Nothing to gain and everything to lose: How the GOP responded to the election
The 2020 US elections could have been considered fairly positive for the Republican Party.
Yes, they lost the Presidency, but they gained 15 seats in the House of Representatives and appeared to have done enough to retain their Senate majority. Initial polling data and analysis suggested it was unlikely the Democrats would win both Georgia seats. The Republicans flipped both houses of the New Hampshire General Court, the Democrats did not flip control of any state legislative house. The Republicans lost seats in state legislatures where they held majorities but far more Democrat majorities were reduced in size than GOP (short for Grand Old Party, as the Republicans are sometimes referred as) ones. They won the gubernatorial election in Montana. The Democrats did not gain any new state Governor seats. These elections did not see voters reject the Republican Party as a whole, they rejected Trump specifically.
It would be reasonable for the Republicans to decide to move forward by separating themselves from Trump. There are differences in policy. For example, the party has in recent history, been the party for free-trade, but Trump has described himself as “tariff man”. There’s also a difference in approach, Trump has been notoriously confrontational with political opponents, both inside and outside the Republican Party. This is a clear contrast to some recent GOP Presidents. George HW Bush worked closely with Bill Clinton after the latter ended his time in the Oval Office after just one term. When both of his sons ran in gubernatorial elections, George W for Texas and Jeb for Florida, he told them to “chart your own course” if they felt he was wrong in his policies and approach to things. Thinking about Trump as objectively as one can, I do not and most would not expect to see Trump work with Biden or accept Donald Jr, Eric or Ivanka, or any Republican for that matter, may have different approaches to him. Despite only being a one-term POTUS, Bush Sr is generally viewed more positively than negatively by commentators and voters.
An often-quoted statistic is that 45% of Republican voters supported the events on Capitol Hill on January 6. That is a high statistic and one the Republican Party would have to resolve to help with future elections. The reason I say they have to resolve it is because only 29% of Americans are registered Republicans according to the Pew Research Center. That means that 45% of Republicans represent less than 15% of the American population. It is this relatively small sub-section of the US population sections of the party has attached itself to since the elections with claims of voter fraud.
Many commentators have noted there is nothing wrong with having a skeptical approach to news and if the outgoing President feels the election was insecure, he has the option to take the case to the judicial branches of the federal and state government. But, you need to be skeptical to every claim, not just those from people you disagree with and you need to be able to prove your own. The legal challenges all failed. William Barr, the former Attorney General, who is often accused of turning the Department of Justice into Trump’s personal law firm, told the Associated Press: “To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.” Trump’s attorneys claimed to have evidence of large fraud outside of the courtroom, but inside they did not present any. As per Time, in Pennsylvania, Rudy Giuliani admitted: “This is not a fraud case”, while Linda Kearns said she is “not proceeding” with allegations of fraud. In a case in Montgomery County, Jonathan Goldstein was asked if there was fraud with regard to 592 disputed ballots, his response was: “To my knowledge at present, no.” Incidentally in Pennsylvania, a voter was alleged to have registered his dead mother as a voter but a statement from the Delaware County District Attorney Office claimed he “explained that he cast a vote in the name of his deceased mother to reelect President Donald Trump.”
In Arizona, Kory Langhofer told a judge: “We are not alleging fraud in this lawsuit. We are not alleging anyone stealing the election.” That morning, Trump had alleged hundreds of thousands of votes had been stolen from him. Additionally, court filings in Nevada never alleged “criminal voter fraud” as Trump himself had done in a letter to Barr about the election in the state a few days after the election. As in several cases, the filings focused on much smaller claims about how scanning and observation were undertaken. These claims refer to such small amounts of ballots, they would make no difference to the vote even if those ballots were rejected entirely. Senator Ben Sasse released a statement saying: “Based on what I’ve read in their filings, when Trump campaign lawyers have stood before courts under oath, they have repeatedly refused to actually allege grand fraud — because there are legal consequences for lying to judges.”
The problem for the GOP came in the promotion by the President and some elected officials of these theories. This can be seen quite clearly in Georgia. Georgia is in the solid South, and as mentioned, polls initially suggested it was unlikely both Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff would win their runoff races. But they did, and when Warnock is sworn in and Kamala Harris takes her office as Vice-President, the Democrats will have gained control of that chamber. The Republicans lost control of the House in 2018, meaning Trump, despite entering the White House with the GOP holding a trifecta, will leave with the Democrats having that position.
Credit has to go to former Georgia State Rep. Stacey Abrams for her decade long effort to increase turnout and mobilise voters for the Georgia Democratic Party. This contrasts with what the Republican Party did. Kelly Loeffler, appointed to fill the seat vacated by retiring Jonny Isaksson, and David Perdue, the other Republican senator, cast doubt on the integrity of the elections. They even called for Brad Raffensburger, the Georgia Secretary of State, and fellow Republican, to resign.
This added an extra issue to the race if the system was rigged, why bother coming out to vote? Despite insistence the election was secure from Raffensburger, Governor Brian Kemp and Voting Systems Implementation Manager Gabriel Sterling, claims of fraud from parts of the GOP persisted. Sterling himself gave a statement where he responded to every claim of irregularity he had seen. The video is linked below. Kemp himself was often praised by Trump as an ally of the President, though that has not stopped Trump turning on him for his handling of the elections.
