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Opinion: Trump left Georgia’s GOP in ruins — and now faces the consequences

Editor’s Note: Geoff Duncan, a CNN political contributor and Republican, served as Georgia’s lieutenant governor from 2019 to 2023. He is a former professional baseball player and the author of “GOP 2.0: How the 2020 Election Can Lead to a Better Way Forward for America’s Conservative Party.” The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.



CNN
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Once former President Donald Trump predicted his forthcoming arrest in New York City, attention naturally shifted to the Manhattan district attorney. Yet his more serious legal peril may lie 900 miles south in Georgia, where Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ investigation into the efforts by pro-Trump forces to overturn the 2020 election continues.

It can be difficult to keep the multiple and simultaneous investigations straight, but here is the key distinction between New York’s and Georgia’s. The former involves a probe into Trump’s alleged role in a scheme to pay hush money to adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels, during his 2016 presidential campaign.

Heavily covered in the media, the episode involves key testimony from star witness Michael Cohen, Trump’s once close ally and personal fixer, a convicted felon and now disbarred lawyer, who paid Daniels $130,000 on behalf of Trump to keep her from going public about an alleged affair with the former president a decade earlier.

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CNN reported that the Fulton County investigation is focusing on potential racketeering and conspiracy charges in connection with Trump’s effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election, charges that are more often associated with TV crime dramas like “The Sopranos” than a former president of the United States.

The reaction from Republicans is telling. As the world braced for breaking news in Gotham City, most members of the GOP, from reliable allies like House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to potential presidential rivals, rushed to Trump’s defense. House Republicans denounced, “the unprecedented abuse of prosecutorial authority” and called for investigations into Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

The story could not be any more different in Georgia, where Trump’s legal team has been the prominent voice leading the counteroffensive against Willis. With very little exception, the state’s leading Republicans, including Gov. Brian Kemp, have remained out of the fray and have been conspicuously silent.

A telling under-told detail is that many of the 75 witnesses interviewed by Willis’ special grand jury — including this author — are Republicans who had voted for Trump in 2020. They had seen his antics first-hand. Many had been on the receiving end of his wrath in his desperate unrealistic attempt to cling to power.

There was Trump’s infamous phone call to GOP Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in January 2021 demanding he “find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won this state.” To his great credit, Raffensperger refused to go along with the request, raising the ire of Trump supporters and even receiving death threats in the process. Raffensperger defied political odds, handily dispatching a Trump-backed primary challenge en route to reelection in 2022.

Next came the pressure campaign from Trump and his legal team urging Republican legislators in the Georgia General Assembly to call a special session overturning Biden’s victory. Like Raffensperger, Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, who died in November, stood his ground, telling Trump, “I will do everything in my power that I think is appropriate,” according to media reports.

Then there was the quixotic plot to put forward a fake set of electors from Georgia. In 48 of 50 states, including Georgia, the winner of the popular vote receives the totality of their state’s electors. The candidate who earns a majority of the 538 total electoral votes wins the White House. Along with six other states, Trump’s legal team attempted to put forward an entirely different and false slate of 2020 presidential electors from Georgia, thus denying our electoral votes from Biden’s column.

To undermine the Georgia election results, Trump and his legal team unleashed a torrent of incendiary and debunked narratives, ranging from broken water mains, corrupt voting machines, to shredding or miscounted ballots, to name a few.

Although detached from reality, these rumors achieved their objective of sowing doubt about an election where to this day no one has ever presented credible evidence of widespread fraud.

So effective were Trump’s efforts undermining election integrity that enough dazed and confused Georgia Republican voters stayed home for the January 2021 US Senate special runoff elections, handing the seats to a pair of Democrats.

Trump’s actions left the Georgia GOP in ruins. The untold damage will outlive any news cycle about his legal peril. History will not be kind to anyone involved in undermining and overturning a fairly decided election.

To move forward, we must accept the results of 2020, put Trump in the rearview mirror and start writing the next chapter of the Republican Party. Rather than concocting ways to overturn a nearly three-year-old election, our efforts should be re-directed toward winning hearts and minds before the next batch of votes are counted.

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