Donald Trump’s New Fulton County 2020 Election Indictment Could Hurt the Georgia GOP for Years

When Donald Trump stands trial in Georgia for his attempt to overturn the 2020 election, it won’t only be his fate in the hands of jurors: the state’s Republican Party will be on trial, too.

The indictment released on Monday by Fulton County prosecutors makes clear that, more so than perhaps any other state party in the country, the Georgia Republican Party apparatus is bound to Trump and his desperate effort to throw out 2020 election results.

Among the 19 people charged by District Attorney Fani Willis, for instance, is David Shafer, who served as chairman of the state party from 2019 to 2023. Other prominent Georgia Republicans who were indicted include state Sen. Shawn Still and Cathy Latham, the former chair of the Coffee County GOP.

Shafer, a longtime power player in Georgia Republican politics, is alleged to have organized a slate of 16 so-called “fake electors” who met and falsely declared Trump the rightful winner of the state’s 16 electoral votes. (Shafer’s lawyers have said he was simply following legal advice from Trump’s team.)

In Georgia, some Republicans were quick to identify their home state GOP officials’ outsized role in the case—and to give an early assessment of the impact.

“I think the biggest damage is to the organization of the Georgia Republican Party itself,” Jason Shepherd, the former chairman of the Cobb County GOP, told The Daily Beast.

Inundated with legal bills to support Shafer and others involved in the Trump fake elector scheme, the Georgia GOP already paid out more than half a million dollars in legal expenses even before the indictment dropped.

“That number’s only going to climb,” said Shepherd, who once challenged Shafer for the state chairman post and is now a professor of political science at Kennesaw State University.

Cash will hardly be the Georgia GOP’s only challenge as the Fulton County case proceeds into the courtroom. The legal action ensures that Trump and his camp’s underhanded efforts—like the infamous phone call in which Trump told Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” him enough votes to win—will get repeated airings through the year.

The dynamic of Trump on trial for his refusal to accept the last election—while he attempts to win the next election—is one that many Republicans believe is toxic for the party and for their chances of success in 2024.

That includes Georgia’s own Gov. Brian Kemp, who remains very popular among Georgia Republicans despite his repeated insistence that there was no fraud in the state in 2020. In a tweet on Tuesday, Kemp reiterated that stance, and offered a warning for this election. “The future of our country is at stake in 2024 and that must be our focus,” he said.

But Kemp is notably disengaged from the state party apparatus; he did not even attend their annual convention this June. Instead, Kemp pops up in safer havens for business-oriented Republicans like him, such as last Saturday at an annual barbeque near his hometown of Athens, a far less Trumpy neck of the woods.

“It’s almost segregated,” Shepherd said of the two versions of the party, adding there are “still Georgia Republicans fighting the good fight.”

If anything, Democrats believe the Fulton County legal proceedings will help them most in 2024 by amplifying the existing schism among Georgia Republicans. “The state GOP is already a mess and this will make the divisions maybe worse, but if anything more clear,” said a senior Georgia Democrat.

Anything that harms Republicans even marginally in 2024 is something that could cost them the state, which had the narrowest margin in the 2020 presidential election. In another potential rematch between Trump and Biden, Georgia’s 16 electoral votes could easily prove decisive.

Despite Kemp’s example, old guard Georgia Republicans are more pessimistic than ever in the wake of Willis’ indictment that the fever gripping the state GOP will break.

“Based on what I’m seeing here, there’s still a significant portion of the party, maybe 30 or 40 percent of the people I know, who literally now think that somehow in order to protect Trump, you have to take it to the streets and do insidious things,” said Baoky Vu, a former DeKalb County elections official who is close with Raffensperger and his staff. “That’s what my fear is.”

Like Vu, Shepherd said Trump’s purging of the party and his continued support from loyalists in the state has left him on the outside looking in, finding limited ways to support candidates like Kemp.

“I mean, I’m the past chair, and I have not attended a single Cobb [County GOP] event since January of 2021,” Shepherd said.

With a televised trial likely awaiting Trump—as long as the case brought against him by Willis remains at the state level—Republicans like Shepherd and Vu who saw him cost the party two Senate seats in the last thrashes of his efforts to overturn the 2020 election are thinking it could take another election cycle, perhaps 2028, for MAGA influence to finally wane.

Democrats, meanwhile, are excited at the prospect of having an even better chance to compete in the once solidly Republican state, but those who’ve been around long enough are cautioning against pinning the Republican Party’s demise solely around January 6.

“Republicans have a real problem, and they’ll do anything they can to stop the bleeding,” Andrew Aydin, a former aide to the late Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who co-authored an award-winning graphic novel with his former boss.

However, Aydin cautioned, there are still voters who showed they will support a Republican like Kemp even when Trump-endorsed or Trump-like candidates turn them off, such as the many voters who backed both the GOP governor and Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) in 2022.

Aydin argued a televised trial would certainly bring even more negative publicity into the state and heap attention on the Georgia Republicans ensnared in the case, but when the swarm of national media finally leave the Fulton County courthouse in Atlanta, the 2020 election scheme likely won’t be top of mind for voters.

“The drip, drip, drip of this being in the local press will have an impact,” Aydin said. “But I think voters in Georgia primarily care about putting food on the table. This is gonna come back to kitchen table issues, and that’s why you saw Brian Kemp succeed in the previous cycle. And that’s also why you saw Warnock succeed, because at the end of the day, people trusted them to try and help them.”

The longtime Lewis aide said he sees the indictment as a culmination of a longer journey of self-destruction the Georgia GOP has carried out over years.

“The indictment is just a symptom, it is not the root illness,” Aydin said. “The root illness is that the Republican party has been essentially hijacked by the far right.”

Had the GOP been working under more fairly drawn district maps at the state and congressional level, Aydin argued, they would have figured out that they would need to adapt to the state’s changing demographics much earlier.

Until then, many Republicans are prepared to wait out the storm making its way through Fulton County court, holding down what Vu described as “a shadow Republican Party.”

“The people, the activists who are traditional Republicans, who got active because we believe in the principles of the Republican Party and not one individual, we’ve all found other outlets,” Shepherd said.

“We’re all waiting in the wings for this to blow through,” he said. “And when it does, we know we’ll have to come back and rebuild.”

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