Lin Wood, an attorney and staunch Trump supporter who was a prominent member of the Stop the Steal campaign even went as far as calling for Georgia Republicans to boycott the run-off, saying on Twitter that this would cause problems for the algorithms he claimed were stealing votes: “The algorithm was never designed for unheard-of levels of GOP non-participation. The algorithm will steal votes from the GOP, but there will be so few in heavily Democratic precincts that GOP vote totals will go negative.
“The fraud will be so obvious, SCOTUS can then invalidate the presidential election. Real conservative senators can then be appointed, after Kemp, Perdue and Loeffler’s arrest.”
Around this time, Ossoff became the highest-funded candidate for Senate of all time. Democrats came out in unexpectedly high numbers for Georgia to vote for Warnock and Ossoff.
Republicans quickly said their chances were damaged due to Trump’s claims of voter fraud. Utah Senator Mitt Romney, who has consistently spoken against Trump’s rhetoric said: “It turns out that telling the voters that the election was rigged is not a great way to turn out your voters.”
More Georgians voted in those runoffs than in the 2016 Presidential election and these voters preferred Warnock and Ossoff to Loeffler and Perdue. Sterling told CNN: “The president of the United States is 100 per cent, four-square responsible with a little added assist from Doug Collins, who decided to run in the Senate jungle primary, which split the party.
“I mean, when you tell people your vote didn’t count, this is all part of crazy town and people are stealing things, you undermine people’s confidence in the vote, then you create a civil war within the GOP at a time when the GOP probably wanted to unite their vote to turn out.
“Those are the kind of things that the president is solely responsible for doing.”
Doug Collins was the House Rep. for Georgia’s 9th district. In Georgia, the primaries are non-partisan and all candidates for all parties are on the ballot. If a candidate wins 50% they win the vote, if not the top two advance to a runoff. If Loeffler had won all of Collins’ vote she would have polled ahead of Warnock but not enough to avoid a runoff. Collins was unable to run for his House seat, but Republican Andrew Clyde won the race to replace him.
Though Trump’s rhetoric promoted by both Loeffler and Perdue did not help it would be unwise to reject all other reasons for the defeats. As mentioned rhetoric from Trump and allies contrasted to the Democrats’ strong campaigning — which involved several criticisms of Loeffler and Perdue’s performances for Georgia in the Senate. Both were caught up in the insider trading scandal. Both Senators claimed trades in stock made after a private briefing were made by third parties and they had no knowledge of the trades. Loeffler’s investigation by the rules committee found no evidence of wrongdoing and Perdue claims he was told the same privately.
A Loeffler campaign website described Warnock as the “most radical and dangerous candidate in America.” Loeffler, herself, told Fox News that her opponent has “has espoused radical views from the pulpit. He is someone that attacked our police officers, calling them gangsters, thugs, bullies, and a threat to our children…he’s also said that you can’t serve in the military and serve God.”
Despite the attack on Warnock’s sermons at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, Loeffler herself attended a Martin Luther King Day service at the very church where she praised the work of the church, which of course, was under Warnock’s leadership. Such a move contrasted with her claims against Warnock and likely helped strengthen Democratic criticism of her candidacy.
The end result of the campaigning from all four candidates and Trump’s rhetoric is clear. Georgia has two Democrat Senators who have flipped control of the Senate to the Democrats.
Very recently, Arizona was considered a red state. It also has two Democrat senators now, Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema. It is worth mentioning Sinema is often described as a fiscally conservative Democrat. The Republican parties in both states are beginning to fall apart. Arizona has a GOP Governor, Doug Ducey, who has been supportive of Trump, but as the state went for Biden he defended the election process. Kelly beat Martha McSally to take her seat. McSally was appointed by Ducey after the resignation of Jon Kyl. McSally had lost to Sinema in the 2018 Senate race. She had previously been associated with moderate Republican groups but had voted with Trump’s position around 95% of the time. Significantly, she lost races for both Arizonan seats. It was alongside a seat for Colorado (often a swing state), one of only two Senates seats the GOP lost outright in November, opening the door for Georgia’s run-offs to determine Senate control. They also picked up a seat in Alabama, though the state typically tends to favour Republicans.
1948, 1996 and 2020 are the only three times post the Second World War, Arizona has voted Democrat in the Presidential elections. The GOP holds both houses in the State Legislature but for the last decade the Democrats have built up support, more so in recent years with 13 seats in the 30 seat Senate and 29 in the 60 seat House of Representatives. Arizona was the home state of one of Trump’s biggest GOP critics, John McCain. McCain won Arizona’s 1st district House seat twice and was elected to the Senate for Arizona six times. Trump questioned whether McCain was a war hero due to him being captured in Vietnam. After his death, Trump told factory workers in Ohio: “I gave him the kind of funeral that he wanted, which as president I had to approve.
“I don’t care about this, I didn’t get a thank you. That’s OK.”
