Editor’s Note: Frida Ghitis, (@fridaghitis) a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. She is a frequent opinion contributor to CNN, a contributing columnist to The Washington Post and a columnist for World Politics Review. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion on CNN.
President Donald Trump went down to Georgia on Saturday to pretend to care about democracy. Only hours earlier he had pressured the state’s governor, Brian Kemp, in a phone call, to ignore the democratic outcome of the presidential election and find a way to turn the state’s Electoral College vote in his favor, democracy be damned.
It’s not surprising, then, that his speech started with a lie – “We won Georgia” – followed by a relentless assault on the truth, in keeping with his destructive disinformation campaign against America and its democracy.
Crowd members holding up “Save America” signs, gathered side by side, most without face masks, even though Covid-19 cases are out of control. Like previous Trump campaign gatherings, this one is likely to result in more infections, more hospitalizations, and very likely, more deaths. But if that was on anyone’s mind in the crowd, it was quickly pushed aside.
The Saturday night event in South Georgia, officially an effort to drum up support for Republican senators in the January run-off elections, looked and sounded much like the campaign rallies that preceded the November election. The big difference is that the national election is over now, everywhere except in the minds of Trump’s most devoted backers, who are listening to the mind-boggling concoctions about a large scale international conspiracy, perhaps including North Korea and a long-dead Venezuelan president, to deprive Trump of a second term.
The conspiracy, to be real, would have had to enlist Attorney General Bill Barr, Republican governors and election officials across the country and a plan so complex that it denied victory to Trump while allowing Republicans to gain seats in the House and deprive Democrats of a majority in the Senate.
The Senate, as it happens, could still end up being controlled by Democrats, even if a true majority is out of reach. But that would require that Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock both win their races next month – coincidentally scheduled for the day before Congress formally counts the vote of the Electoral College – which would create a 50-50 tie in the Senate. With Biden as president, Vice President Kamala Harris would become the tie breaker, so Democrats would be in control of the agenda. Current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would no longer run the show.
That’s why Republicans desperately wanted Trump to focus his remarks on the Senate run-off. It was not to be.
Trump, not surprisingly, used the overwhelming majority of the speech to tout his accomplishments, promote unfounded claims that the election was stolen, and utter outlandish predictions about what Democrats will do once they run the country. “They want to go into a communistic form of government,” Trump absurdly remarked.
Ahead of his speech, the first since the election he lost by more than seven million votes, Republicans in Georgia and across the country were anxious about what exactly the President might say. The outcome of the runoff election will go a long way in determining how successful the Biden administration is in enacting its agenda at home and abroad.
Republicans feared that Trump would all but forget to urge voters to go to the polls, and double down on his campaign of intimidation against Republican officials in Georgia.
Their fears, as it turns out, were well founded. Trump did tell the crowd to vote for Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, but he also fulminated against Gov. Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, strongly suggesting that elections in Georgia cannot be trusted. “For whatever reason,” he mocked, “your secretary of state and your governor are afraid of Stacey Abrams.”
The spectacle of Trump disparaging Kemp is barely believable for anyone who has watched Kemp over the past few years desperately trying to ingratiate himself to Trump. The President has called him a “moron,” and on Saturday he told the cheering crowds, “Your governor should be ashamed of himself.”
It was a cringeworthy line for the Republican establishment, because it could be interpreted as supporting the argument of some of Trump’s most fervent backers in the state, people like attorney Lin Wood, who have been telling Republicans to boycott the “fraudulent election.”
Trump has sparked a Republican civil war in Georgia. In the face of death threats, Republican officials are pleading with him to cool the temperature. But Trump is shoveling more coal into the boiler, making demands that range from pointless to illegal.
The state has already conducted a full hand recount of the ballots, and the absentee ballots were already matched to the signatures – twice – before being tallied. Now Trump wants Kemp to call a special session of the legislature and push them to choose Electors who will ignore the popular vote and support him.
That demand is part of the most direct assault on the country’s democracy in its history. Even if he got his way, and Georgia’s 16 electoral votes, that would still leave him far from victory in an election he lost by more than seven million votes and a margin of 306 to 232 in the Electoral College.
Since the November election, Trump and his crack team of lawyers and backers have made ever more bizarre claims about what exactly led to his loss. More than 30 lawsuits have been thrown out of court by a variety of judges, including some named to the bench by Trump – and just this Saturday a federal appeals court threw out yet another lawsuit in Georgia.
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Trump suggested the Supreme Court could still pull victory out of the jaws of defeat for him.
The event probably boosted Trump’s spirits. Whether it helped the Republican cause is questionable. What is certain is that it was one more hammer blow in Trump’s ongoing battering of American democracy.