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Opinion | The MAGA crowd haunts Republicans

With elected Republicans such as Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp under fire for not backing ludicrous conspiracy theories about the election, one has to wonder: Is it no longer enough to have bought into the right-wing agenda (e.g., destroying the Affordable Care Act, opposing mask-wearing)? Perhaps Kemp is too centrist for today’s Republican Party. If so, he might well face a primary challenge in 2022, a third-party run from a MAGA loyalist or, at the very least, a weak Republican turnout in what is expected to be a rematch against Democrat Stacey Abrams.

The dynamic is already well underway in Georgia’s Senate runoff elections. Without any evidence of fraud in the election, incumbent Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler have cried foul, demanding that Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a fellow Republican, step down. Raffensperger’s great sin was treating the election, which sent both incumbents to runoff contests, as legitimate. That might not be the best strategy, however, for keeping their seats.

The Post reports: “In some Trump-supporting circles on social media, there is talk of boycotting the election. . . . Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel was campaigning in Georgia this weekend when she encountered some GOP voters who don’t see the point in voting if the election is supposedly rigged.” Dampening Republican enthusiasm for a “rigged” election was likely not what Perdue and Loeffler had in mind when they carried Trump’s water in challenging the presidential vote in Georgia.

Equally troubling for Perdue and Loeffler is that Trump has made Kemp toxic to many Republicans. It no longer seems advantageous for the Trump-tarred governor to be a prime surrogate for the two senators, who themselves may not be Trumpy enough for some Georgia Republicans. Even though Trump is not technically on the ballot, fidelity to him seems to be.

If admitting that Biden won the election is now a fault line in the GOP, a whole bunch of Republicans may be in trouble. Veteran Republican Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, could not bring himself to acknowledge flat-out that Trump lost. If he, at some point, lets on that Biden’s victory is legitimate, what then? Maybe a primary challenger pops up. Perhaps a MAGA loose cannon rolls into the general election as an independent candidate. Missouri is a very conservative state (Biden lost there by more than 15 points), but if voting for Biden’s nominees, going to the inauguration or a State of the Union address or declining to investigate some harebrained scheme is now a litmus test, Blunt may be in trouble of keeping his base together and turning out in force.

The problem becomes more acute in 2022 Senate races in potentially competitive states such as North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida, where full-blown MAGA candidates could turn off critical swing voters. No wonder Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is grasping at straws to demean Biden nominees.

Before Trump was nominated in 2016, Republicans were nervous that the now-president would run as an independent. Now, they should be concerned that lots of MAGA voters will not be content with run-of-the-mill Republicans, thereby pushing already conservative incumbents into la-la land, splitting the right-wing vote or depressing turnout (or some combination thereof).

Republicans should wake up: A sizable segment of “their” base is not theirs at all. Those voters are the ones in the red hats hollering that the election was stolen.

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