It was the Senator Loeffler replaced, Isakson, who delivered some of the strongest rebukes of Trump’s comments about McCain. McCain, was a moderate Republican, disliked by more conservative members of his party, but Arizonans consistently voted for him. His constituents approved of him, but they saw aspects of the GOP reject him. The shift towards the left in Arizona may have occurred without Trump as the shift towards Georgia might have. But both shifts are signs of increasing Democratic support and some may describe them as purple states and these shifts have become evident under Trump. Arizona actually went more left in 2016, which was rare, but Trump was still four percentage points ahead of Clinton. A sudden acceleration of the process has occurred after his first term in office.
Despite the impact his rhetoric appeared to have had in Georgia and the failure of legal challenges, the majority of House Republicans and a small number of GOP Senators decided to keep up the act by objecting to electoral college results.
This is where the title “nothing to gain, everything to lose” comes from. With the Democrats holding the House, nothing was to come from these objections, except for slowing down the certification. The 50 states had all certified the election results and they were no alternative electors to choose. Mike Pence had no power to overturn results, his role was largely ceremonial. Richard Nixon and Al Gore were Vice-Presidents who lost Presidential bids but certified their defeats as President of the Senate with no issues. They could not have even if they wanted to. If they could the Consitution would make it easy to overrule an election and that seems at conflict with the small-government ideas of the framers. The Senators who objected should be aware of this and constitutional law. Ted Cruz was the editor of the Harvard Law Review, Josh Hawley was the editor of Yale’s Law Journal.
They understand the law and they still decided to object as it was in their interest to do so. Cruz is one of a number of Republicans who have gone from being anti-Trump to pro-Trump. Trump accused Cruz’s father of being involved in the assassination of JFK and Cruz said: “This morning, Donald Trump went on national television and attacked my father. Donald Trump alleges that my dad was involved in assassinating JFK. Now, let’s be clear, this is nuts. This is not a reasonable position. This is just kooky.”
On that same day, when campaigning in Indiana, Cruz said: “I’m gonna tell you what I really think of Donald Trump: This man is a pathological liar. He doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies. He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth, and in a pattern that I think is straight out of a psychology textbook, his response is to accuse everybody else of lying.”
There are other Republicans whose before and after comments, I could mention, but I choose Cruz as he was one of the objectors. Cruz even offered to argue for Trump in front of the Supreme Court when Texas filed a lawsuit calling for swing state votes to be invalidated. When campaigning for Loeffler, he told a crowd: “God bless Donald J. Trump.” The attempt to invalidate votes was judged to have no legal standing but it puts the GOP on a dangerous path. Swing states are crucial to winning elections and sections of the GOP have said voters there should not have their votes counted. It is not going to be easy convincing voters from those states to vote for the Republicans in the future.
The rhetoric about the election being stolen was chanted by those that stormed the Capitol. The likes of Hawley and Cruz have already begun to feel the repercussions for fuelling the flames of the conspiracy theories. There have been calls to add the two to a no-fly list. Hawley lost a book deal with the publishers deciding associating with him was detrimental to their brand. Republican donors have decided to withhold funds as they do not wish to be associated with the rhetoric and ideas members of the party have promoted.
The GOP could have cut its losses, the election, as the article said at the beginning, was not a rejection of the party as a whole. It was a rejection of Trump. But some found it in their political interest to back Trump, though some appear to be concerned for their families' safety. Whatever the reason, some members of the party have been able to voice out against Trump, acknowledge the results of the election and some have backed a second impeachment attempt. John Katko, Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, Fred Upton, Jaime Herrera Beutler, Dan Newhouse, Peter Meijer, Anthony Gonzalez, David Valadao and Tom Rice all voted to impeach in the House. There may still be political consequences for these 10 reps. to pay in primaries and their social media pages have been inundated by criticism from Trump supporters but they decided impeachment was the right thing to do, regardless of any consequences they might face. Other Republicans still condemned actions even though they did not vote for impeachment. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader until Harris begins her term at which point the role would go to Chuck Schumer, is, according to the New York Times, in favour of impeachment to allow the party to break away with Trump. McConnell has since said he will listen to the legal arguments at the Senate trial before deciding how to vote. The significant amount of GOP support for voter fraud claims has begun to cost them in terms of donor support and credibility. The party might have been in a stronger position if members had acknowledged the election results earlier.
For Trump too, he had nothing to gain. The COVID-19 vaccine is ready and he could have spent the time rolling that out and gone out on a positive note. A self-pardon, which may not be constitutionally possible, does not protect from prosecution from state attorneys which might still occur, but his actions will not change that. With the vaccine, he had the opportunity to go out on a positive note, or at least a more positive one. If he wanted to run again in 2024, this would surely be a better way to approach things? Like his party, he had nothing to gain, but still had a lot to lose. He had a chance to spend ten weeks or so improving the image he had after what even the most objective voice must acknowledge has been a deeply divisive and unpopular Presidency. In attempting to embolden less than 15% of the US, the GOP may have lost much of the rest of America, while Trump has made his chance of winning a second term in the future even smaller.