As the president pursues his own agenda, the fallout could have longstanding repercussions in a state where Republicans have dominated for years.

The election on Tuesday in Georgia won’t just determine the fate of the two Republican-held Senate seats there and the balance of control on Capitol Hill. It will also reveal the extent to which President Trump has disrupted and damaged his own party.

For the last several weeks, Mr. Trump has instigated and intensified a battle royal within the Georgia Republican universe as he has sought to overturn his loss there and pin blame on the state’s G.O.P. leaders for not helping him.

In response, the state’s Republicans have turned on one another, taking sides for or against Mr. Trump as he continues in his obstinate — some say unlawful — effort to overturn the election results in Georgia, where he lost by nearly 12,000 votes.

The outcome of these Senate elections will show, on one level, how Republican voters have reacted to Mr. Trump’s quest to upend what he has falsely called a “rigged” election.

If Republicans do not ultimately turn out in large numbers, the blame will fall at least partly on Mr. Trump for his efforts to raise doubts about the fairness of the state’s election process.

The extent to which Mr. Trump is willing to go in that effort became fully apparent on Saturday, when he phoned Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state and a Republican, urging him to “find” votes and recalculate the results of the state’s presidential contest in his favor, ignoring the official finding, already certified by the governor, that he was the loser.

It was the culmination of efforts to overturn the election that began nearly two months ago. The Trump campaign and its surrogates have filed multiple lawsuits challenging election results in Georgia; demanded recounts and Mr. Raffensperger’s resignation; combed obituaries to find supposed “dead people” who voted; asked that the legislature decertify the state’s Electoral College vote; and pressed for hearings, where Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, repeated unfounded claims of fraud.

At every turn, Mr. Raffensperger and other Georgia election officials have debunked the conspiracy theories about voter fraud pushed by the president and his allies.

The short-term impact of Mr. Trump’s pressure campaign will become evident as the votes are counted in the runoff elections pitting David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, the two Republicans fighting to keep their Senate seats, against two Democrats, Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock.

For Republicans in the state, the concern all along has been that Mr. Trump’s effort to undermine the election process will depress turnout in the runoff, partly because he has stoked beliefs that the system itself is rigged and cannot be trusted.

Charles S. Bullock III, a professor of political science at the University of Georgia, said Mr. Trump’s phone call Saturday could also turn some of the president’s former supporters against the Republican candidates.

“They may say, ‘This has gone too far. I can’t vote against Trump, but I can vote against his surrogates,’” Mr. Bullock said in an interview Monday.

Mr. Trump’s efforts to litigate, cajole and threaten his way to a Georgia victory began within days of the Nov. 3 election. He was leading as the early returns came in. But as absentee ballots were counted in the days that followed, his margin narrowed, and it became apparent that former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. would take Georgia and its 16 electoral votes.

On Nov. 9, Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Perdue — who have trumpeted their loyalty to the president — took the unusual step of demanding Mr. Raffensperger’s resignation, calling the election an embarrassment and leveling unfounded claims that his office oversaw a faulty process.

A civil engineer and former state lawmaker, Mr. Raffensperger was elected in 2018 after receiving a glowing endorsement from Mr. Trump. Appearing eager to assuage the president’s concerns, Mr. Raffensperger agreed to conduct an unusual statewide hand recount of the election, one that cost counties hundreds of thousands of dollars. It reaffirmed Mr. Biden’s victory. So did a subsequent machine recount.

As Mr. Trump’s campaign and its supporters filed lawsuits in various Georgia jurisdictions, Mr. Trump escalated attacks against another stalwart Republican, Gov. Brian Kemp.

By early December, Mr. Kemp, along with Geoff Duncan, the Georgia lieutenant governor who is also a Republican, had issued a joint statement refusing requests by Mr. Trump’s supporters to call a special session of the Georgia legislature to overturn Mr. Biden’s victory.

“Doing this in order to select a separate slate of presidential electors is not an option that is allowed under state or federal law,” the statement said.

The Georgia legislature was not expected to reconvene until Jan. 11, well after the Electoral College certified Mr. Biden’s victory in Georgia. The state’s top officials, including David Ralston, the Republican speaker of the House, held firm to that date, drawing a bright line beyond which they would not go to mollify Mr. Trump.

“I would remind people if we overturn this one, there could be one overturned on us someday,” Mr. Ralston told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We just have to be very careful about how we act out our frustrations and concerns and understand that these things can happen again someday.”

A recount, even though it was costly, was one thing. Overturning a valid election was another. Voicing his displeasure, Mr. Trump said he was ashamed to have endorsed Mr. Kemp in 2018.

Mr. Raffensperger, a lifelong Republican, hinted Monday that the bickering might result in the end of nearly two decades of Republican dominance in statewide politics.

“The issues that Mr. Trump has been raising — about all his contentions that he didn’t have a fair vote here — that has been a major distraction for the two senators to run their race,” Mr. Raffensperger told Fox News. “In fact, he’s, in effect, suppressing the Republican turnout.”

Bill Crane, a Georgia political operative and commentator, said the president’s tactics, as well as the work of activists in the state who have claimed the November election was rigged, were tamping down Republican turnout in the runoff elections. “Georgia is still conflicted about whether we should vote at all,” Mr. Crane said.

Fringe efforts by Trump allies may have helped dissuade some Republicans from voting for Mr. Perdue and Ms. Loeffler. A Twitter campaign urging Georgia voters to “write in” the names of Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, which is not an option on the runoff ballot, appears to be an outgrowth of Mr. Trump’s concerns. And L. Lin Wood, a conservative Georgia lawyer and Trump ally, has said he will not vote in “another fraudulent election.”

Data from early voting showed that the turnout in the runoff election was depressed in heavily Republican areas of the state, though analysts say that Republicans tend to favor voting on election day while Democrats are more likely to cast their ballots early.

Mr. Crane has called Mr. Trump’s crusade a “fantasy football league drive” — one in which Mr. Trump is pursuing his own agenda, not the party’s.

To what end is not exactly clear. But on Monday, during an appearance at a rally in Dalton, Ga., on behalf of his devoted supporters, Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Perdue, Mr. Trump vowed to make a return trip to campaign against Mr. Raffensperger and Mr. Kemp.

“They say they are Republicans,” Mr. Trump said. “I really don’t think so. They can’t be.”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/05/us/politics/trump-georgia-race.html

News – How Trump’s Fraud Claims Could Hurt the Georgia Republican Candidates