Georgia’s gift to Trump is a lump of coal in the stocking
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an event at his Mar-a-Lago home on Nov. 15, 2022 in Palm Beach, Florida. Trump announced that he was seeking another term in office and officially launched his 2024 presidential campaign. (Photo by Joe Raedle | Getty Images)
When the history books about Donald Trump are written – and believe me, there will be many – Georgia will have earned a place of pride. It’s only a mild exaggeration to say that Georgia has been to Trump what Waterloo was to Napoleon, what Saratoga was to King George and his redcoats, what Gettysburg and Pickett’s Charge were to the Confederacy.
Georgia, more than any other place in the country, was where it all went bad for Trump, and he knows it.
It was Georgia where the mythology of Trump first gave way to the reality of Trump, where his excesses finally had electoral consequences, where a few of his fellow Republicans showed the guts to stand up to him, where those same few Republicans proved it was possible to survive his anger and spite, and where voters first showed a willingness to punish the feckless cowardice of candidates who groveled too openly at Trump’s feet.
It hasn’t come easy. That must be part of the story too, because important things rarely are. Trump maintains a considerable fan base in the state, and as investigations continue, we’re learning the extraordinary, anti-constitutional lengths that Republican state legislators and members of Congress were willing to go to defy the votes of Georgia citizens and keep Trump in power. Those efforts failed, and overall these past two years have been Georgia’s finest moment, when the motto on its flag – “Wisdom, Justice, Moderation” – proved more than words.
The defiance began, of course, in November of 2020, when Trump lost the state by 11,780 votes. He had clearly taken Georgia for granted, and the shame and humiliation of defeat in a previously deep-red state rattled him, shaking him to the point that he lost whatever small sense of proportion he once possessed.
“There’s no way I lost Georgia,” he ranted in his now infamous post-election phone call to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. “There’s no way. We won by hundreds of thousands of votes.”
In re-reading that conversation, I count almost two dozen times that Trump insisted there was no way, simply no way he could have lost Georgia:“We won very substantially in Georgia. You even see it by rally size, frankly. We won the state and we won it very substantially and easily. I think I probably did win it by half a million.”
“We won the election,” he insisted at another point. “As the governors of major states and the surrounding states said, there is no way you lost Georgia. As the Georgia politicians say, there is no way you lost Georgia. Nobody … everyone knows I won it by hundreds of thousands of votes.”
“Well Mr. President, the challenge that you have is, the data you have is wrong,” responded Raffensperger, ever the engineer.
A few days later, in a runoff on Jan. 5, 2021, Georgia voters who hadn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate in 20 years elected two of them in a single day, again as a rebuke to Trump. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock ran good, smart campaigns, but it was Trump who gave them their narrow margins of victory, who sabotaged the two Republican incumbents by demanding that they support his effort to overturn the election.
David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler certainly did as Trump ordered – anything to please the boss — but Georgia voters just weren’t having it. In 2022, voters in states such as Arizona, Pennsylvania and Nevada also rejected candidates who echoed Trump’s “Stop the Steal” nonsense, but it happened here first, when it mattered most.
His thirst for vengeance unsatiated, Trump then tried to make examples of Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp, who had committed the unpardonable sin of placing loyalty to the Constitution over loyalty to Trump. He hand-selected submissive primary challengers to those who had dared defy him, believing that his grip on Georgia Republican voters was still strong, that they would show him the blind loyalty that Kemp and Raffensperger would not.
Instead those GOP voters — with strategic assistance from more than a few Democrats – reaffirmed their commitment to a government of laws, not of men, in the process shattering Trump’s aura of invincibility. Raffensperger won his GOP primary by 19 points; Kemp won by 52 points. Earlier this month, Georgia did it once again, rejecting Trump’s hand-picked Senate candidate, Herschel Walker, as not just inadequate but insulting.
Georgia’s role in protecting American democracy may have yet another important chapter. We don’t know what Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis will decide once all the evidence has been gathered and assessed, but Georgia may also become the first place in which Trump is held legally and criminally accountable for his actions.
That would put a pretty little bow on the thing.
So, in conclusion …
Merry Christmas, America, and you’re welcome.
This commentary was published earlier by the Georgia Recorder, an affiliate of the States Newsroom network which includes the Daily Montanan.
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