Turnout and Turmoil: Are Republicans in Danger of Losing Both Georgia Runoffs, and the Senate Majority?

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Posted: Nov 19, 2020 10:25 AM
Turnout and Turmoil: Are Republicans in Danger of Losing Both Georgia Runoffs, and the Senate Majority?

Source: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Since it became clear that both of Georgia's Senate elections were headed to January 5 runoffs, with control of the US Senate on the line, I've been following those contests very closely. Republicans have a golden opportunity to stop unified Democratic governance in its tracks by ensuring that Mitch McConnell controls the agenda in the upper chamber, as opposed to Chuck Schumer and Kamala Harris. My analysis from the jump has been that the GOP has an edge in these races for a number of reasons, and I still believe that -- for now. But I've also said all along that one factor that tempers my confidence on this front would be intra-coalition recriminations and disunity on the center-right, which could absolutely create an opening for Democrats to run the table and take over full control of the federal government.

Other conservatives and analysts seem even more concerned about this than I am, and their anxieties should not be disregarded. In a characteristically thoughtful breakdown at RealClearPolitics, Sean Trends enumerates six factors that could lead to events breaking badly for the GOP in these crucial contests, labeling them both "pure tossups." Among these reasons are Joe Biden's apparent win in the state, casting doubt on whether a return to Georgia's red "factory settings" is as assured as some may think. This is especially true, Trende adds, because Democrats' successful coalition in Georgia is different from losing coalitions in the past and because the Democratic nominees complement each other (I find both very objectionable for various reasons). What makes me most nervous are Trende's third and fourth points:

3. Trump voters may be dispirited. On top of this, there is likely still something of a difference between a “Trump voter” and a “Republican voter.” In many ways this is similar to a struggle that Democrats faced in the late aughts and early ’10s – there was a small difference between an Obama voter and a Democrat, and that caused them headaches throughout his administration. It probably contributed to the drop in Democratic performance in the 2008 runoff. This time, voters who backed the president because of who he is seem unlikely to turn out in droves for Loeffler and Perdue. In fact, these voters might be disenchanted by the Republican Party’s failure to go all-in on the president’s claims of voter fraud and a stolen election. State election officials, all of whom are Republican, are compelled to admit that there is little evidence of fraud in the state, which runs contrary to the president’s claims. The senators don’t have a lot of room for slippage, so any tension between the state’s message and the president’s message risks being interpreted as establishment Republicans once again being insufficiently dedicated to the president’s success.

4. Trump might go nuclear on Republicans. I find this less likely than I did on Election Day, but there is still a chance that the president may decide to take out some of his anger on Republicans for not supporting him enough in his legal battles. Since I suspect, at least at this point, that Trump will want to run again in 2024, he probably doesn’t want to antagonize rank-and-file Republicans any more than he has too, and at the very least would want to return to office with as many Republicans as possible in the Congress. Still, Trump is nothing if not unpredictable, so the chance remains.

Like Trende, I'm less concerned about the latter than the former. Trump has, so far, been supportive of Perdue and Loeffler -- and both are praying that will continue. But all is not well in GOP world, especially in Georgia these days. If sufficient numbers of Trump supporters decide that the party isn't worth their attention in the runoffs or that voting is futile in the face of "systemic fraud," Perdue and Loeffler will struggle to pull through. And if the college-educated white suburbanites who are generally inclined to lean Republican, but who didn't pull the lever for Trump in early November, decide that the party is gripped by too much paranoia and conspiratorial nonsense, their potential diminished participation could harm the GOP's chances. Normally, a lower-turnout battle of high-propensity voters in a state like Georgia would be a relative layup for Republicans, hence their track record of success in runoffs. But if likely GOP voters are divided and angry, while Democrats' base is energized to "take Georgia and change America," in Chuck Schumer's words, that's a recipe for disaster. This must be an all-hands-on-deck task for everyone on the centrist-to-hardcore Right spectrum. Here's how I framed things a few weeks ago:

For Trump supporters disappointed or even furious at the outcome of the presidential election, defeating Democrats in Georgia can represent their very first test of resistance against the Biden administration.  Preserving important pieces of the Trump legacy relies on divided government, with Republicans exercising an effective veto over major legislative changes revenge-minded leftists have designs to impose.  For Trump-skeptical right-leaners and moderates, the Georgia runoffs can fairly be viewed as no longer about Trump -- but about checks and balances.  Based on the nationwide results, the American electorate desires a return to normalcy, more cooperation, and the restraint of power.  Handing the keys to the car entirely over to the Democratic Party will not achieve any of that.  A new administration and a razor thin House Democratic majority, tempered by a Republican Senate, is by far the better path.

But based on fury and finger-pointing, the center-right is currently weakened in Georgia, precisely at a moment when conservatives and the country can least afford it. That's why some heavy hitter conservative talk radio fixtures in the state have been sounding the alarm. Georgia centrists, traditional Republicans and Trump fans have three-and-a-half weeks before early runoff voting begins to get their acts together and do what's necessary. Then election day itself is the Tuesday after New Year's. We know that Nancy Pelosi will be the speaker of the House and that Kamala Harris is projected to be the potential tie-breaking vote in the Senate, with Joe Biden as president. The last remaining undetermined major outcome is whether Mitch McConnell or Chuck Schumer runs the Senate, and which party would therefore control committees -- which would be the difference between Lindsey Graham and Dianne Feinstein on Judiciary, and whether or not Socialist Bernie Sanders leads the budget committee. I'll leave you with a reminder that the Left understands what's at stake here and are acting accordingly:


And here's a Hollywood type rallying the lefty troops, citing a poll (I know, I know) showing both races tied. It'll be all about turnout. Your move, Georgia: