McConnell shrugs as Georgia Republicans excoriate Trump and Washington over bogus election claims

Jon Ward
·Senior Political Correspondent
·5-min read

As Republicans in Georgia pleaded Tuesday with President Trump to stop making baseless claims about the election being stolen from him, GOP leaders in Washington remained silent about the avalanche of lies, conspiracy theories and open threats of violence made by the president’s allies.

“The future will take care of itself,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell when asked why he had not condemned Trump’s unproven claims. “The Electoral College is going to meet December 14th, there will be an inauguration January 20th.”

But in Georgia, an official in the office of Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger delivered a passionate rebuke of Trump and those in the GOP who have stood by and said nothing as the president has misled millions of Americans about the election, sparking death threats against Raffensperger and his family, as well as against rank-and-file election workers.

“Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or this language,” Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s voting system implementation manager, said. “Senators, you have not condemned this language or these actions. This has to stop. We need you to step up, and if you’re going to take a position of leadership, show some.”

Elections, Sterling said, are “the backbone of democracy, and all of you who have not said a damn word are complicit in this.” His voice rising and cracking with emotion, he added: “I can’t begin to explain the level of anger I have right now over this. And every American, every Georgian, Republican and Democrat alike, should have that same level of anger.”

In fact, Trump labeled Raffensperger an “enemy of the people” in remarks on Thanksgiving Day simply because he has not bowed to Trump’s demands that the Georgia election results be thrown out so that he can be declared the winner in the state. That phrase, “enemy of the people,” has a long and bloody history, having been used by dictators and totalitarian regimes in Russia and China to dehumanize groups of people who were then slaughtered.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to reporters after the Senate Republican Policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on December 1, 2020. (Photo by Tom Williams / POOL / AFP) (Photo by TOM WILLIAMS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Sterling referenced comments by Joe diGenova, an attorney working on the Trump campaign’s effort to overturn the election results, who said that the fired federal cybersecurity official who concluded that the election had been free of foreign interference should be “drawn and quartered, taken out at dawn and shot.”

“Somebody’s going to get hurt, somebody’s going to get shot, somebody’s going to get killed. And it’s not right,” Sterling said.

But with a few exceptions, most Republican lawmakers in Congress have kept their heads down out of deference to Trump. McConnell, who usually shields most Republican senators from tough comments and votes, has led the way on avoiding the problem of speaking out against the president’s wild claims by simply stating that the process is moving forward.

Senate majority leader since 2015, McConnell could lose his position of power if Republicans lose the two special runoff elections in Georgia to be held on Jan. 5. If Democrats win both races, they will control the Senate.

To avoid that outcome, McConnell needs Trump to try to turn out his supporters in Georgia. The president is scheduled to campaign in the state on Saturday on behalf of Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, which helps explain why McConnell has not rebuked the president for his incendiary post-election rhetoric and unfounded claims.

Ronald Brownstein, a senior analyst for CNN, compared McConnell and the modern GOP to the Republicans of the 1950s, who knew that Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-Wis., was a demagogic fraud, but “concluded that McCarthyism was a political winner for the party.”

There are concerns in the party, however, that Trump’s attacks on Georgia Republicans, including Gov. Brian Kemp, might discourage many Republican voters from going to the polls on Jan. 5.

STERLING, VIRGINIA - NOVEMBER 27: US President Donald Trump walks to Marine One at Trump National Golf Club on November 27, 2020 in Sterling, Virginia. President Trump heads to Camp David for the weekend after playing golf. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images) (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
President Trump walks to Marine One at Trump National Golf Club on Friday in Sterling, Va. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

“You can only tell people elections are rigged for so long before they start believing it and stop participating. How big the impact is the open question,” Brendan Buck, who worked for both House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told Yahoo News.

But another Republican source close to McConnell said that “we’re not seeing any reduction of interest in voting in the runoffs among our voters” and that “interest is high on both sides right now.”

Some Republicans are voicing concerns that McConnell’s silence could have more immediate consequences.

In his remarks on Tuesday, Sterling also detailed how an election worker employed by Dominion Voting Systems had been targeted in social media posts that accused him of treason and included an image of a noose.

Then there are the long-term impacts on American elections. In effect, Trump and McConnell may be setting a new precedent in which a candidate who doesn’t like the result can simply refuse to concede, file specious and baseless lawsuits, and foment anger among their supporters about a stolen election without presenting evidence compelling enough to convince a judge it has merit.

If that becomes the norm, the GOP risks mutating into a party of conspiracy theorists that will never accept the results of any election its candidates lose.

But while McConnell and most congressional Republicans avoided such questions on Tuesday, Attorney General William Barr spoke up publicly for the first time in weeks. The nation’s top law enforcement official, who has been accused of politicizing the Justice Department by many Democrats, swatted down the notion that the election was rigged.

“To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election,” Barr told the Associated Press in an interview. “There’s been one assertion that would be systemic fraud and that would be the claim that machines were programmed essentially to skew the election results. And the DHS and DOJ have looked into that, and so far, we haven’t seen anything to substantiate that.”

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