GOP Civil War Erupts in Georgia Senate Runoffs

Georgia Senate runoffs

Raphael Warnock, Jon Ossoff, David Perdue, and Kelly Loeffler

Photo by CNN Politics/ Twitter

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

The lie that Georgia's presidential election was rigged through voter fraud is a right-wing fantasy — but these baseless claims could have a very real impact on the upcoming Senate runoffs. And that has some members of the state's right-wing media apparatus panicking.

Groundless allegations of voter fraud in Georgia's presidential election have pitted members of right-wing media, and the Republican Party as a whole, against one another ahead of two crucial January runoffs that will determine control of the Senate.

Trump loyalists are clinging to a manufactured conspiracy theory that Georgia was stolen for President-elect Joe Biden, even though Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has rejected such claims and a statewide audit found no evidence of widespread fraud. In response, right-wing media figures have lashed out at both Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp, who certified the state's election results last Friday.

Some Trump supporters have taken their complaints one step further — suggesting that they may not support Republican candidates Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) and Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) in the upcoming runoffs given their dissatisfaction with the handling of nonexistent voter fraud.

That threat has spooked some members of the right-wing media ecosystem in Georgia. Yet while some are desperately trying to refocus audiences angry with anyone who does not fully endorse Trump's absurd fraud claims, other media figures are helping to feed the party infighting.

Conservative media figures are attacking Georgia officials and fueling manufactured grievances

One of Trump's most ardent supporters in the state is actually a radio host based out of Virginia who only recently moved his show to Georgia, ahead of January's runoffs. Host John Fredericks, in explaining his decision to move to the state, complained about the supposed lack of true Trump loyalists among the state's talk radio hosts and singled out one fellow host in particular.

On November 19, Fredericks claimed, "There's no radio shows. Erick Erickson in the afternoon — are you kidding me? Never Trumper extraordinaire. I'm sure he's backing Raffensperger."

Erickson is one of the most prominent talk radio hosts in the state, and he openly supported Trump's reelection effort despite Fredericks' claim that he is a Never Trumper.

Since moving his show to Georgia a few weeks ago and launching a partisan "news" site designed to appear like a local publication — ostensibly to support Loeffler and Perdue — Fredericks has repeatedly hosted MAGA firebrands like attorney Lin Wood who have attacked the state's elected officials.

During a lengthy interview on November 20, Wood accused Kemp and Raffensperger of corruption and suggested that unless Republicans stood by Trump's efforts to overturn the election, Trump voters would not turn out to support Loeffler and Perdue.

"I don't believe the people that went out and voted and believe in Donald Trump are going to show up for the runoffs. You are not going to fool Georgia voters but one time. So these people that think they're going to try to, on the Republican side, get a win in the runoff, they are not going to get it unless they undo the fraud in the general election regarding President Trump." Fredericks agreed, telling Wood, "You're right."

Steve Bannon, a close Fredericks ally, echoed the sentiment on November 23 during an appearance on The John Fredericks Show.

"Quite frankly, if Kemp and the secretary of state and the lieutenant governor don't turn this around, … if they don't put their shoulder to the wheel, they should all be recalled. You should start a recall petition and recall them. And hey, if Democrats win it, who cares? It's better than having the hypocrisy of these Republicans who just feed at the trough."

National conservative media figures have also suggested that disillusioned Trump voters perhaps have reason not to turn out in January.

After a distraught caller complained that the Republican Party had abandoned Trump, radio host Rush Limbaugh expressed sympathy for voters who were threatening to sit out the Senate runoffs.

"Yeah we want to win the two seats, yeah we want the Republicans to maintain control, but there's a lot of people out there right now who are ambivalent and wouldn't mind if the Republicans lost those two seats and sit around and watch the Democrats and the Republicans deal with the mess that they have made."

On Fox, multiple hosts have assailed Kemp and Raffensperger, feeding outrage among the Republican base.

Fox host Sean Hannity suggested that Gov. Kemp was "cowering in fear" because he had allowed the election results to stand. Host Brian Kilmeade claimed that Raffensperger was "off the reservation of logic." And Fox Business host Lou Dobbs accused Raffensperger of "playing with votes."

Other conservatives are sounding the alarm that voter fraud conspiracy theories could backfire in January

Meanwhile, conservative figures like Erickson have repeatedly denounced the fraud allegations and have warned of the danger they present to Republican turnout.

On November 17, Erickson referenced the Dominion voter fraud conspiracy theory, arguing, "When you've got these conspiracy-mongers out there saying they are going to release some Kraken, it's going to expose that Dominion Voter Services stole the election in Georgia, well how can it be when the paper ballot and the machines align almost perfectly? None of it makes sense. You can't let the victim mentality soak in or you are going to have Georgia taken by the Democrats in the Senate."

Those right-wing media personalities who do question the voter fraud conspiracy theories are often met with fierce backlash from their audiences.

Georgia radio host Scott Ryfun, after suggesting that there's no evidence supporting claims that that election results in the state would be overturned, fielded angry callers on November 19.

"As you know, I have taken a lot of heat, a lot of heat, for suggesting that the numbers are not going to change." Ryfun continued. "I am trying to keep you from being so totally dispirited, and disheartened, and just done that you don't participate in the Senate race. That you lose faith in the Senate race. We can't do that."

Beyond Georgia, national conservative media outlets are also working to try to placate an angry base and to chastise top Republicans for fueling the outrage.

In an opinion piece for The Washington Examiner, Zachary Faria wrote, "Republicans can't rely on organizing and fundraising to get voters out while simultaneously telling their voters that Georgia elections are rigged, especially in pursuit of an outcome that is never going to materialize." Writing in National Review, Isaac Schorr criticized Loeffler and Perdue's calls for Raffensperger's resignation and asked, "Is it really in the senators' interests to tell GOP voters that there is no guarantee their votes will be fully and fairly counted?"

After years of promoting the myth of widespread voter fraud in an effort to suppress Democratic votes, right-wing media are now reckoning with an unexpected impact — that these claims may limit turnout among their own supporters and are tearing the conservative movement apart.

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