The Republicans lost both races for one, and only one, reason: President Trump
The Democrats succeeded in turning the two senatorial runoff elections in Georgia into a referendum on President Trump rather than a vote on Democratic control of the Senate. And the president played completely into their hands.
As a consequence, the Democrats will control not just the presidency but both houses of Congress for at least the next two years. And that control will allow them to erase much of President Trump's legacy.
Two months ago, the chances of the Democrats pulling off that feat seemed roughly tantamount to a first-time golfer hitting a hole in one. In the first round, sitting senator David Perdue outpolled his Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff by 88,000 votes. In the other "jungle" primary, the total vote of the two top Republican candidates exceeded that of Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock. Moreover, Georgia is — or at least was — a red state. The last Democrat elected to the Senate was Zell Miller in 1998, and he ended up as a speaker at the Republican National Convention.
Democrat candidate Rev. Raphael Warnock has a long video record of radical statements delivered in the most hectoring tones possible from his pulpit in Atlanta's Ebenezer Church — harsh condemnations of America, the military, the police, capitalism, and Israel. In electing him, Georgia voters did not just choose someone who had sat in the pew during the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's jeremiads against America, but a version of Wright himself.
In the course of the campaign, Warnock also faced well-documented charges that he tried to cover up a child abuse investigation at a camp he ran, as well as police footage of him and his ex-wife in a heated domestic dispute. For his part, Ossoff ran as Warnock's Siamese twin, consistently defending him.
Admittedly, the Republican candidates were not world-beaters. Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed to her seat to fill a vacancy, was a particularly lackluster campaigner. And Perdue made the inexplicable decision of declining to debate Ossoff, allowing the latter to appear opposite an empty chair.
Nevertheless, Republicans captured more than 50 percent of the vote in congressional races and state contests last November. And there is no reason to think that Georgia voters were any more eager to hand over to Democrats the ability to enact their national legislative agenda than were voters around the country, who denied the Democrats the landslide predicted by pollsters. Republicans made substantial gains in the House of Representatives and in statehouses around the country in November. A majority of Americans may have wanted President Trump out, but they were perfectly content to see his successor reined in by congressional gridlock.
The Republicans lost both races for one, and only one, reason: President Trump. His insistence that he had been robbed in Georgia — a state with a Republican governor and a Republican secretary of state — put the Republican candidates in an untenable position. Trump demanded absolute fealty from Republican politicians to the point of refusing to acknowledge the reality that Joe Biden will be sworn in as president on January 20. Loeffler and Perdue were repeatedly asked whether they acknowledged Biden as president-elect, and each time they dutifully denied it. Had they done otherwise, Trump made clear that he would campaign against them, as he has promised to do against Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, both Republican.
By thus prevaricating, Loeffler and Perdue tried to ensure that Trump's most ardent fans would show up to vote. But every time they were backed into the corner — a daily occurrence — they lost more suburban voters. Further, Trump's insistence that the November vote had been rigged had the boomerang effect of causing enough of his followers to stay home to make a difference. Indeed, as Michael Barone, one of America's finest political analysts pointed out, the turnout was down in the most pro-Trump areas, the very ones in which he campaigned last weekend. And it did not help that the attorneys pressing Trump's claims in Georgia — Sydney Powell and Lin Wood — explicitly advised Trump supporters against voting.
Trump's coup de grace to Republican chances was his taped hour-long phone call with Secretary of State Raffensperger just three days before the election, in which he alternately cajoled, bullied, and ridiculed Raffensperger in a futile attempt to convince the secretary of state to somehow "find" sufficient votes from the November election to push the state into the Trump column.
Raffensperger was left to try to disabuse an obviously overwrought president of each of his factual predicates. Biden's description of the Republican senators as serving an obviously unhinged Trump rather than the people of Georgia resonated after that call became public.
Trump undercut the two Republican candidates in other ways as well. After Republicans and Democrats painstakingly worked out a COVID-relief package, he threatened to veto it, unless the checks to every American were increased from $600 to $2,000 — a trifling matter of an additional half a trillion dollars. The president was likely positioning himself to run as Santa Claus in 2024.
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saw an opening. House Democrats quickly passed a stand-alone bill for $2,000 checks to every citizen. When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to pass that bill without numerous other provisions, the two Democrats in Georgia had another potent argument: Elect us, and you get $2,000 for sure. Even though Loeffler and Perdue both supported the $2,000 relief checks, they could not make the promise as convincingly.
IRONICALLY, THE BIGGEST LOSER from the Georgia runoff was Trump himself. Many of his policy achievements will soon be toast. A Democratic Congress dooms Trump's capital gains tax cuts and will enable the swift reversal of his deregulation of the economy. Those were two of the major drivers of the Trump economy. Trump's mercantilism, which helped to bring back American industry and jobs, is also due for an early demise. So much for the economic growth under Trump, which his predecessor in office had pronounced no longer possible.
Not all of President Trump's achievements will be so soon erased, however. Israel's recent spate of peace agreements with Muslim and Arab countries will continue to serve the interests of both sides and to create a counterforce to a renewed American alliance with Iran.
EVEN GREATER than the president's damage to his policy achievements will be the stain to his long-term place in history following the attack of an enraged mob on the Capitol building after listening to a speech he gave. Not since followers of Andrew Jackson trashed the White House in 1828 has Washington, D.C., witnessed such an attack on the main institutions of the American government — and Jackson's followers came to celebrate, not to intimidate.
While Trump is not the bookish sort — he prefers the adoration of today's crowd to the verdict of the historian — even he must have been taken aback by the fierce reaction to Wednesday's events.
On Tuesday, prior to the Georgia results and a day before the mob violence that left five dead — including one member of the Capitol police force — John Hinderacker of Powerlingblog, who has pronounced Trump the best president since Reagan, had already published a blog post entitled, "Trump Has Gone Nuts." He was referring to a Trump tweet about the thousands pouring into D.C. who "won't stand for a landslide election to be stolen." And Rich Lowry, a leading conservative columnist, titled an op-ed on the president's talk with Georgia's secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, "Trump at His absolute Worst?" He would soon get his answer in the negative.
The reaction to the mob violence was fierce, and none of it was more fierce than that of conservatives. The Wall Street Journal and the New York Sun both called upon Trump to resign, with less than two weeks to go in his term. Cabinet secretaries Betsy Devos and Ellen Chao, the wife of the now Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, resigned, as did the president's former chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, from his ambassadorial position.
Not since Joseph Welch, a solid Republican lawyer from Boston, confronted Senator Joseph McCarthy at the Army-McCarthy hearings with the question, "At long last, have you left no sense of decency?" has the wind gone out of a public figure — much less a president — to such a degree. How ironic that Donald Trump's inordinate fear of being declared a loser led not to loss, but to infamy.