As tempting as it might be to fight court battles or pursue recounts over the 2020 presidential election, the Republican Party should focus its efforts down South to retain political clout in 2021. Two U.S. Senate runoff elections are slated to commence in Georgia on January 5, with control of the Senate hanging in the balance. If the Democratic candidates win both races, they will secure 50 seats for their side of the aisle in the U.S. Senate, giving them the partisan advantage if Kamala Harris is the vice president. Due to Democrats’ recent gains in Georgia, with rising liberal star Stacey Abrams running a tight gubernatorial race in 2018, the GOP must be prepared to pull out all the stops.
Whether or not you believe the presidential ballot count is rigged, Democrats are poised to do very well in a state that was once part of the conservative-friendly Solid South.
Polls in Georgia show Democratic candidates Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff within striking distance of their Republican rivals, and the Democratic Party is fired up. The GOP, reeling from Joe Biden’s popular vote gains in swing states, needs to realize that the presidential election is not the only game in town. Frankly, it is unlikely that even a flurry of successful lawsuits will overturn Biden’s ballot lead in Pennsylvania, which is the crown jewel of swing states with its twenty electoral votes. The likelihood of courts overturning mail-in ballot counts in multiple swing states is extremely slim.
During this tense period, it is in Donald Trump’s best interest to put his crowd-pleasing rallies to work in Georgia. In 2018, Trump’s last-minute rally for Ted Cruz helped the Republican incumbent, struggling against an unexpectedly strong foe in Texas’ Senate race, keep his seat in a narrow victory. The President’s unrivaled ability to fire up voters can pay big dividends in down-ballot races, and he can use it to secure allies within his party. With Trump likely having to cede the White House to former Democratic vice president Joe Biden on January 20, he should make an effort to send fellow Republicans a powerful reminder that he was, and will remain, the Campaigner-in-Chief.
Making appearances in Georgia will help Trump and the GOP craft a message that they are here to govern and lead, and are not simply reeling in the aftermath of November 3. Being able to secure victory for two Republican Senate candidates, facing unexpectedly popular Democratic rivals, will be a permanent feather in Trump’s cap. He can use this to his advantage if he decides to pursue the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, arguing that nobody else can help allies close in tight down-ballot races.
Getting other prominent Republican figures involved in campaigning in Georgia will also behoove the GOP, as it is important to build leadership capacity. While many conservatives are die-hard Trumpers, the Republican Party will have to field national contenders after the former media mogul retires. Putting U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK) or former South Carolina governor and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on the stump will help them hone their campaign skills for future presidential bids. The RNC will get to see which budding conservative stars have the chops to be presidential nominees.
Although it is tempting to focus all attention on recounts and the courts, the smart money is on investing in Georgia, where keeping two U.S. Senate seats will prevent the Democratic Party from having full control of the federal government. Divided government is an important check on the partisan whims of either party, and should be considered a feature of successful governance rather than a bug. Even if Donald Trump will not overturn Joe Biden’s lead in key swing states, he can use the next nine weeks to ensure his legacy by helping his party achieve victory in Georgia. This will cement his reputation, regardless of whatever else it may contain, as an unrivaled campaigner and populist figure. It would also give him the chance to either begin preparing for 2024, or see his fellow conservatives in action and decide which ones to consider as potential successors.
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