The two Georgia runoff elections for senate positions are key events contributing to the ongoing democratic erosion going on in the United States with regards to the discrediting of the national presidential election results. Democratic wins in both run-offs would mean the senate would be flipped, as the senate currently stands at 50 Republican seats to 48 Democratic seats and the Vice President-elect, Kamala Harris, would be the tiebreaker.
The significance of these runoffs to the control of the Senate means that GOP leaders are motivated to do anything to ensure these victories. This means that although it goes against the democratic game, most elected Republicans gain a lot from keeping quiet on the mostly unsubstantiated claims of fraud coming from the Trump administration. The fact that only a few members of the GOP have spoken out against Trump’s claims of voter fraud is indicative of a greater reluctance by the GOP to cross Trump. GOP members understand the hold that Trump has on the Republican party’s voters as the current charismatic Republican president who, in 2016, mobilized an extremely large middle America voter base. Looking at politicians in the framework of being career-orientated, they need to have a majority in the senate to get party-aligned bills passed that will bolster their resume when it comes time for re-election. If Trump were to denounce the GOP and their Senate candidates in Georgia, this would pose a very big problem for them. This situation is a symptom of charismatic populism, which Tom Ginsburg and Aziz Z. Huq identify as Trump’s main asset. In promising to stem cultural and economic changes for isolated communities, he was able to mobilize the anxieties of these populations and gain an extremely devoted fan base. In doing so, Trump makes sure he holds individual control over this large voting population.
The hold Trump has as the leader of the Republican party is even more noticeable with the current scope of American partisan polarity. Ginsburg and Huq claim that, concurrent to Trump’s charismatic populism, there is partisan degradation occurring in the United States which creates a hostile relationship between opposing party voters. This polarity is significant as, according to Matthew Graham and Milan Svolik, “the larger the difference between the candidates’ policy platforms, the weaker the punishment for their undemocratic behavior.” Supporting claims of voter fraud without proof is an example of an undemocratic act as it is a refusal to play by the rules of the democratic game.
Overall, enabling this behavior can be harmful for Republican leaders, as it erodes the very democratic system that they partake in. If they allow a discrediting of the American election system, a precedent of not accepting democratic results is set. Seymour Martin Lipset identifies conditions associated with the existence and stability of democratic society as a “political formula” which includes a system of beliefs that legitimize the democratic system, one set of political leaders in office and one or more sets of political leaders out of office who attempt to gain office as a legitimate opposition. In challenging these conditions, a challenge to democratic stability is issued. Ignoring this blatant ideological issue, it also raises an immediate practical issue for the Republican party as it will be hard to motivate a Republican voter base to vote for Republican run-off candidates in Georgia if they deny the legitimacy and efficacy of voting.
A similar instance of this issue has already been observed in the national election, with Donald Trump continuously discrediting and undermining the legitimacy and capacity of mail-in ballots, stating that mail-in ballots are a “whole big scam” on September 24th, around a month before the election. He consistently used this negative rhetoric when talking about the mail-in ballots, urging his voters to vote in person on the day of the election, which ultimately cost him during a pandemic that promotes limited in-person contact. According to surveys by the Pew Research Center, 51% of Biden supporters said they would vote by mail, whereas only 39% of Trump supporters said they would do the same. In a period where Coronavirus has limited the amount of poll workers and poll locations, this undermining of election institutions most likely cost Trump with regards to his mail-in voter turnout in a year where mail-in voter turnout was at an all-time high.
Both practically and ideologically, supporting
Trump’s efforts to delegitimize election results is a big issue for the GOP and
yet, to get a win in Georgia, it is probably in their best interests to do so.
This then raises the question; how long will the Republican party have to
pander to Trump and his supporters to claim wins for their party and will this
continue to erode American democracy?
 Ginsburg, Tom, and Aziz Z. Huq. How to Save a Constitutional Democracy. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2018. P. 125
 Ginsburg, Tom, and Aziz Z. Huq. How to Save a Constitutional Democracy. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2018. P. 127
 Matthew Graham and Milan Svolik, “Democracy in America?: Partisanship, Polarization, and the Robustness of Support for Democracy in the United States,” American Political Science Review 2020 P.393
 Seymour Martin Lipset, “Some Social Requirements of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy,” American Political Science Review, 1959
Hey Leo!! Great post, I loved reading about this, as I’ve also been particularly keen on thinking about the Georgia Senate Runoff elections.
I think that your analysis of the GOP’s (almost) refusal to gatekeep against the President’s unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud was particularly poignant; another argument that I found particularly compelling was the notion that “enabling this behavior can be harmful for Republican leaders. . . discrediting of the American election system,” from which they derive their power.
I think that this would be an interesting thing to think about, considering Elizabeth Warren’s assertion that “all options are on the table,” regarding court packing, should the Democrats win the majority of seats in the Senate. It might be interesting in the future for us to consider what the limits of political forbearance are, in a post-Trump America, are.
Much the same, going back to your point on the discrediting of the American electoral system, it might be interesting to consider whether the “harm” for Republican leaders in refusing to gatekeep Trump, would be equal to the gain that Democrats would see should they win the majority in the Senate.
This was a very good read. This really goes to show you how much of a game this has turned into, Republicans would rather allow this erosion of democratic norms to occur for this long than to let Democrats win. But it does beg the question of how good it is for our the executive and legislative branches to be controlled by a single party, especially in the polarized times we’re living in. Will compromises still be made? Will they still be governing all of America or just their base? Will court-packing occur? It is important to remember that both sides have their faults and are aiming to win, we just have to hope the American people win as well.