President Donald Trump has complained in the past week that Melania wasn’t featured on the cover of Vogue magazine and that the renovations of his private quarters at Mar-a-Lago weren’t to his taste. He has also been ramping up efforts to increase the water supplied to flush toilets, dishwashers and showerheads, one of the central causes of his administration that he repeatedly referenced during the 2020 campaign. But perhaps his most improbable and significant moves have come in the political realm, where he has been undermining the Republican party as it battles to win two Senate seats in Georgia. He has, in effect, been behaving as though he were a secret Democratic campaign operative. So outlandish have his actions been that they surpass any dirty tricks that the Democratic party could ever have envisioned.
In fixating on his personal political fortunes, Trump has tossed a series of verbal flash grenades into the Georgia race that are benefitting Democrats. The result may be to hand the Senate to the Democrats. The GOP currently enjoys a 50-48 vote advantage. Losing two seats would mean that vice-president Kamala Harris would be the tiebreaker, allowing Democrats to control the Senate committees and to set the agenda. For Joe Biden it would be a further ratification of his victory in November.
Ever since he lost to Biden this past November, by the same margin that he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 which he deemed a “landslide,” Trump has been bellyaching about the results and casting doubt on the fairness of the Georgia electoral system, which has endured recount after recount only to arrive at the same tally. Trump’s incessant and tedious fulgurations may well have the effect of suppressing the vote on behalf of GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, both of whom face tough races again Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. Each has raised over $100 million for their campaigns. But Trump has put Leoffler and Perdue in the position of trying to back him on increasing the coronavirus relief checks to $2000 while Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell says no way. This has the effect of highlighting for working-class voters that the GOP is at bottom opposed to any further stimulus for a faltering economy.
At the same time, Trump has also been busily denouncing Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, a former acolyte of Trump’s, as a traitor. On Thursday, Trump tweeted: “@BrianKempGA, his puppet Lt. Governor @GeoffDuncanGA, and Secretary of State, are disasters for Georgia. Won’t let professionals get anywhere near Fulton County for signature verifications, or anything else. They are virtually controlled by @staceyabrams & the Democrats. Fools!” The more Trump tweets, the more he sabotages the GOP.
The problem for Republicans is that right now Democrats appear to be leading in early voting. A new poll has Ossoff ahead of Perdue by seven points and Warnock leading Loeffler by nine points. Democrats have been focusing on the nuts-and-bolts of elections—increasing voter registration and turnout. It will take a massive surge on election day for Republicans to make up the distance. Trump is scheduled to make an appearance in Dalton, Georgia on January 4 to boost Loeffler and Perdue, but chances are that he will wallow in his own grievances rather than boost their candidacies.
One theory is that Trump himself wants the GOP to lose both races. The thinking is that he wants to show the GOP that without him on the ballot, it can’t win any real races. But if he believes this, he is sorely mistaken. The effect will be to further bolster Biden whose party would control Congress. Biden wouldn’t be able to push sweeping legislation because the margin of victory would be too narrow.
But the costs of Trump’s presidency for the GOP would be clearer than ever. For someone who is purportedly eyeing another run in 2024, it seems a peculiar way to begin that effort by handing the Senate to Democrats. The effect of his constant ranting is not only to help sabotage the chances of the GOP to retain the Senate, but also to highlight his own emotional volatility.
The closer the end of his presidency looms, the more unhinged Trump is behaving. One thing is clear: if the GOP wins the Senate, it will not be because of Trump but despite him.
Jacob Heilbrunn is editor of The National Interest.