- President Donald Trump spent the critical months leading up to two of the most consequential Senate elections in a decade spreading far-fetched election conspiracies and attacking GOP election officials.
- Georgia's incumbent Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in turn pledged their loyalty to Trump and repeatedly supported his false narrative of voter and election fraud.
- On Tuesday, Georgia voters repaid that loyalty by giving Loeffler and Perdue the boot, as both lawmakers lost their hotly-contested races to Democratic challengers Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, respectively.
- The GOP performed exceptionally well down-ballot in November, and this month's Senate runoffs were a perfect demonstration of how the party paid the price for biting the hand that fed it by spreading disinformation about the election and sowing distrust in the system.
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In the months leading up to two of the most crucial Senate races in a decade, Democrats poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Georgia and mobilized a powerful grassroots organizing campaign in an unprecedented effort to get out the vote in the traditionally red state.
Republicans used that time to hitch their wagon to a man who's spent the last several weeks ranting about widespread voter fraud, secret ballot dumps, voting machines, and a global Democratic cabal engineering a fraudulent and rigged election process.
On Tuesday, Georgia voters repaid Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue for their loyalty to President Donald Trump and his false narrative by giving them the boot.
Shortly after 11 p.m. ET on Tuesday night, Loeffler was projected to lose her Senate race to Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock, who will be the first Black senator to represent the south.
And early Wednesday, Decision Desk HQ projected that Perdue had lost his race to his Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff, who at 33 years old will be the first millennial in the Senate.
The stakes were high for Republicans. This was the first time in modern history that control of the Senate hinged on two double-barrel swing-state runoffs. And with President-elect Joe Biden set to take office, senior Senate Republicans messaged the Georgia runoffs as the party's last hope of maintaining control of the upper chamber and functioning as a check on the Biden presidency.
Republicans spent precious time and resources waging war on each other
Trump, for his part, devoted far more energy to attacking fellow Republicans in Georgia, including Gov. Brian Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, than he did to promoting Loeffler and Perdue or deriding their Democratic opponents.
The president spent weeks ginning up conspiracy theories and spreading misinformation about everything from Georgia's signature matching procedures to its Dominion Voting Systems machines. He even falsely claimed that Raffensperger has a brother who works for the Chinese telecom giant Huawei (he does not).
Trump kicked off the New Year by tweeting that the Georgia runoffs were "illegal and invalid." The next day, he called Raffensperger and, during an extraordinary hour-long phone conversation, pleaded with the secretary of state to somehow "find 11,780" votes to overturn Georgia's presidential results, which have already been certified twice.
Trump continued the grievance-fest at an election-eve rally for Loeffler and Perdue on January 4, saying that he hoped Vice President Mike Pence would overturn the presidential election, which he does not have the power to do.
Meanwhile, at a "Stop the Steal" rally in the state last month, the Republican lawyer Lin Wood told a crowd of Trump supporters not to vote for Loeffler and Perdue.
"Don't you give it to them," he said. "Why would you go back and vote in another rigged election, for God's sake? Fix it! You've got to fix it!"
Sidney Powell, another Trump loyalist who's made headlines in recent weeks for a string of legal defeats, echoed the sentiment.
"I would encourage all Georgians to make it known that you will not vote at all until your vote is secure - and I mean that regardless of party," she said at the rally. "We can't live in a republic, a free republic, unless we know our votes are legal and secure."
One reporter joked that Wood's and Powell's comments "may be in-kind contributions for the Democrats in Georgia," and senior Republican lawmakers were quick to distance themselves from the two lawyers.
"I don't know who this clown is, but anyone saying America would be better off w/ Chuck Schumer as Majority Leader-producing huge tax increases, the Green New Deal, massive amnesty & a packed Supreme Court destroying the Bill of Rights-is trying to mislead the people of Georgia," Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas tweeted.
But fringe actors like Powell and Wood weren't the only ones who stirred up controversy for the GOP.
Earlier in December, Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, appeared to face a messaging crisis of her own making when, after weeks of throwing her support behind the president's claims, she struggled to persuade Georgia voters who believed the election was rigged to participate in the Senate runoffs.
When a Trump supporter echoed the president's baseless allegation that voting machines were tampered with and illegally switched votes from Trump to Biden, McDaniel responded, "We didn't see that in the audit ... That evidence we haven't seen, so we'll have to wait and see."
At another point, a voter asked why they should put in "more money and work" when the two races were "already decided."
"It's not decided," McDaniel said. "This is the key. It's not decided."
Republicans performed well in previous down-ballot races
Trump's efforts to portray himself as a fighter against a supposedly rigged election system fell short of firing up the GOP base ahead of Tuesday's runoffs. Hours after polls closed in Georgia, it became clear that Loeffler and Perdue were struggling to keep pace with booming turnout in predominately Democratic areas like the Atlanta metro.
Even with record-high turnout in the runoff - over 4.4 million votes and counting - it wasn't inevitable for Republicans to lose both seats and the Senate. While Georgia is trending blue, the state is far from being in the bag for Democrats and will likely remain a battleground for the foreseeable future.
Trump's attempts to overturn the election also obscured the fact that in November, Republicans running in down-ballot races performed exceptionally well with record-high voter turnout nationwide and record-high levels of mail and early voting.
Before the Georgia runoffs, Republicans only had a net loss of one Senate seat and the party won competitive races in states like Iowa, Maine, Montana, and North Carolina, where over 50% of the electorate voted early or by mail, according to the US Elections Project.
Republicans also picked up 11 seats in the House of Representatives and saw a net gain of 80 seats in state legislatures across the country.
It's unclear whether the GOP's brutal loss in Georgia's runoffs will affect the party's incentive to overturn election results, spread bad-faith misinformation and conspiracies, and attack election officials.
Either way, that reckoning won't come immediately. In a joint session of Congress to count Electoral College votes set to begin at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, dozens of Republican House lawmakers and at least 13 Republican senators (including Loeffler), plan to raise formal objections to the counting of presidential electors from at least three states that voted for Biden - including Georgia.