For weeks Donald Trump has been insisting that Joe Biden stole the presidential election through a massive fraud that gave the Democratic nominee an edge in several battleground states. Those states include Georgia, where the results certified on November 20 gave Biden a lead of about 12,700 votes. Notwithstanding his argument that Georgia's election system is fundamentally corrupt and untrustworthy, Trump wants Republicans there to vote in two runoff elections next month that will decide party control of the Senate.
The contradiction between those two messages came to a comical head on Saturday, when the president told his supporters in Georgia to ignore pro-Trump lawyers who have suggested that voting in the January 5 Senate runoffs would be futile. "Friends of mine say we are not going to vote because we are angry about the presidential election," Trump said at a rally in Valdosta, Georgia. "Don't listen to my friends."
One of the friends to whom Trump referred was L. Lin Wood Jr., an Atlanta attorney who agrees that Trump actually won the election. "Why would you go back and vote in another rigged election?" Wood asked at a rally last Wednesday.
Wood filed an unsuccessful lawsuit that sought to block certification of the election results in Georgia. "Because Georgia has already certified its results, Wood's requests to delay certification and commence a new recount are moot," the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled on Saturday. The court, in a unanimous decision by a three-judge panel, also found that Wood did not have standing to sue, saying "he fails to allege a particularized injury." It added that "we may not entertain post-election contests about garden-variety issues of vote counting and misconduct that may properly be filed in state courts."
The same day that Trump spoke, Wood told Republicans there was no need to participate in the elections that will determine whether Republicans David Perdue, elected in 2014, and Kelly Loeffler, appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp to replace an ailing Johnny Isakson in 2019, will continue to represent Georgia in the Senate. "We do NOT need to vote for @KLoeffler & @sendavidperdue in rigged runoff to control Senate," Wood tweeted. "We The People demand only lawful votes be counted. Trump won by a landslide!" Wood explained that even if both candidates lost, Republicans would still control the Senate. "With @realDonaldTrump as President," he said, "the Vice-President will cast any necessary tie-breaking in U.S. Senate."
Wood's advice was entirely consistent with Trump's view, according to which Georgia Republicans cannot be confident that their votes will be counted. It was also consistent with Trump's argument that he will prevail in demonstrating that he actually won a second term, which means Vice President Mike Pence will be in a position to resolve any tie votes in the Senate.
Urging Georgia Republicans to disregard Wood, Trump implied that votes in the Senate runoffs would be accurately counted. "There's never been a case where a state has had this prominence [in] Senate races," he said. "This is something that's very important, and you have to get out and you have to vote. If you don't vote, the socialists and the communists win."
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has lent credence to the president's claims of systematic fraud in this year's election, likewise is annoyed at Wood and former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell, who posits a vast international conspiracy that enabled Biden to claim a false victory. Kemp and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger have warned that Powell's lawsuit challenging their state's election procedures could jeopardize a timely resolution of the Senate races. "Lin Wood and Sidney Powell are totally destructive," Gingrich, who represented Georgia's 6th Congressional District until 1999, tweeted last Thursday. "Every Georgia conservative who cares about America MUST vote in the runoff. Their [don't] vote strategy will cripple America."
Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, who has vocally supported the Trump campaign's post-election lawsuits, is also worried that all the talk of rigged vote counts will deter Republicans from participating in Georgia's runoffs. "This is the key—it's not decided," McDaniel told Trump supporters in Marietta, Georgia, on Saturday. "So if you lose your faith and you don't vote and people walk away—that will decide it."
Even while urging Republicans to vote, Trump strayed from that message to reiterate his claim that Biden's victory in Georgia was phony. "This election was rigged, and we can't let it happen to two of the greatest, most respected people in Washington," Trump said, referring to Perdue and Loeffler. The Democrats "cheated, and they rigged our presidential election," he added. "But we will still win it." Yet the method that Trump recommended for ensuring the two senators' victories—i.e., voting for them—was the very same method he says was unavailing in the presidential election, thanks to Democratic chicanery that, by his account, still has not been corrected in Georgia.
Although Kemp and Raffensperger are both Trump supporters, the president says "the election apparatus in Georgia is run by Democrats," even while faulting the Republicans who are actually in charge for failing to prevent or reverse the fraud that supposedly led to Biden's victory in Georgia. Perdue and Loeffler, meanwhile, have demanded that Raffensperger resign for failing to keep elections free and fair in Georgia.
Like Trump's warnings against voting by mail, these charges have had the entirely predictable result of discouraging Republicans from voting. Why take the trouble of casting a ballot if you have no confidence that it will be counted? If the upshot is that Republicans lose control of the Senate, that will be bad news for those of us who think divided government would help curb some of Biden's worst instincts. The silver lining is that it will be a richly deserved comeuppance for Trump and all the Republicans who have recklessly indulged his post-election fantasies.