WASHINGTON – Faced with possible Republican loss of the Senate, President Donald Trump spent more time at a campaign rally Saturday ranting about his election loss and ripping Georgia Republican leaders who refused his demands to subvert the results in the Peach State.
Trump did promote incumbent Georgia Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler – whose Jan. 5 re-election bids will decide control of the Senate – but framed most of the rally around his own legacy and false allegations about the election.
The 100-minute rally came just hours after he re-inserted himself into Georgia politics by again trying – and again failing – to reverse his loss in the state by pressuring the Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and the state legislature.
Kemp rejected Trump's request to call a special legislative session to approve the appointment of a pro-Trump slate to the Electoral College, earning repeated rebukes from Trump during an airport rally in Valdosta, Ga., that lasted 100 minutes.
"We just need somebody with courage to do what they have to do," said Trump, who has pressured legislators in several Biden states to push for pro-Trump electors, despite the fact that state officials lack the legal authority to do that in defiance of their states' voters.
While Trump falsely claimed he really "won" the presidential election, he tacitly admitted at times that Biden will become president and Kamala Harris will become vice president on Jan. 20.
At one point, he described Perdue and Loeffler as the "last line of defense" for the Republican Senate, but Democrats can only take control when Biden and Harris take office.
Trump, who has discussed another presidential campaign in 2024 with his aides, joked in Valdosta that doesn't want to run in four years because "we're gonna win back the White House" in the next several weeks.
Throughout his speech, Trump lodged fact-free protests about balloting procedures in swing states like Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona, Nevada, and Wisconsin. He repeated allegations of fraud that have been rejected and debunked by judges and election officials from both political parties.
Planners scheduled the rally ostensibly on behalf of Perdue and Loeffler, the two Georgia Republican senators who face tough re-election battles to determine control of the U.S. Senate. Both candidates have been burdened by Trump's unprecedented attempts to flip the results of the presidential election in Georgia and elsewhere.
Trump's complaints about his loss to Biden in Georgia – and his attacks on the state's Republican leaders like Kemp – threaten to reduce turnout for Perdue and Loeffler, making them vulnerable to Democratic opponents Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.
If the Democrats win both Jan. 5 run-offs in Georgia, the Senate will be tied 50-50 between the parties. But the Democrats will have control because Harris will be the tie-breaker in the vice president's role as president of the Senate.
"Donald Trump is the major driving force of voter turn out in Georgia," said pollster Frank Luntz. "If Republicans win, they should thank him. If Republicans lose, they can blame him."
None of the Georgia Senate candidates received more than 50% of the vote in last month's election, requiring state-mandated run-offs.
Trump acknowledged concern about turnout, telling supporters in Valdosta that "you have to get out and you have to vote." Trump praised Perdue and Loeffler, and described their runoffs as perhaps the most important Senate races in history.
The two senators spoke briefly at the Valdosta rally, returning Trump's praise.
Political scientist Susan A. MacManus, professor emerita at the University of South Florida, said Trump's "message of having to vote has managed to get through much louder than some had expected, even as he continued to attack the fairness of the vote in Georgia and elsewhere. Some had feared it would all be about his plight."
Kemp did not attend the rally, which took place hours after Trump phoned the Georgia governor to pressure him into calling the legislature into session.
In a tweet, Kemp did say he agreed with Trump's call for a "signature audit" of Biden's win, but he does not have the power to order one in a race that he and other state officials have already certified.
Replying by tweet, Trump told the governor: "Your people are refusing to do what you ask. What are they hiding?"
Trump also confirmed his request for electoral vote legislation by tweeting at Kemp: "At least immediately ask for a Special Session of the Legislature. That you can easily, and immediately, do."
The governor did not comment on Trump's request to have the GOP legislature approve Trump electors, as reported by The Washington Post and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The Georgia legislature lacks the constitutional authority to submit its own slate of electors in any case; Biden is entitled to the state's 16 electoral votes because of his popular vote victory. Those votes also would not change the election overall, as Biden won 306 electoral voters nationwide.
Aboard Air Force One en route to Georgia, Trump issued a pair of tweets attacking Kemp and another Republican governor, Doug Ducey of Arizona.
"If they were with us, we would have already won both Arizona and Georgia," Trump claimed, although a variety of officials said Biden carried both states in free and fair elections.
Trump added: "Republicans will NEVER forget this."
The Valdosta trip also presented a rhetorical challenge for Trump: Arguing that the two Senate races are essential to control of the Senate, without admitting, publicly, that Biden and Harris will take office on Jan. 20, something he has refused to concede since Election Day last month.
Trump periodically came close to admitting he will leave office next month. At one point, he talked about "what we would have done in the next four years" with respect to China and Iran.
For weeks, Trump has attacked Kemp and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, both of whom signed off on certification on voting results that showed a Biden victory. Raffensperger and other Republicans said they have received death threats in the wake of Trump's attacks, and urged the president to stop them before someone gets hurt.
Trump's criticisms appear to be hurting the governor's standing. According to the Morning Consult Political Intelligence’s daily tracking poll, the governor's approval rating among Georgia Republicans has dropped from 86% to 77% since Election Day on Nov. 3.
Morning Consult also said "perceptions of Sens. Loeffler and Perdue have been largely immune from the disarray" over Trump's criticism of the Georgia electoral process.
Meanwhile, some allies of Trump, including attorneys Sidney Powell and Lin Wood, urged Republicans not to vote in the runoffs as a protest against the presidential balloting.
Democrats in Georgia said their turnout machine produced Biden's victory by some 12,000 votes, and will deliver Ossoff and Warnock to the U.S. Senate. "We make history one month from today," the Georgia Democratic Party tweeted in the hours before Trump's visit.
Trump's refusal to concede to Biden has created other problems for Perdue and Loeffler as they seek reelection. They have backed Trump's protests and, like most Republican lawmakers, refused to recognize Biden as president-elect – and are therefore unable to argue that their elections are essential to Republican control of the Senate.
"President Trump won't let them make their best argument," GOP pollster Whit Ayres said. "He puts them in a bind."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump vows to 'win back White House' at Georgia Loeffler, Perdue rally