“Trump is the cause of it, lock, warehouse and barrel,” said a Republican strategist. “But if you rely on someone to win you for a race in the Senate that also lost nationwide eight weeks earlier, you are not in a position of strength.”
The immediate accusation is a symbol of the intricate GOP dynamic that has emerged after Trump’s loss in the November election. Cracks form when Republicans decide whether it’s useful to hold on to Trump – even when he’s trying to undermine an election – or to distance himself. And if the Georgia races are signs, Republicans appear ready to turn Trump on if he can’t reliably vote for candidates in the months and years to come.
When asked why the Republicans didn’t get their way on Tuesday, a senior Republican Senate adviser simply said, “Donald J. Trump.”
The frustration comes from the days after the November 3rd election. While Republicans tried to sit back in Georgia and prepare for the two runoff elections, the president sparked civil war within his own party when he launched a campaign of divisions to overthrow the 2020 elections.
Over the next few weeks, the president continued to focus on reversing his personal results in Georgia and other states. Just last weekend he harassed Georgian Foreign Minister Brad Raffensperger for an hour by phone and asked him to find enough votes to take the state away from President-elect Joe Biden.
Even at a Monday rally to rally votes for Loeffler and Perdue, the president was obsessed with his own political grievances and wiped out lawmakers from his own party, including Georgia Republican Governor Brian Kemp.
The behavior made Republicans shake their heads Tuesday night, anger that it may have cost them two critical races.
They ticked off a variety of reasons why Trump was to blame and even offered conflicting theories. While some Republicans wished Trump had been more involved in the races, others argued that he should actually have pulled himself out of the situation.
“He’s the Dems’ best base animator,” said a GOP strategist who was involved in the Georgia races. “Look at how high the turnout was compared to historical trends. Check out how much their candidates have raised. He resigns after election day and denies them this oxygen. He didn’t do it. ”
The GOP blame game has expanded beyond Trump to include some of his party colyths. A party official suggested that RNC chairman Ronna McDaniel – Trump’s hand-picked party chairman – step down just a day before the Republican National Committee’s annual winter meeting in Amelia Island, Florida.
“I think the guilt will spread, but a party leader who loses a presidential election and loses the Senate majority should offer to resign out of honor, even if the committee does not accept it,” said the Republican official.
McDaniel spent the months leading up to the election supporting the president’s efforts to undermine the election while addressing concerns that his efforts might suppress the Republican vote in Georgia. In late November, McDaniel asked Republicans to vote in the runoff election after people repeated false claims in a campaign freeze McDaniel said the choice was “already decided”.
The far right corners of the party only added to the skepticism and confusion of voters. At one point, pro-Trump attorneys Lin Wood and Sidney Powell held a rally in Alpharetta, Georgia encouraging voters to boycott the runoff election unless Raffensperger changed the state’s electoral process.
“Why should you go back and vote on another rigged election?” Wood asked the cheering crowd.
“I encourage all Georgians to announce that you will not vote until your vote is certain,” said Powell, who advanced false conspiracy theories about the corruption of state voting machines by the dead Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.
The proposal prompted the President to pick up the phone and ask Wood to “stop”.
However, the damage may already have been done.
“It turns out the party leader spends two months actively delegitimizing elections and saying that votes don’t matter. Voters listen,” said a Republican who worked on the runoff elections. “There was a determining factor in Georgia, and anyone who says otherwise is likely to share substances with Lin Wood.”
Josh Holmes, former McConnell chief of staff and campaign manager, pointed out how badly Trump’s embassy had played in the Georgia suburbs.
“Suburbs, my friends, the suburbs” Holmes tweeted. “I feel like a one-trick pony, but here we are again. We went from jobs and business to QAnon electoral conspiracies in four short years and – it turns out – they listened! ”
Trump’s closest allies pointed directly back at McConnell, arguing that his decision to block the Trump-backed $ 2,000 covid stimulus checks doomed the Georgia candidates.
Behind the scenes, Georgia Republicans were also frustrated that Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son and one of the GOP’s most beloved deputies, left the state on the Sunday before the elections. Perdue personally asked Trump to reconsider, but Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) Stepped in instead.
In the end, Republicans were delighted with the emerging results in two Senate races that most believed would favor the GOP at the start.
“That shouldn’t be close. This shouldn’t be a conversation for us at this point, ”former RNC chairman Michael Steele said on MSNBC. “We should go for a beer right now because the evening would have been over. And the reality is, it’s not because this President did something to the Republican Party. ”
Sam Stein contributed to this report.