Donald Trump’s attacks on Republican officials in Georgia and insistence his defeat by Joe Biden must be overturned are disgusting, the Republican lieutenant governor of the southern state said on Sunday.
“It’s not American,” Geoff Duncan told CNN’s State of the Union. “It’s not what democracy is all about. But it’s reality right now.”
The president staged a rally in Valdosta, Georgia on Saturday night. He began his speech, which lasted more than 90 minutes, by falsely claiming he won the state, which in fact he lost by around 12,000 votes in a result certified by Republican secretary of state Brad Raffensperger more than two weeks ago.
“They cheated and they rigged our presidential election, but we will still win it,” Trump falsely insisted. “And they’re going to try and rig this [Senate] election too.”
Two Georgia Republicans face 5 January runoffs which will decide control of the Senate. On Sunday evening, Kelly Loeffler will debate Rev Raphael Warnock, her Democratic challenger. Amid controversy over stock trades made by both Republicans during the Covid-19 pandemic, David Perdue has declined to debate his challenger, Jon Ossoff.
In Valdosta, the president invited Perdue and Loeffler on to the stage. Neither reiterated his baseless claims about election fraud, Perdue coming closest by saying: “We’re going to fight and win those seats and make sure you get a fair and square deal in Georgia.”
As Perdue spoke, the crowd chanted: “Fight for Trump!”
Some suggest Trump’s assault on the presidential election could depress Republican turnout.
“I think the rally last night was kind of a two-part message,” Duncan told CNN. “The first part was very encouraging to listen to the president champion the conservative strategies of Senators Loeffler and Perdue, and the importance of them being re-elected.
“The second message was concerning to me. I worry that … fanning the flames around misinformation puts us in a negative position with regards to the 5 January runoff. The mountains of misinformation are not helping the process. They’re only hurting it.”
CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Duncan: “At a certain point, does this disgust you?”
“Oh, absolutely it disgusts me,” Duncan said.
In Valdosta, Trump read from a prepared list of nonsensical evidence he said highlighted his victory. This included arguing that by winning Ohio and Florida he had in fact won the entire election, and also that winning an uncontested Republican primary was proof he beat Biden in November.
Trump lost the electoral college 306-232 and trails in the popular vote by more than 7m. His campaign has launched legal challenges in various states. The majority have been rejected or dropped. The campaign filed a new lawsuit in Georgia on Friday.
Trump vented fury at Republican governor Brian Kemp, a one-time ally who he called from the White House on Saturday to demand the Georgia result be overturned.
“Your governor could stop it very easily if he knew what the hell he was doing,” Trump told supporters, adding: “For whatever reason your secretary of state and your governor are afraid of Stacey Abrams.”
Abrams, a staunch voting rights advocate who Kemp beat for governor in 2018, helped drive turnout and secure the state for Biden, the first Democrat to win it since 1992.
On Sunday, Duncan was asked if Kemp would do as Trump asks, and call a special session of the state general assembly to appoint its own electors for Trump, a demand one critic called “shockingly undemocratic”.
“I absolutely believe that to be the case that the governor is not going to call us into a special session,” Duncan said.
In an angry intervention earlier this week, Georgia elections official Gabriel Sterling said of Trump’s attacks on Kemp, Raffensperger and other Republicans: “Someone’s gonna get hurt, someone’s gonna get shot. Someone’s gonna get killed. And it’s not right. It has all gone too far.”
Duncan said “we’ve all all of us … got increased security around us and our families [but] we’re going to continue to do our jobs. Governor Kemp, Brad Raffensperger and myself, all three voted and campaigned for the president, but unfortunately he didn’t win the state of Georgia.”
Duncan sidestepped a question about the wisdom of holding a rally where many attendees did not wear masks, as coronavirus cases surge. But he did call Biden’s request that Americans to wear masks for 100 days “absolutely a great step in the right direction”.
On Saturday, the Washington Post found only 27 of 249 congressional Republicans were willing to acknowledge Biden’s victory. Duncan did so.
“On 20 January Joe Biden’s going to be sworn in as the 46th president and the constitution is still in place,” Duncan said. “This is still America … as the lieutenant governor and as a Georgian I’m proud that we’re able to look up after three recounts and be able to see that this election was fair.”
Raffensperger told ABC’s This Week: “We don’t see anything that would overturn the will of the people here in Georgia.”
It was “sad, but true”, he added, that Trump had lost.
“I wish he would have won. I’m a conservative Republican and I’m disappointed but those are the results.”
In Valdosta, Trump did seem at points to recognise the end is near. With reference to policy on Iran and China, he described “what we would have done in the next four years”. He also said that if he thought he had lost the election, he would be “a very gracious loser”.
“I’d go to Florida,” he said. “I’d take it easy.”