By now even the most casual followers of American politics knows that the next two years in Washington will be defined by what happens in a pair of runoff elections for the US Senate next month.
Republicans are currently set to hold a 50-48 edge when the new Senate begins in January. But if Democrats are able to win both Georgia seats, then they will make it a 50-50 tie. With Vice President Kamala Harris presiding over the Senate, Democrats would control that chamber along with the US House and the White House, a full power trifecta.
If, however, Republicans are able to hold on to one of the seats, then they will control the chamber and create a divided government.
The stakes are very high, especially for Republicans who want to have some avenue to block Biden’s agenda from policy initiatives to confirming his cabinet members and who Biden gets to put on the federal bench.
To Trump, who has redefined conservatism into his own image, helping Republicans hold the Senate appears to be central to keeping whatever policy legacy Trump has, especially the tax cuts enacted under his watch.
But over the weekend, it became even more clear that Trump doesn’t care about keeping those seats.
Yes, Trump’s rally in southern Georgia Saturday night wasn’t about the candidates running for Senate. Yes, it was really a chance for Trump to air a litany of grievances about the election last month.
That may all be expected when Trump rolls into any state.
But if Trump wants Republicans to win in Georgia then there is one thing he would do. It also happens to be the one thing he refuses to do: concede he lost the election.
If he were to do that, he would have helped Republicans tremendously. During a Georgia Senate debate on Sunday night, Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler appeared to be robbed of what would easily be her best line of the night: that electing her is the only way to stop President Joe Biden and even more progressive members of his party.
But instead of saying that, she had to figure out how to answer (or dodge) questions about whether Biden had won the presidency at all. It was an awkward moment amplified by her estranged political relationship with the state’s Republican governor and Republican Secretary of State, both of whom Trump has attacked.
To be clear, Loeffler and her Republican colleague Senator David Perdue cannot leave Trump’s orbit. Runoff elections are usually low turnout affairs and they cannot alienate Trump’s base in their state.
Though Trump could make it a lot easier on them if he just signaled he lost. As it is, the Trump position has created a distraction from the key line to moderate voters who may want divided government. Further, every moment discussing the contested presidential election is a moment when Republicans could be going on the offense against their Democratic opponents.
That said, no one should be surprised that Trump is picking what he thinks his best for him and not for his Republican team overall. But there is still time for him to change course.