During a week in which Democrats formally finalized their takeover of the US Senate's instruments of power, and flexed their legislative muscles by pushing through a party-line vote to pave the way for a massive spending bill, it seems like an opportune moment to reflect on how we got here. Republican voters largely held the line, despite a daunting Senate map, in November. After election night, it very much looked like Democrats would net just one single seat in the upper chamber, allowing Mitch McConnell to remain majority leader, and force the Biden administration into tough negotiations on a wide range of issues. All they had to do was not lose both Georgia runoffs, which seemed eminently achievable. After all, Republicans had received more votes than Democrats in both races in the first round, and the runoff format has traditionally heavily favored the GOP. But then January 5 happened, and the Democrats swept both contests.
As a result, Chuck Schumer is now majority leader, and Kamala Harris is the tie-breaking vote. In the immediate aftermath of that debacle, we cited early evidence that David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler lost because Democrats were united and motivated, while GOP turnout was underwhelming amid conspiracies and intra-party anger. Republican fears had come true. More support for this theory has continued to trickle in:
More data, via the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
Over 752,000 Georgia voters who cast ballots in the presidential election didn’t show up again for the runoffs just two months later, according to a new analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution of recently released voting records. More than half of the no-shows were white, and many lived in rural areas, constituencies that lean toward Republican candidates...Trump’s message that the election was stolen discouraged voters such as Craig Roland, a 61-year-old Rome resident. Roland said he didn’t believe his vote would count. “What good would it have done to vote? They have votes that got changed,” Roland said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever vote again."...The AJC’s analysis found that the drop in turnout was most severe in northwest and South Georgia, areas where Trump held rallies, in Dalton and Valdosta, to bolster support for the state’s Republican senators.
That quote from Mr. Roland must haunt Georgia GOP operatives' nightmares. When the most prominent and influential Republican in the country repeatedly and baselessly tells his ardent fans that the election was rigged and stolen – including by members of their own party, in their own state – a significant number of those fans will internalize and believe that message. Follow-up exhortations that they turn out to vote anyway will invariably fall on a lot of deaf ears. And that's precisely what happened. The "Trumpiest" areas (including the North Georgia district represented by a certain congresswoman who was a loud "stop the steal" adherent, and who evidently is predisposed to believe literally any conspiracy that crosses her desk) saw the biggest dips. The statistics tell the story, Allahpundit writes: "Eleven percent fewer whites who voted in the presidential election turned out for the runoffs. By comparison, just eight percent fewer black voters did. Warnock defeated Loeffler by 93,000 votes while Ossoff topped Perdue by just 55,000; the number of whites who showed up for the Trump/Biden race but didn’t show up for the Senate races was on the order of 400,000 people." And both GOP Senate candidates were essentially forced to go along with the incoherent, "stop the steal," but also vote' two-step, in what a former campaign official described as a daily "hostage situation":
"It was a hostage situation every day," said one Republican strategist familiar with the campaigns who only agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity. "We were always trying to guard against the tweet [from Trump]," the strategist said. "Every week we had some new sort of demand," said another strategist involved with the campaigns. "Calling for the hand recount. The signature match. A special session. $2,000 [coronavirus relief] checks. Objecting to the electors." "It was, 'If you do not do this, the president will actively work against you and you will lose,' " he recalled.
Can't win races without the base, can't win races in certain key states and districts with only the base. That's the very real dilemma moving forward as the party goes to war with itself, replete with purges and loyalty tests. And the GOP fratricide runs a very serious risk of turning a red state into a purple state into a blue state in a matter of a few cycles. Internal Republican animosity and dysfunction are boosting Democrats in Georgia, to the point that at this stage, it's hard not to see both Raphael Warnock and Stacey Abrams as early frontrunners in the 2022 Senate and gubernatorial elections, respectively:
Georgia favorable ratings (AJC/UGA poll):— Reid Wilson (@PoliticsReid) January 30, 2021
Raph. Warnock 54 fav / 37 unfav
Joe Biden 52 / 41
Stacey Abrams 51 / 41
Jon Ossoff 50 / 40
Democratic Party 50 / 44
Republican Party 34 / 59
Trump 40 approve / 58 dis
Gov. Kemp 43 / 51https://t.co/D92spNUtW6
Republicans have almost two years to get things straightened out, which is a very long time in politics. But things...aren't great at the moment. Parting thought: Are the dynamics starting to shift within the Republican electorate? And even if they are, is a more evenly divided GOP base more conducive to winning than a more lopsided, but still fractured, GOP base? Perhaps we'll find out.