January 26, 2021

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Trump, in Georgia Before Tuesday’s Election, Can’t Let Go of the Last One

5 min read
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DALTON, Ga. — President Trump used a campaign rally on the eve of two critical Senate runoffs in Georgia to once again vent his debunked grievances about the outcome of November’s presidential election, as he continued his assault on the peaceful transfer of power.

In an appearance that was supposed to bolster the fortunes of the two Republican candidates — Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler — Mr. Trump instead turned the rally into a rambling lecture filled with conspiracy theories, rumors, unproven assertions and personal attacks on Democrats, the news media and Georgia’s Republican officials.

“There’s no way we lost Georgia,” Mr. Trump said just after taking the stage. “I’ve had two elections. I’ve won both of them. It’s amazing.”

Moments later, after briefly mentioning the two Republican senators, he shifted back to his own, losing election: “They’re not going to take this White House. We’re going to fight like hell, I’ll tell you right now.”

The performance, which he foreshadowed on Twitter earlier in the day, underscored the president’s attempts to find a way to reverse his loss to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., even at the risk of alienating Republican voters in Tuesday’s Senate contest, which observers in both parties expect to be close. If Democrats win both runoffs, they will take control of the Senate.

With Mr. Biden’s inauguration 16 days away, Mr. Trump and his allies have turned their attention to Wednesday’s joint session of Congress, where scores of Republicans in the House and Senate say they will object to Mr. Biden’s victory being certified in what is usually a largely ceremonial event. Their effort is certain to fail, given Democratic control of the House, and it has split the Republican Party.

“If you don’t show up, the radical Democrats will win,” he said to a large, cheering crowd at an airport hanger, with Marine One, the president’s helicopter, in the background.

But he quickly returned to complaining about his own political fate.

“Those of you that know how badly screwed we got, I want to be clear that we can’t let that happen again,” Mr. Trump said. “We can’t let that happen again. We’re going to come back, and I really believe we’re going to take what they did to us on Nov. 3. We’re going to take it back.”

The party’s top lawmakers, including Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, have rejected Mr. Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud and said it is time to accept Mr. Biden as the next president. Others in the party, including a dozen senators and Representative Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, have embraced at least the idea of challenging the certification.

Mr. Trump appears to have little patience for those who resist his call for overturning the election. In a tweet on Monday morning, he admonished Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, for saying that challenging the certification could only “erode further our system of constitutional government.”

In his tweet, the president suggested that Mr. Cotton — a staunch conservative and Trump supporter — should prepare to be challenged in a primary.

“How can you certify an election when the numbers being certified are verifiably WRONG,” Mr. Trump tweeted, adding: “@SenTomCotton Republicans have pluses & minuses, but one thing is sure, THEY NEVER FORGET!”

On Saturday, the president delivered vague threats of criminal prosecution to Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state, during a rambling telephone call. Mr. Trump pressured Mr. Raffensperger to “find” him enough votes to reverse the presidential contest in the state.

The conversation prompted calls by Democrats for Mr. Trump to be prosecuted for illegally trying to induce state officials to commit voter fraud. And it spurred outrage from officials in Mr. Raffensperger’s office, who accused the president of improperly trying to undo the results of a fair election.

Gabriel Sterling, a top election official in Georgia, delivered a scathing refutation on Monday of Mr. Trump’s false claims of voter fraud, running through a long list of debunked conspiracy theories and systematically debunking each one again.

It was like “Groundhog Day,” he said with evident frustration, adding of the fraud claims, “This is all easily, provably false, yet the president persists, and by doing so undermines Georgians’ faith in the election system.”

Mr. Sterling implored Georgians to vote in Tuesday’s runoff elections and not be deterred by disinformation.

“If you want your values reflected by your elected officials, I strongly beg and encourage you, go vote tomorrow,” he said. “Do not self-suppress your own vote. Don’t let anybody steal your vote that way.”

The president previewed his rally remarks on Twitter hours before his departure from Washington, saying that he would reveal at Monday night’s event “the real numbers” about the fraud that he claims happened during the Georgia presidential contest.

But on Saturday’s call, Georgia officials repeatedly corrected Mr. Trump when he cited inaccurate numbers. He claimed there were 5,000 dead people who voted in the Georgia election; officials told him there were only two. He claimed that 250,000 to 300,000 ballots were “dropped mysteriously into the rolls” in Fulton County; Mr. Raffensperger said that was simply not true.

During the rally, Mr. Trump spent some time delivering his usual campaign stump speech, warning baselessly that Democrats will adopt socialist policies, throw open the border, end private health insurance and wage a war on Christians.

“You’ve got to swarm it tomorrow,” he told his supporters, urging them to cast ballots for Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Perdue.

But he returned again and again to his own election, attacking Mr. Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, saying: “They say they are Republicans. I really don’t think so. They can’t be.” The president also vowed that he would “be here in a year and a half campaigning against your governor — I guarantee you that.”

In addition to using the Georgia rally to try to increase turnout among Republicans in Tuesday’s voting, Mr. Trump kept returning his focus to himself, even as his party is trying to save the Republican majority in the Senate.

Die-hard supporters of Mr. Trump, including thousands who believe he is the rightful winner of a 2020 election rife with voter fraud, packed a regional airport in northwestern Georgia for the president’s remarks.

The event was billed as a final rally for Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Perdue, but the crowd was there for Mr. Trump and Mr. Trump alone. Supporters said they backed his unfounded efforts to subvert the election results and his attempts to pressure the Georgia secretary of state into finding the necessary votes.

Tim Gilley, 65, who lives in Dalton, said he did not expect Mr. Perdue or Ms. Loeffler to win on Tuesday.

“Not without President Trump on the ballot,” Mr. Gilley said as he waited for the president to arrive from Washington. “We’re here for him and we support him.”

At the same time, another man tried to start a chant among the crowd: “Joe Biden is a communist agent,” he yelled.

Astead W. Herndon reported from Dalton, and Michael D. Shear from Washington. Maggie Astor contributed reporting from New York, and Rick Rojas from Atlanta.



Astead W. Herndon and Michael D. Shear


2021-01-04 22:02:54


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