Donald Trump’s least favorite Republican elected official, Georgia secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, has a new book out, Integrity Counts. Among other things, it offers an annotated transcript of his famous phone conversation with the then-president on January 2, 2021, in which Trump asked him to “find” enough votes to undermine the Biden win that Raffensperger and Governor Brian Kemp had certified back in November (Trump helpfully offered a number of phony-baloney suggestions of where Georgia might discover Biden ballots to throw out).
In interviews promoting the book, Raffensperger is making it clear he thinks Trump was implicitly threatening violence against him for failing to comply with his wishes, and that future elections could become even more vulnerable to violence-tinged pressure. He doesn’t single out his own state as a possible locus for banana-republic behavior, but there’s not much doubt that Georgia will remain a battleground state for the foreseeable future, particularly since its Republican leadership (in the governor’s office and legislature) seems determined to fight a pro-Democratic trend by making voting more difficult.
Raffensperger obviously believes people like him are the most important bar to election subversion. But odds are pretty high he won’t be in office in 2024 when the MAGA-redux crusade (most likely) arrives. Trump personally recruited a high-profile primary challenger to the incumbent, with Jody Hice giving up a safe U.S. House seat to purge Raffensperger.
There’s not much doubt that if Hice had been secretary of State when Trump called in to ask for a change in the results, the very Trumpy Christian-right minister would have replied, “Yessir!” He is openly furious at his opponent for refusing to go along with the Boss, as I noted earlier this year:
[Hice] backed the former president’s postelection fraud claims to the hilt and called Raffensperger “irresponsible” for certifying the results anyway. And he also blamed the secretary of State for the Republican losses in Georgia’s January 5 Senate runoffs.
Hice was also in the vanguard of House members challenging the confirmation of Biden electors on January 6. He didn’t get a chance to vote against Georgia’s state-certified electors because lame-duck U.S. senator Kelly Loeffler (who had lost her seat the day before in Georgia’s special election runoff) decided against sustaining the challenge after the Capitol riot interrupted the proceedings (at least one senator must join with at least one House member in forcing a vote on these challenges under the provisions of the Electoral Count Act). Unfortunately for Raffensperger, Hice fits the Georgia GOP like a glove, and the incumbent isn’t going to get any support from Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents thanks to his outspoken support for Georgia’s new voting and elections law (even though it vengefully reduces his own power). He also faces a second primary opponent, former suburban mayor David Belle Isle, who forced him into a runoff in 2018. Aside from explicitly and implicitly rebuking Raffensperger for disloyalty to Trump, both opponents will go after him for allegedly making the close 2020 election possible by loosening rules for voting by mail to accommodate the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are no signs Raffensperger will throw in the towel despite the high odds against his reelection. He is wealthy enough to self-finance a pretty robust campaign, and will get some sympathy, if not votes, from Trump foes in the media and in the electorate. The dynamics of his primary may depend on whether Trump is able to recruit a viable opponent to Governor Kemp, Raffensperger’s ally and predecessor as secretary of State (the latest possibility is former U.S. senator David Perdue). If he can’t, then the secretary of State may bear the full brunt of the 45th president’s wrath. In an intensely polarized high-stakes midterm general election with Stacey Abrams likely representing Democrats against Kemp or a MAGA vanquisher of the governor, the best hope for installing a Georgia election chief who’s not pre-pledged to help Trump steal the next presidential contest is probably Democratic state legislator Bee Nguyen, who at this point is running alone for her party’s nomination. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Greg Bluestein said this about Nguyen earlier this year: “Her campaign, long expected by local Democrats, further transforms a contest that in some past Georgia election cycles was hardly an afterthought — and is now poised to be one of the nation’s most-watched down-ballot elections.”