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Republicans Worry How Trump Might Affect Competitive States In 2022


In Georgia, two Republican senators facing runoffs tied themselves politically to Donald Trump, even as he was lying about losing the 2020 election. They figured Trump would help them win. Instead, they both lost. Now, Trump wants to stay involved in politics, and this has some Republicans worried about the role he might play in 2022. Here's Emma Hurt from member station WABE in Atlanta.


KELLY LOEFFLER: Hello, Georgia.

EMMA HURT, BYLINE: This is then-Senator Kelly Loeffler at a Trump rally the night before the January runoff.


LOEFFLER: I have an announcement, Georgia. On January 6, I will object to the Electoral College vote.

HURT: At the time, it was an almost predictable move from a candidate who had built her political career around President Trump after being appointed the year before. In the weeks since the runoff, a Republican strategist close to the campaigns pointed to it as an example of the, quote, "hostage situation" the senators were in, with increasingly strident demands coming from those in Trump's orbit.


DONALD TRUMP: Thank you, Kelly. That was nice. I'm glad I invited her up. Kelly, I'm glad I invited you up. That was great. Thank you, darling.

HURT: Two days later, Loeffler had lost her race to Democrat Raphael Warnock. A violent mob breached the Capitol, forcing staff and members into hiding. When Congress reconvened that night to finish the Electoral College vote, Loeffler made her first public break with Trump since taking office.


LOEFFLER: Mr. President, when I arrived in Washington this morning, I fully intended to object to the certification of the electoral votes. However, the events that have transpired today have forced me to reconsider, and I cannot now in good conscience object to the certification of these electors.

HURT: It was a dramatic reversal, but to some it wasn't actually that surprising because in Georgia, many had long suspected that Loeffler's Trump-centric campaign did not, in fact, completely reflect her Republicanism.

ERICK ERICKSON: Everyone I have talked to who's close to her says it's not that she said things she didn't believe when it came to policy.

HURT: Erick Erickson is a conservative radio show host in Georgia. He says, policywise, she's a mainstream conservative.

ERICKSON: But she had to be way more about Donald Trump than she would have preferred to be.

HURT: Erickson argues Loeffler didn't have a choice politically. Loeffler was not the president's chosen candidate for the Senate appointment; Congressman Doug Collins was. And when Collins decided to challenge Loeffler...

ERICKSON: She had to lock down the president's base for her and make sure the president did not come out for Doug Collins.

HURT: Peter Wehner worked for Ronald Reagan, both Bushes and on Mitt Romney's campaign. He's been a longtime critic of Donald Trump.

PETER WEHNER: Look - most Republicans have, to one degree or another, been bent by Trump, and several of them have been broken by Trump.

HURT: Loeffler, he says, seemed to remake herself around Trump in her attempt to win the election.

WEHNER: So she was, I think, sort of a typical person in the Republican Party these days. In one of his epistles, the apostle Paul talks about being blown about by every wind of doctrine, and I think she was being blown about by every wind of Trumpism.

HURT: In speeches and ads, Loeffler would often highlight her 100% Trump voting record. Liz Mair is a national Republican strategist who worked for a pro-Loeffler PAC during the runoffs. She says Loeffler was in a nearly impossible political situation. She was newly appointed to the Senate and didn't have an established political identity of her own. And Mair says some voters could tell Loeffler wasn't being herself.

LIZ MAIR: I think it was almost like asking her to step into a race and fight an election not just with both hands tied behind her back but, like, forcing her to do it also in clown shoes.

HURT: But the fundamental challenge for Loeffler and her counterpart, Senator David Perdue, was Trump's false claims about voter fraud. By tying themselves so closely to the former president, they were unable to break from him and assure Republicans their votes would count. It dampened Republican turnout. So the all-in-on-Trump strategy cost Loeffler and Perdue their jobs and, says Erick Erickson, cost Republicans a Senate majority.

ERICKSON: Telling everyone that the race was stolen when it wasn't cost the Republicans two Senate seats. Going all in on the cult of personality around President Trump hurt them as a result. They had to play up that no - there's no way Donald Trump could have lost; it had to be stolen from him.

HURT: Moving forward, Erickson argues, 2020 proves that Republicans need to figure out what their party stands for beyond Donald Trump. Right now, he says, that's not clear.

For NPR News, I'm Emma Hurt in Atlanta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.