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The Georgia Senate Election: A Rejection of Trumpism and Misplaced Hope In the Democrats

The Democrats seem to have won both of the Senate races at stake in the Georgia run-off, giving them control of both houses of Congress. This election represents a rejection of Trump and his election-stealing antics, as well as hope that the Democrats will provide much-needed relief from the crisis.

Sybil Davis

January 6, 2021
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REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Thousands of days after it began, it seems as if the 2020 election has finally drawn to a close following the Georgia run-off to determine control of the U.S. Senate. In the most expensive Senate race in history, with spending totaling more than $800 million, Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff seem to have defeated their sitting Republican opponents, in large part due to increased turnout among Black voters. However, Ossoff’s race has not yet been declared and might be close enough to trigger a recount, which would put the Democrats’ hopes of taking the Senate up in the air for a few more days. On one hand, these elections demonstrate and exacerbate the crisis within the Republican Party. The results also demonstrate that thousands of people were turned off by Trump’s election-stealing antics and hope the Democrats will provide more material support during the pandemic. However, recent history has made clear that these hopes are misplaced — we’ll need to fight for change to occur. 

Georgia’s Senate races are unusual because if candidates don’t pass the 50 percent threshold in the November election, a run-off election is called. In Georgia, Republican Senator David Perdue came in first in his election, but he failed to reach 50 percent, while billionaire Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler fought off several challenges in what is known as a “jungle primary.” In a jungle primary, as many candidates as want to run in the primary can, regardless of party, with the top two finishers advancing to the run-off. Loeffler is one of the most right-wing members of Congress, and she is also particularly wealthy, racist, and hateful. She ran ads where she darkened Warnock’s skin and has also been accused of insider trading based on confidential knowledge of the pandemic.

It seems the Democrats will take this run-off election, despite racist and anti-Semitic attacks, as well as attacks attempting to paint them as crazed communists. Counter to what the Republicans said, both Democrats ran against popular policies such as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, attempting to capture every single voter uneasy with Donald Trump. Their win gives the Democrats the narrowest possible control of the U.S. Senate, which in turn sets the stage for the to Democrats have control of two branches of government for the first time since 2010. 

Warnock is a Black preacher in Georgia at  Martin Luther King, Jr.’s church. However, he is firmly on the side of the capitalist, imperialist establishment. After a sermon resurfaced in which he condemned Israeli murder of Palestinians, Warnock rebranded himself as a Zionist and accepted an endorsement from the Democratic Majority of Israel. He also published an op-ed supporting continued military aid to Israel. This is just one taste of what we are in for with Warnock in the Senate.

Ossoff is surely poised to be the new poster boy of the Democratic establishment. Young, good looking, and charismatic, Ossoff offers the Democrats something they sorely need: warmed-up neoliberalism packaged in millennial clothing. It would be no surprise to see Ossoff facing down Kamala Harris, Pete Buttiegig, and the rest of the Democratic usual suspects in the 2024 presidential primaries. For all his posturing as something new, Ossoff is in lockstep with the Democratic Party establishment, against Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and defunding the police. 

When writing the history of what happened in Georgia, the figure of Donald Trump must loom large. His increasingly erratic and criminal statements doubting the validity of the presidential election results seem to have hurt the Republicans in Georgia, as two incumbent Republican Senators are both losing seats in races akin to the ones they had come in first in only two months ago — in what used to be a deep red state. In addition, Trump put himself in a Catch-22 because it’s very hard to get people to turn out to vote if you tell them the election is rigged. In other words, Trump’s insistence that the November election was stolen probably dampened the much-needed turnout for the Republicans.

On top of that, many of Trump’s rants focused on Georgia and attacked its (largely Republican) state government. Trump even went so far as to say that he would campaign against Republican Governor Brian Kemp. This drove a wedge between Trump and the Georgia Republican Party. Evidence of this wedge can be seen in the much-discussed leaked tape of Trump actively pressuring Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” 11,000 votes that would give him the win in Georgia. The tape, presumably leaked to the Washington Post either byRaffensperger or some member of his team, clearly reveals a divide between the White House and the state’s Republican Party, as Raffensperger stands strong against Trump’s requests. What this shows is not that Raffensperger is some sort of upstanding moral actor, but rather that he (like Kemp) has made the calculation that standing with Trump will be more politically harmful than beneficial. In other words, some sectors of the Republican establishment are walking away from Trump.

At the same time, however, Trump continues to hold onto a strong base. Many people continue to believe that the election was stolen from Trump, and more extreme sectors of Trump’s base are currently mobilizing in Washington, D.C. to protest the certification of the election results today. This base was a major part of the reason both senate races in Georgia were so close; in addition, voters didn’t turn out in the numbers that Loeffler and Perdue needed them to, in part because Trump has spent weeks telling them that the election is rigged and that they can’t trust their local Republican leaders. 

