As tragic as the violence at the U.S. Capitol building last week was, the loss of the two Republican Senate seats in Georgia’s Jan. 5 runoff election is by far the more politically consequential event. What makes this twin loss so gut-wrenching for the GOP is that it could have easily been avoided, if during the eight weeks between the Nov. 3 national election and the January runoff President Trump had focused on the upcoming runoff instead of trying to overturn the results of the presidential election.
The immediate consequence of the losses suffered by Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler is to hand New York Democrat Chuck Schumer the keys to the senatorial kingdom. With an evenly divided Senate, this situation makes Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the de facto 101st senator and, at least for the next two years, one of the most powerful individuals in the U.S. government.
Unlike vice presidents before her, whose job description once was derided by FDR’s two-term vice president, John Nance Garner, as “not worth a pail of warm spit,” Harris will hold very real, significant power whenever called on by Schumer to break a tie in Democrats’ favor. In fact, simply the threat of exercising such a vote constitutes real power that can be – and will be — employed by Schumer as well as by President Biden to implement their agenda.
It did not have to turn out this way, as both Georgia Senate seats were very winnable. In order to have won them, however, the GOP and particularly President Trump needed to do one thing — turn out Republican and independent voters. That is all it would have taken; to simply keep reminding Georgia Republican and independent voters how important it was to not lose these two seats in order to maintain a system of checks and balances against a Democrat House and White House.
In fact, one poll indicated that voters wanted this outcome. The November 2020 Verified Voter Omnibus Election survey, conducted by Echelon Insights two weeks after the Nov. 3 election, found that almost two-thirds of respondents identified one-party control of the House, Senate and White House as their most serious concern. Nearly two-thirds! American voters clearly recognized what Trump did not, or simply refused to act on. The entire country now will pay a very heavy price for that tragic lapse.
Any mature and reasonably seasoned political observer would have urged (as many tried to do) that the immediate and clearly overriding goal in the aftermath of the November vote was to win those two runoffs in order to stem the toxic tide of a Democrat trifecta — House, Senate and presidency.
Trump’s inability to set aside his hurt pride after losing the Nov. 3 election essentially gave a massive and undeserved victory to the Democrats. Instead of focusing on the runoff election, Trump and his team of lawyers did precisely what they should not have done – they kept the attention in Georgia focused on November and on Trump, instead of on Perdue, Loeffler and January.
This behavior seriously undermined the GOP’s efforts to present and maintain a positive message, which would thereby have given Republican voters a reason to vote in January. Trump’s petulance led to this major defeat and threatens to undercut virtually every legislative and regulatory gain made during his four years in office (with the exception, thank goodness, of his federal judicial nominations which Majority Leader Mitch McConnell masterfully shepherded through the Senate for him). It also imperils such vital rights as those guaranteed by the Second Amendment, which had been protected for four years by the Trump administration.
At the state level too, Trump’s constant harping on problems surrounding the Nov. 3 election in the lead-up to the Jan. 5 runoff, will haunt the GOP moving forward – particularly in 2022, when Georgia’s gubernatorial election takes place. The president’s repeated insults directed at Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp these past two months will only strengthen the likely Democrat nominee, Stacey Abrams, who Kemp narrowly defeated two years ago.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s.