It’s not clear who provided a cache of text messages from the phone of former senator Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. That the messages overlap with the period after the 2020 election and Loeffler’s own failed bid to hold her seat is probably not a coincidence, though, as they may have been turned over in response to a subpoena — and that period is subject to no shortage of legal wrangling.
What’s revealed in them is telling, if not surprising. While we know that Loeffler and other Republicans were facing explicit pressure from Donald Trump to support his false assertions about the election results, the messages suggest that Loeffler and her team were also influenced heavily by the implicit power wielded by Trump’s angry base of support. Which, of course, has been a vital undercurrent to Trump’s time in politics.
The messages include a request from an attorney named Daryl Moody, who had aided Loeffler’s campaign and who had been asked to be on Trump’s false slate of Georgia electors on Dec. 14, 2020. Loeffler offered no objection. (The Washington Post has not independently confirmed the accuracy of the messages, though the Journal-Constitution did.) There’s also a message from the wife of Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger (R) in which she excoriates Loeffler for her unfounded criticisms of how the election was administered.
That message, in fact, provides a glimpse into the undercurrent of Loeffler’s decision-making. Why did Loeffler and her colleague then-Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) rush to release a statement condemning Raffensperger — before the election in the state had even been called? The answer, it seems clear, is that both Loeffler and Perdue had been pushed into runoff elections to hold their seats, elections that would be held in early January 2021. And since the energy within their own party was very much focused on preserving Trump’s presidency, they moved along with it.
On Dec. 2, Loeffler received a telling message from representative-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene (R).
“I need to talk with you about a plan we are developing on how to vote on the electoral college votes on Jan 6th. I need a Senator!” Greene wrote. “And I think this is a major help for you to win on the 5th!!”
This idea, objecting to electors submitted by several states during the formal counting of votes on Jan. 6, was just starting to burble on Capitol Hill and had been reported by Politico a few days prior. In order for it to work, though, there needed to be a senator to join objections from the House and, at the time of the message, there weren’t any. But notice the leverage that Greene deploys: This can help you keep your seat.
By the end of December, Greene and Trump had their senator: Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) announced he would object to electors submitted by Pennsylvania. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), always willing to compete for attention from right-wing voters, quickly one-upped him, gathering a group of senators to jointly announce a plan delaying the electoral-vote certification. (It’s not a coincidence, of course, that both Hawley and Cruz are understood to have higher ambitions within the Republican Party.) Before Cruz released his statement, he reached out, hoping Loeffler would join them.
In the text messages, opinions among Loeffler’s staff are shown to have been divided. One told her he thought she “can’t afford to not be on it.” Another pointed out that the risk of joining the effort was higher for her than others: The existing signatories “all have years to message this vote” — given they wouldn’t face voters until 2022 at the earliest, while “we have hours.”
It wasn’t only Cruz, of course. Trump was creating “a hostage situation every day,” according to one Republican consultant familiar with Loeffler’s campaign, insisting that Perdue and Loeffler play along with his efforts to retain power. The alternative? Have Trump abandon their runoff elections entirely.
The president appeared at a rally in Georgia the day before the Jan. 5 runoff. He didn’t want to go, as was reported at the time. That both Loeffler and Perdue announced the same day as the rally that they would object to submitted electors on Jan. 6 was not a coincidence; the Journal-Constitution reports that the rally depended on their doing so.
— Kelly Loeffler (@KLoeffler) January 4, 2021
“Please make sure Trump RTs my statement so I don’t get booed off the stage!!” Loeffler wrote in a text message to a staffer.
It is certainly the case that elected officials should be responsive to their constituencies. But what the text messages reveal is something slightly different: A response to how Loeffler expected Georgia voters, particularly Republicans, to behave. Trump’s election in 2016 was regularly and justifiably credited to his turning out voters who were otherwise unenthusiastic about voting. For a senator seeking to retain her seat in a special election, the idea that the base might turn against her — and not only not vote for her but actively oppose her — must have been particularly worrisome.
Shortly before her tweet, she received a text message from Rep. Rick Allen (R-Ga.).
“I think many of the Trump voters in the sideline will be watching tonight and we need a big turnout in North Georgia on Election Day,” he told Loeffler. “You might consider an announcement when you speak tonight that you are going to stand up and object to the Georgia Electors on behalf of all Georgians who voted legally.” She was already ahead of him on that.
What these messages show is how Trump and his allies relied not on facts to get his party to accede to his demands but on political power, on the perception that he could make or break their fortunes. It’s an encapsulation of how Trump governed, of course; he always used perceptions of the base as a cudgel against other Republicans. And in the post-election period in Georgia, Loeffler’s wavering on the subject was resolved out of fear of what Trump supporters might do.
In the end, she didn’t go along with the effort to reject the submitted electoral votes. In the wake of the riot at the Capitol, she was in a small minority of senators to reverse their positions on the question.
Of course by then she’d already lost her election bid anyway.