In debate, Kelly Loeffler appealed directly to racists and bigots
It will have its effect in the Georgia runoffs. But Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are running on a tide of energy among Democrats
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Senator Kelly Loeffler stood on a stage last night in Georgia and repeated GOP talking points and mantras like a robot — over and over calling her challenger, Rev. Raphael Warnock, a “radical liberal” — and literally never moving more than an inch. Nothing moved: not her head, her arms, her hair, not the skin of her forehead. It was a bizarre study in discipline — and botox effectiveness — and it was anything but human.
The embattled GOP incumbent — facing a runoff on January 5th along with fellow embattled Georgia GOP incumbent David Perdue, which will determine control of the Senate — seemed distant and cold, almost cruel, while Warnock, pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, came across with empathy, showing an open heart. He talked about the issues Georgians, like all Americans, are concerned about: a pandemic out of control, and an economy in a death spiral while senators like Loeffler, the wealthiest among them, made a killing in the market while not pushing for more relief for average Americans.
More than once, Warnock pointed to Leoffler’s stock trades earlier this year, which were made following a private January briefing on the coronavirus, in which she sold stocks that would be hurt, bought those that would thrive, and downplayed the pandemic. And Warnock rightly exposed Loeffler having boasted of an endorsement from a Qnon conspiracy theorist.
And yet, no matter all of that, you couldn’t help but wonder how effective Loeffler’s racist appeals will be with the white voter base of the GOP in Georgia. Certainly she and the GOP are very confident and counting on it, as she rehearsed this over and over and never deviated, calling Warnock a “radical liberal” more than a dozen times in an hour, in addition to a “socialist” and a “marxist” and just about every other word that wasn’t an outright slur to paint him as a Black demon.
Loeffler’s true message was: I may be very flawed and may even come off as a white collar criminal, but if you’re racist, I’m all you’ve got.
Loeffler didn’t care how foolish she looked when she refused to answer whether Trump won the Georgia election or not several times, nor how out of touch she came off. She couldn’t care less how heartless and fearful she sounded when she refused to even defend the man who appointed her to the Senate seat — Governor Brian Kemp — lest she be seen as crossing Trump, who has lashed out at Kemp for not following his orders on trying to overturn the election. Nor did she care how scary she appeared to many diverse voters as she made hateful, lie-filled charges.
What mattered to her most was getting every racist and bigot out to vote. Loeffler’s true message was: I may be very flawed and may even come off as a white collar criminal, but if you’re racist, I’m all you’ve got.
A similar message has been telegraphed by Senator David Perdue, whose stock trades are under even more scrutiny, as his challenger, Democrat Jon Ossoff, has called him “a crook.” Perdue didn’t show up at all for the scheduled debate against Ossoff last night, giving Ossoff the opportunity to debate an empty podium and lay out the damning evidence of Perdue’s reckless behavior while calling him a “coward” for not showing up.
It’s hard to believe that any candidate would want to give this kind of opportunity to a young and vibrant challenger whose got a real shot at taking him down. But Perdue, whose previous debate with Ossoff was a disaster, obviously thought the greater risk was to show up to the debate. He will make more headway just continuing to appeal to racists and bigots via his rallies and ads, having already used anti-Semitic tropes in the campaign against Ossoff, who is Jewish, and having Trump calling Ossoff a “communist.”
But both Loeffler and Perdue are up against enormous energy among Democrats, and particularly among activists getting the vote out in the Black community, who’ve been organizing for years in preparation for this moment. The work of Stacey Abrams, with her group FairFight, and many other groups, like Black Voters Matter, has registered over a million voters in Georgia over the past few years. In addition to Black voters, Latinos, Asians, young voters and many suburban voters are now an energized force in the Democratic base in Georgia that put Joe Biden over the top in the presidential race.
“The power is already there,” LaTosha Brown of Black Voters Matter told me on my SiriusXM program last week. “What we are doing is organizing it and directing it —what I call ‘A New South Rising.’ Stop with the framework of saying the South is red or the South is blue. The South is underinvested.”
It’s that kind of energy that Democrats are relying upon for the January 5th runoffs to put both Warnock and Ossoff over the top. But make no mistake, what they are up against is the direct racist appeals of the GOP establishment to the white GOP base in Georgia, which both Leoffler and Perdue are making clear.
At one point in last night’s debate Loeffler said there wasn’t a “racist bone in my body.” Any candidate who has to say that is using racist appeals while trying to say he or she is not.
This is all the GOP has left. It’s worked for the party many times, and may very well work again. But Democrats in the South, led by Black women like Abrams and Brown, are exposing it more fervently and letting the GOP know that justice is coming for them, and that it’s only a matter of time.