The “civil war” in the Republican Party, as The Wall Street Journal has called it, put Republican candidates into a tricky situation of having to appeal to both the Trump base and establishment Republicans. For example, Kelly Loeffler, who invested in body bags and teleworking software after she receiving Senate briefings about about the impending Covid-19 pandemic, repeatedly said she was “100 percent” with Trump but then also refused to address the leaked tape. Loeffler has said that she will oppose the Electoral College certification, which means voting against the legitimacy of the same Georgia election that put her in the run-off. David Perdue, the other incumbent Republican senator in Georgia, also said he agrees with the objections to certifying the Electoral College, likewise wading into the waters of invalidating the very election that put in the run-off. 

It wasn’t just Trump who cost the Republicans this election. In the days leading up to the vote, Democratic President-Elect Joe Biden promised voters that they would get $2,000 checks if the Democrats won control of the Senate, after the Democrats were pushed by Trump’s last-minute threat to veto the recently passed stimulus bill. Whether this will happen certainly remains to be seen, but it does represent a key strategic maneuver by the Democrats: they ran against Mitch McConnell as much as they ran against Trump. In other words, they spoke to a very real anger that many working class people feel about the lack of support from the government and the Democrats — erasing their early resistance to $2,000 checks — effectively rebranded themselves as the party fighting to give the average person more money. This spoke to the real material concerns of Georgia voters more than either party had in the November election, and was surely a factor in giving Democrats the win.

Another factor in the Democratic victory was a superior ground game. Activists, led by Stacey Abrams and bankrolled by the Democratic Party and their allies in NGOs, have spent the last few years registering voters and creating an infrastructure the party was able to use to elect Warnock and Ossoff. In addition, these efforts helped provide voting access to huge numbers of Black voters who had been systematically disenfranchised by the state. These Black voters were responsible for tipping the state from red to blue.

These efforts provide a possible road map for the Democrats to employ in other red states that, like Georgia, are undergoing demographic shifts that might flip them blue. Indeed, that is another lesson of the Georgia run-off: that the path ahead for the Republican Party is steep because urban and suburban growth in places such as Atlanta have taken one of its “safe” states away from them. On top of this, Republicans are performing worse in the suburbs than they used to, and that is a real worry for the Republicans, especially as similar phenomena occur across the south in Texas, North Carolina, and other states. These states appears likely, at some point soon, to follow the example of Virginia, a formerly deeply red state that flipped blue. 

As the Republican Party heads into the political wilderness, it is facing a crisis from multiple sides. Trump and Trumpism is far from dead — his base continues to be very active within the party, and turned out in great enough numbers to give Trump a fighting chance in an election he by all estimates ought to have lost in a landslide. The Republicans need to find a way to keep this base, even as Trump wages a war against his own party.

Further, the demographic shifts and increased focus on getting communities of color to vote further complicate the Republican electoral map. As Mitch McConnell said on election night in November, they have lost the suburbs. If they can’t find a way to win back the suburban vote, they face harder and harder challenges each year.

It isn’t just the Republicans that are facing a crisis, however. The Democrats now have control of the government and voters are going to expect them to deliver on their promises. For the first time since the very beginning of the Obama era, the Democrats are finally out of excuses. They won’t be able to blame the Republicans for everything anymore, and they can’t tell us they would give the working class all sorts of concessions but just aren’t able to. The Biden administration will have to provide some level of concessions or run the risk of losing ground in the next election.

Realistically, it seems likely that the Democrats will use the fact that they have the narrowest possible margin of control (the Senate will besplit 50/50, with Kamala Harris acting as the tie-breaker to give Democrats control) to wriggle out of their promises. Similar to how they behaved in 2009, when the Democrats had a supermajority in the Senate but Obama and his allies told us that compromises had to be made, bipartisanship and compromise will suddenly become the highest ideals of governance. Once again, the working class and the oppressed will be offered the smallest crumbs possible and asked to settle for them. But 2021 is not 2009.

We are in the midst of not one but two crises that keep dragging on as the capitalists bungle the vaccine distribution. In addition, people have lived through 2009 and saw how Obama’s neoliberalism “resolved” that crisis. The Democrats want to usetheir same bag of tricks and fool workers into thinking that they are on our side, but we have all the evidence to know that they are not. They’re not going to give us free healthcare; they’re not going to give us meaningful pandemic relief; they’re not going to ensure that we have safe working conditions; they aren’t going to take even a fraction of the police budgets away. They aren’t going to do this not because they can’t but because they won’t. They won’t because they aren’t on our side. They aren’t on our side in 2021, they weren’t on our side in 2009, and they won’t be on our side in 2022 when they, once again, tell us that the midterm elections are the “most important election ever.”

The Democrats are merely the polite face of capital. They speak nice words, they say nice slogans, but only to buy hope and complacency. It’s happened after every election. It’s happened with every Democratic politician. We can’t let it happen again. Now is the time to get active and create a movement that is powerful enough to force the ruling class to give us what we need. We can’t trust our class enemies to give it to us. We must win it for ourselves. 

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Sybil Davis

Sybil is a trans activist, artist, and education worker in New York City.

United States

Image: Joshua Briz/AP

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