Trump’s party suffers another shock defeat
Donald Trump's Republican Party has suffered a pair of disastrous election defeats, handing control of the US Senate to the Democrats a fortnight before Joe Biden takes power.
Two runoff elections were held in Georgia yesterday to determine a winner in each of the state's Senate races. The special elections were necessary because no candidate received a majority of the vote on November 3.
To retain control of the Senate, the Republicans only needed to win one of those races.
They failed, with incumbent Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler both losing to their Democratic challengers, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.
Both contests were close. Most US networks waited until after midnight to declare Mr Warnock the winner over Ms Loeffler, and Mr Ossoff's victory remained in doubt until Wednesday afternoon.
As things stand, Mr Warnock leads Ms Loeffler by a margin of 50.6-49.4, or about 50,000 ballots, with 98 per cent of the vote counted.
He will become Georgia's first ever African-American senator, and just the 11th black senator in US history.
Mr Ossoff leads Mr Perdue more narrowly, 50.19-49.81, with a margin 16,000 ballots.
At 33, he will become the youngest member of the Senate.
The Democrats' victories in Georgia mean the Senate is now split evenly down the middle, with the two major parties holding 50 seats each.
That technically puts the Democrats in the majority, as incoming vice president Kamala Harris will have the tiebreaking vote.
With Mr Biden due to be sworn in as the next president on January 20, and the Democrats already holding a majority in the House of Representatives, this means the party will soon control the White House, Senate and House all at once.
So, for the next two years - until the 2022 midterm elections - the Republicans will be unable to block any legislation requiring a simple majority in Congress without at least one defection from the other side.
It will also be easier for Mr Biden to get his political and judicial appointees confirmed.
Keep in mind, however, that many pieces of legislation cannot pass the Senate without reaching a procedural threshold of 60 votes.
"My roots are planted deeply in Georgia soil," Mr Warnock, a reverend, told his supporters in a video message late last night.
He said his late father was a pastor, a small business owner and a veteran, and his mother "used to pick somebody's else's cotton" in Georgia.
"But the other day, because this is America, the 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else's cotton went to the polls and picked her youngest son to be a United States senator," Mr Warnock said.
"So I come before you tonight as a man who knows that the improbable journey that led me to this place in this historic moment in America could only happen here.
"We were told that we couldn't win this election. But tonight we proved that with hope, hard work and the people by our side, anything is possible. May my story be an inspiration to some young person who is trying to grasp and grab hold of the American dream."
In his own message to Georgia's voters, Mr Ossoff thanked them for the "confidence and trust" they had shown towards him.
"I want to thank the people of Georgia for participating in this election. Everybody who cast your ballot. Everybody who put your faith and confidence in our democracy's capacity to deliver the representation that we deserve," he said.
"Whether you were for me or against me, I'll be for you in the US Senate. I will serve all the people of the state. I will give everything I've got to ensure Georgia's interests are represented in the US Senate."
The recriminations within the Republican Party started before either race had even been called last night.
Gabriel Sterling, a Republican who serves as Georgia's voting system implementation manager, told CNN it would be President Trump's fault if Mr Perdue and Ms Loeffler ended up losing.
Mr Sterling had repeatedly debunked Mr Trump's claims about voter fraud in public since the presidential election, voicing his fear that Republican voters would not bother to show up and vote for Mr Perdue and Ms Loeffler if they thought the results were rigged anyway.
"If one of the Republican candidates, or both, lose their seats in the Senate, who would be to blame?" a reporter asked him as the votes started to roll in.
"Well, I'll speak for - outside of my role working for the state. This is a personal opinion. That will fall squarely on the shoulders of President Trump and his actions since November 3," said Mr Sterling.
"When you tell people, 'Your vote doesn't count, it's been stolen,' and people start to believe that, and then you go to the two senators and ask them to tell the Secretary of State to resign and trigger a civil war in the Republican Party - when we need Republicans to unite - all of that stems from his decision making since the November 3 election."
Mr Sterling went on to agree with the proposition that Mr Trump had "single-handedly divided the party".
A different factor in the race may have been the Republican Party's refusal to back Mr Trump's call for more generous stimulus payments to Americans as part of a coronavirus relief package that passed through Congress last month.
"I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $US600 to $2000, or $4000 for a couple," the President demanded on Christmas Eve, when the bill had already been passed after months of painful negotiations.
Senate Republicans, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, did not comply, and Mr Trump ended up begrudgingly signing the bill into law.
Meanwhile, the Democrats turned bigger stimulus payments into a campaign issue, promising $2000 cheques would pass the Senate if voters in Georgia gave them the numbers.
At the same time, Mr Trump was running TV ads claiming he'd been robbed in the presidential election.
The President held a massive political rally in Georgia the night before the runoff elections, where he repeated a number of his usual fraud theories - though he did also urge his supporters to vote for Mr Perdue and Ms Loeffler.
"You're going to show up at the polls in record numbers," he said.
"You're going to swamp them, and together we're going to beat the Democrat extremists, and deliver a thundering victory."
Mr Trump started to make the argument that Republicans needed to retain the Senate to act as a check on the power of the incoming Biden administration, before getting a little sidetracked.
"If the liberal Democrats take the Senate and the White House - and they're not taking this White House. We're going to fight like hell," he said.
"I was telling Kelly before, 'You can lose it, that's acceptable. You lose, you lose, you go, you go wherever you're going, and then you say, 'Maybe I'll do it again sometime, or maybe I won't, or maybe I'll get back to life.'
"But when you win in a landslide, and they steal it, and it's rigged, it's not acceptable."
He also spent a chunk of the speech attacking Georgia's Republican Governor, Brian Kemp, and its Republican Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger.
Both men have supported Mr Trump in the past, but got on his bad side when they certified Mr Biden's victory in their state.
"I'll be here in about a year-and-a-half campaigning against your Governor, I guarantee that," the President promised.
Mr Biden was the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Georgia since Bill Clinton in 1992, albeit by a narrow margin of about 11,779 votes.
Originally published as Trump's party suffers another shock defeat
Text from a GOP strategist: "thanks alot Donald"— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) January 6, 2021