -- falsely accusing him of also engaging in election corruption.

If the plan was to keep Republicans unified ahead of the Jan. 5 runoff elections, the party apparently needs a new plan.