Until the immediate aftermath of the Nov. 3 election, like most of the state and country, I wasn’t very familiar with Gabriel Sterling, the longtime ally of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger who now serves as the state’s voting system implementation manager.
But now Sterling has become somewhat of a household name among regular observers of politics and those who have followed the post-election circus closely, and he’s also become a lightning rod and target of Trumpist scorn for his passionate defense of the integrity of the election results here in Georgia, which delivered a narrow win for Democratic President-Elect Joe Biden.
Give Sterling, who like Raffensperger is an unapologetic conservative Republican, credit. From almost the moment polls closed on election day, he’s been out in front of cameras with an impressive and blunt degree of transparency that is rarely seen from elected officials these days. And he’s been more than willing to call out the Trump-led freak show in opposition to the affirmed legitimate results for the cancer it is on our democratic system and institutions and potentially the GOP’s future fortunes in the state and across the country.
That freak show is again raising the specter of violence as the result of Trump’s and his minions’ blatant refusal to tone down their incendiary rhetoric. Sterling and Raffensperger and his family are under protection from law enforcement because of the crazies that are being riled up, and Raffensperger’s wife has been on the receiving end of threatening text messages.
“You better not botch this recount. Your life depends on it.”
“Your husband deserves to face a firing squad.”
“The Raffenspergers should be put on trial for treason and face execution.”
Sterling made it clear last week that he’s had enough of the lunacy. He apparently reached his boiling point when an animated image of a swinging noose was sent to a young elections worker in Gwinnett County via Twitter with the accompanying message, “You are a guilty of treason. May God have mercy on your soul.”
As Sterling put it, the elections worker had a unique name that made it easier for the crazies to track down their home address.
“Someone’s going to get hurt. Someone’s going to get shot. Someone’s going to get killed. And it’s not right,” Sterling said in a fiery press conference at the state Capitol.
This is hardly the first time in the Trump era and the tinfoil-hat age of “freedom militias” and QAnon that the peddling of misinformation and conspiracy theories — often echoed and magnified by the president himself — has inspired threats of violence. But it’s human nature to be more vocal when something hits closer to home, and Sterling was willing to call out those who have stood idly by as the train has totally lost control, including Republican U.S. senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia.
“All of you who have not said a damn word are complicit in this,” Sterling said. “I can’t begin to explain the level of anger I have right now over this.”
All very justifiable and righteous anger, for sure. But any objective observer also should ask themselves whether Sterling, Raffensperger and other Republicans who have expressed hesitation or outright objected to Trumpworld’s delusional mania at the election results have fully acquitted themselves from the madness and the larger issues at play here.
In an interview Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sterling said he still supports Loeffler and Perdue over their Democratic opponents in the upcoming runoff election that will determine control of the Senate. Why? After all, it was Perdue and Loeffler who mindlessly echoed Trump’s charges of rampant voter fraud that tipped Georgia and the election to Biden and put out a shamelessly idiotic and embarrassing joint letter demanding Raffensperger’s resignation. And their tepid response to Sterling’s press conference that of course they condemn any threats of violence — while failing to call on Trump to accept the outcome of the election and put an end to this grand obscenity — is not anywhere close to good enough.
Sterling’s response to Chuck Todd was that politics is complicated and he, as a Republican, still believes senators Perdue and Loeffler would be better for Georgia and the country than senators Ossoff and Warnock. And when asked point-blank whether he regretted voting for Trump, Sterling dodged and said, “I’ll say one thing. I would have been a lot happier it had been 13,000 votes the other way. My life would have been a lot easier.”
It’s true that Sterling, Raffensperger and even Gov. Brian Kemp would not have faced the river of crap that they’ve been getting from Trumpworld and the wacky far right if Trump had instead squeaked out a win in Georgia. And, again, it’s human nature to be more vocal about things that hit closer to home. But as someone who is fashioning himself as a man who cares about the integrity of systems, better answers to these questions of his feelings toward Trump and his enablers — including Perdue and Loeffler — should be expected from Sterling here.
And yet his responses are totally symbolic of the larger problems and realities facing today’s Republican Party, where straight-shooting and backbones only extend so far and equivocation rules the day. You can find ample public reporting that numerous GOP senators have expressed reservations, annoyance and outrage with Trump and his antics and conduct in office the last four years. But, with rare exceptions, they cower when put on the spot or resort to the “both sides-ism” card in an attempt to say that both major political parties are equally broken. They are insistent on furthering a fantasy that “both sides” or “all sides” are somehow equally responsible for the damage that has been wrought on the country during the Trump era.
Take Sen. Mitt Romney, a rare example in today’s GOP of exhibiting signs of a backbone against Trump and his strongman complex. Romney was the lone Republican senator to see Trump’s total abuse of power for what it was and vote to convict him in the impeachment trial, and he hasn’t minced words in pushing back against the recklessness of Trump’s post-election denialism. And yet Romney was crucial in clearing the way, without batting an eye, for Trump to ram an 11th-hour Supreme Court nominee through Mitch McConnell’s Senate, a nominee whom Trump pushed through in part with the explicit, even if unrealistic, goal of eventually handing him the election.
That’s the fundamental question that those in the GOP who hold some degree of disdain for Trump, and are willing to call him out for attempting to take a wrecking ball to our democratic system, must ask themselves: Are they fully committed to “country over party” and are they willing to let their party be torn down out of necessity so that it can be rebuilt for the better?
Senators Perdue, Loeffler and other Republican figures like Doug Collins — who Trump invited openly at a rally in Valdosta last weekend to challenge Kemp in 2022 because the governor would not illegally intervene and toss Georgia to Trump — have laid down fully on the sword for Trumpism, abandoned their reputations and thoroughly disgraced themselves at every turn.
And yet the level-headed Sterling still offered up this excuse for Perdue and Loeffler to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Let’s face it. Senator Loeffler and Senator Perdue were forced by President Trump to ask for my boss, Secretary Raffensperger’s resignation. The implicit threat was that he would do two tweets and torpedo their campaigns.”
So power, tribalism and the cult of personality clearly mean more to the senators than what’s in the best interests of this state and country to move forward. Perhaps Mr. Sterling should ask himself if they really should be rewarded with more time in office and what message that really sends.