Trump call won't hurt Republicans' chances in Georgia runoff, says strategist
In recording of call, Trump is heard urging Georgia Secretary of State to 'find 11,780' votes in his favour
A prominent Republican strategist says he doesn't believe U.S. President Donald Trump's controversial phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger will have a negative impact on whether his party's supporters choose to vote in runoff elections there Tuesday.
A recording of that call, first released by the Washington Post, captures the president urging Raffensperger to "find 11,780 votes" in his favour to overturn president-elect Joe Biden's victory in the state.
The conversation Saturday was the latest step in an unprecedented effort by a sitting president to pressure a state official to reverse the outcome of a free and fair election.
It's a move legal experts say puts the president on shaky ground, and Democrats are calling it irrefutable proof of Trump's attack on American democracy.
Jay Williams is a longtime Republican strategist in Georgia and has worked with the Georgia United Victory super PAC, which supports Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler's campaign for re-election. Here's part of his conversation with As it Happens host Carol Off.
Jay, what went through your mind when you heard the audio of the president's phone call with Brad Raffensperger?
Sounded like he was upset and … it's not something that surprised me. I mean, it's the same kind of thing we've heard from the president for the last four years.
You don't think it's any different than the other efforts to have this election overturned? Do you think, as many Democrats have said, that this has crossed the line into possible criminal offence?
I think you're probably talking about two different things here … whether this has some type of impact on what's happening, and whether there's some type of criminal activity.
I don't know that it's going to have an impact on the Senate race … because, in my opinion, there's probably been a lot worse things that he said over the last four years, relatively speaking. And I just think that voters have kind of tuned that part of it out. I think there's probably a lot of folks trying to read into what he was saying by "recalculating." I don't think, probably, the left views it the same as the right. And so that's why I don't think it's going to have much of an impact.
Now, whether he broke some type of law, I'm not an attorney, so I couldn't tell you whether that that happened or if that's the case.
We heard from many Democrats over the weekend. We haven't heard from any Republicans responding to that phone call. What are you hearing from Republicans?
As it relates to the most important issue at hand for Republicans, which is winning these two Senate seats, it's just more noise that we don't want to have to deal with right now. It's not ideal.
What I tell folks if you're not laser focused on your opponent in an election cycle, you're going to have problems. Right now Republicans are so focused on themselves or issues about them, and not how bad the other side is. So I think that's going to have some type of impact, but it's mostly for Twitter and for folks in the media to talk about. I don't know that regular voters in Georgia … are going to change their opinion about the president based on it.
But certainly President Trump himself believes that this is going to impact the election, the runoff election in Georgia. He said basically that "you have to find those 11,000 votes before Tuesday." He told Mr. Raffensperger, "because of what you've done to the president," referring to himself, "a lot of people aren't going out to vote." What do you think?
I don't think the phone call will have any impact on Republicans' desire to vote…. And even the types of people that are coming out on Election Day are not typically the type of people that will be swayed by this…. There's not a lot of swing voters that are showing up in a runoff election.
Do you think Joe Biden won the election?
Well, clearly, he's going to be president. Did he win fairly, or did he win?
Did he win?
I mean, even if Georgia swang for President Trump, you've still got hundreds of thousands of votes in Pennsylvania, but there's not really a lot of evidence of a fraud there that I've seen.
Yet [Texas Sen.] Ted Cruz is leading this effort by Republican senators to establish this election commission that is supposed to investigate the president's claims of voter fraud. Do you believe that's warranted?
I think any time you want to investigate something, investigate it. That's the point of a legislative body, right?
The Democrats have investigated a lot of spurious allegations that don't have any merit or proof, and they've spent years doing it. So I don't see why there's any reason why the Republicans couldn't, you know, return them the favour. I think if you're concerned about voter fraud, you want to look into it.… So if you don't think that there's anything wrong, then what's the harm in investigating if something happened?
But there are many Republicans who are opposed to this audit as well. It seems that the Republicans in Congress are truly divided. What lasting effect do you think this has on your party?
I think that any time a party, whether it's the Democrats or Republicans, choose to attack the actual system … it's a problem.… I think it diminishes what our country is and what we stand for.… But at the end of the day, I don't think it's good for democracy for us to make allegations that don't have significant enough proof.
I think that some of the folks on the Republican side could have done a better job of, you know, making their case. I mean, you have Republican judges that are throwing these cases out. It's not as if it's a bunch of Obama appointees rejecting these.… I'm fine with us making that argument, but we've got to have the actual evidence to back it up.
Written by Brandie Weikle with files from The Associated Press. Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.