Like Ingmar Bergman’s God, Senators Perdue and Loeffler Have Gone Silent

The indispensable Steve Kornacki  has reappeared on the teevee, expatiating on the fact that, in the November election, Senator Perdue earned more votes than Donald Trump—and how that does not portend well for the Democrats’ chances in the January 5 runoff. There being, as Mr. Kornacki emphasizes, a small but important sliver of the population in the Atlanta metropolitan area who cannot stomach Dear Leader but who want divided government, not unified Democratic control of the executive and legislative branches. And, indeed, that is so. So, don’t hold your breath about the runoff election.

Nevertheless, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution calls our attention to something that is passing strange:

Catching up with U.S. Sen. David Perdue is no small feat lately. Although the senator is on what he describes as a 125-town statewide bus tour, for all but the largest events with other Republicans, his campaign alerts only GOP supporters and a few local media outlets in advance. The general public and most reporters learn about them through Perdue’s Twitter feed later.

Amanda Carpenter elucidates this mystery. In Georgia Is a Quiet Place for Republicans: They don’t dare speak the truth because they’re afraid of their voters, Ms. Carpenter lays it out:

David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler didn’t plan on orienting their Georgia run-off campaigns around a lame-duck president’s crackpot election conspiracies and cuckoo coup attempts. Yet, here they are, both desperately trying to signal to Republican voters that they’ll fight for Trump all the way to the bitter end. Even with their well-funded and heavily-staffed campaign arsenals, these two incumbent senators believe that this is the only way they can keep their seats.

It’s the perfect distillation of the dead-end conundrum of Trumpism:

Republicans know that they can’t win without the kooks.

Republicans also know that they definitely might lose with them.

And this dissonance has left the GOP too paralyzed to think of any other way forward.

Think about this: Trump just lost Georgia. But, if the incumbent senators running for re-election in Georgia acknowledge that reality, it would constitute instant grounds for rejection from their base.

Accordingly, the Peach State has become the quiet place for GOP realists: Utter one negative word—or even a positive word that laments his loss—and suddenly dark forces will appear out of thin air to hunt you down.

“Someone’s going to get hurt, someone’s going to get shot, someone’s going to get killed,” Georgia election official Gabriel Sterling warned during a press conference where he specified the threats being posed to fellow Georgians who supported the electoral system. Lest anyone thinks this is a one-off occurrence, look to Pennsylvania, where elected Republicans were pressured to sign a letter supporting Trump’s baseless election claims. “If I would say to you, ‘I don’t want to do it,’” Kim Ward, the GOP leader of the Pennsylvania Senate, said, “I’d get my house bombed tonight.” Not to mention the numerous other occurrences of election officials being staked out and threatened in their homes and offices.

It’s like a horror movie. But in real life.

To hear Republican campaign experts tell it, Loeffler and Perdue had no choice but to support Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s absurd lawsuit to cancel votes in their own state. And they simply had to ask Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to resign; nevermind there wasn’t any evidence of wrongdoing. GOP voters in Georgia wanted shows of fealty to Trump and standing with Republican Governor Brian Kemp to say something like We love Donald Trump; it’s a damn shame he lost; and we hope he runs in 2024 would have been taken as heresy by their supporters.

Whether you agree or not with this analysis, it’s how Loeffler and Perdue see the environment. And once political actors believe that their political future depends on supporting the overthrow of a free and fair election, it’s hard to see how they climb back down. Because now they’ve laid down a marker with their supporters and legitimized the idea that the official party line should be pro-authoritarianism.

Still, Trump’s base wants more from Perdue and Loeffler. They want more than co-signed letters expressing support for overthrowing an election. They expect them to actually do something about it.

Like the song says,