2022 midterms

Raffensperger Struggles to Get Back His MAGA Street Cred

Brad Raffensperger, a prophet without honor in his own party. Photo: Erik S Lesser/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger is understandably a bit of a liberal folk hero. He is, after all, the state election chief who not only certified Joe Biden’s win (and later, wins by Democratic Senate candidates Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff) in hotly contested Georgia, but also personally and repeatedly repulsed Donald Trump’s efforts to convince him to dig around under the sofa cushions and find enough votes to overturn the results.

Unfortunately for him, Raffensperger is trying to get reelected as a Republican in 2022. Aside from getting sideways with Trump, he belongs to the orthodox Church of the Restricted Franchise, whereby he perceives his job as being a bloodhound in search of imaginary voter fraud, with no sympathy for voters who get ensnared in the many traps set by the state for unwary citizens who don’t follow all the rules. Even as Trump and most Georgia Republicans attacked him earlier this year — in June, he was formally censured by a state GOP party convention — Raffensperger was praising their handiwork in passing a voter-suppression law, except, of course, a provision booting him from the state election board, a clearly punitive provision motivated by Trumpian vengeance.

Now, Raffensperger is doubling down on his effort to rebuild his racist vote-suppressing street cred with a transparently redundant proposal clearly aimed at the MAGA galleries, as reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Wednesday called for amending the Georgia Constitution to ban noncitizens from voting, a prohibition already enshrined in a state law.

Raffensperger, who is facing several Republican challengers in next year’s election, said a constitutional amendment would prevent the possibility of noncitizens being allowed to vote in the future, either as a result of lawsuits or changes to state laws.

Perhaps the embattled secretary of state will next call for the disenfranchisement of terrorists seeking to impose Sharia law on Georgia’s stoutly Christian populace, or seek a ban on critical race theory flyers at polling places. There are plenty of phantom menaces out there that raise racial or religious hackles and place Raffensperger on the side of the same people who deplore his disloyalty to the 45th president’s Big Lie.

In pursuing this tack, Raffensperger is likely emulating his predecessor as secretary of state and co-conspirator in the plot to deny Trump the second term he claims he won by a landslide, Brian Kemp. The Georgia governor has also been high on the former president’s purge list, but has steadied his standing, slowly but surely, as I noted a couple of months ago:

The incumbent made a lot of MAGA hay signing and then defending the recent voter suppression law, and generally returning to the “owning the libs” demeanor he displayed when running as a “politically incorrect conservative” in 2018. At the same state GOP convention that censured Raffensperger, Kemp was met by some boos, but some cheers, too, and no one even proposed any sanction of him for letting down Trump in the election.

Why is Kemp doing better at this pivot than Raffensperger? Well, for one thing, he’s the governor, with a lot more tangible political assets than a mere secretary of state. For another, Kemp has a longer and more impressive résumé as a vote suppressor and all-around conservative thug (his 2018 ads featured the candidate brandishing shotguns, setting off bombs, and professing a willingness to haul off “illegal immigrants” in his own pickup truck). His position as nemesis to voting-rights activist Stacey Abrams, his 2018 general election opponent and likely Democratic rival in 2022, is worth its weight in gold to his party’s race-baiting base.

But most important of all, Kemp has been lucky so far in the candidate Trump has recruited to primary him: Black ex-Democrat Vernon Jones, who has a lot of baggage, both ideological and personal, that makes him a less-than-ideal vehicle for defenestrating an incumbent governor who fits the prejudices of his party like a glove. Raffensperger, on the other hand, is being opposed by sitting congressman Jody Hice, a Trump endorsee and Christian right stalwart, who is presumably taking on the chore of purging the incumbent to store up treasure for some future political endeavor. The rival who Raffensperger beat in a 2018 primary runoff, David Bell Isle, is also in the field. At this point, if there is a 2022 runoff, it’s not clear Raffensperger would make it.

But instead of accepting a dignified retirement and an honored position in the ranks of Republicans trying to outlast Trumpism (the route chosen by incumbent Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, who saw the 2022 handwriting on the wall), Raffensperger is trying to gut it out, and in so doing, he may well spoil the positive image he enjoys outside his own party.

Raffensperger Struggles to Get Back His MAGA Street Cred