Georgia is likely the next ground zero for Trump’s fight against law enforcement

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COLUMBUS, Georgia — Former President Donald Trump might have been the star of Georgia’s GOP convention over the weekend, but the runner-up almost certainly was David Shafer, the state’s outgoing party leader and, like Trump, a top target of an Atlanta-area investigation Trying to overturn the state’s 2020 election results.

Shafer’s legal exposure stems from his chairing a convention of alternate electors that convened in December 2020 to cast their ballots for Trump pending litigation intended to challenge Joe Biden’s victory in the state — an act he and other speakers at Congress proudly referred.

Shafer moderated portions of the program, repeatedly enjoying the admiration of more than 2,000 delegates, and introducing Trump on Saturday and Arizona rebel conservative Kari Lake the night before. As Shafer prepared to complete his term and hand over the reins to a successor, party activists dismissed him with a long honor and lifelong status as “emeritus” party leader. They hailed his actions, which are now under investigation, and made it clear that they will not be swayed by concerns that the state’s Republican party’s ongoing crammings that the 2020 election was stolen will put off voters next year.

“David Shafer stood by the by-election voter for President Trump in 2020,” said Salleigh Grubbs, chairman of the Cobb County Republican Committee in suburban Atlanta, in a speech that drew a standing ovation, whistles and cheers.

Trump’s choice of Georgia as the site of his first public speech after federal prosecutors announced Thursday charges related to his alleged withholding of classified documents following his departure from the White House seemed fitting, as it is widely believed to be in the presidential campaign next year will be the crucial state – and it will also likely be the next arena for the ongoing battle between the former president and law enforcement. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is expected to announce an indictment ruling in early August after more than two years of investigations into Trump’s attempt to reverse his defeat in the Peach State.

The hundreds of Republicans who rallied in this historic mill town, located across the Chattahoochee River from Alabama, made it clear they stand firmly with the former president and Trump ally, including Shafer. They shrugged off concerns that Trump’s legal troubles and the continued spread of false cheating allegations would weaken him – and the party – if he becomes the Republican Party nominee next year.

“There’s a narrative out there that we’re kind of weak, and that’s a false narrative,” Shafer said before Lake took the stage Friday night. “This is the largest convention in the history of the Republican Party. And the second largest congress took place two years ago.”

Shafer declined to comment on this article.

While die-hard Trump supporters walked out of the convention seemingly jubilant and victorious over the state of their party, the few dissenting voices in the room said they would go home feeling terrified that the party had not broken away from a narrative that doing so could drive more and more voters away from the GOP.

“Donald Trump may be the only national Republican who could lose to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris,” said Ken Carroll, a longtime GOP activist who lost his bid for the party’s second vice chairman on Saturday. “I’ll be angry for saying that, but it’s true. And I know a lot of people in the party who feel the same way. … I like Trump, but he alienated so many people; I don’t know if he can get another win.”

Perhaps a more telling sign of danger was the absences from the state congress. Three senior officials from the country who won re-election comfortably last year – Governor Brian Kemp, Attorney General Chris Carr and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger – were absent.

While attending a GOP donor retreat in Nashville earlier this spring, Kemp told donors that “not a single swing voter in a single swing state is going to vote for our candidate if they choose to talk about the Election 2020 was stolen,” said the participants.

Raffensperger, who famously rebuffed Trump’s requests to help him find enough votes to overturn his defeat in a January 2021 phone call, was not even invited to the party convention, he said. When his name appeared in various speeches and presentations, he was loudly booed by the crowd. Instead, the Secretary of State appeared on Fox News’ “Cavuto Live” Saturday morning ahead of the party’s official session, tacitly dismissing the party’s sympathy for Trump.

“People need character,” said Raffensperger. “You must have integrity. But I think they must also have courage — the courage to stand up and take a stand, to stand up for the rule of law, to stand up for principled leadership.”

That rejection of Trump was certainly a minority opinion at the cavernous Columbus Convention and Trade Center, a former Civil War-era munitions factory, where delegates milled under roughly hewn beams in the usual fare of party activists — Uncle Sam costumes, glittery US flag clutches and provocative T-shirts with slogans like “Defund the FBI” and “These colors don’t run.” They’re reloading.” Some even questioned the voting technology used to determine party elections and booed when they didn’t like the results .

Janet Shepard, 68, a retired postal worker from Morgan County, Georgia, who attended the convention, said she wasn’t sure she would support Trump again next year and is looking at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) , exactly on. . But after news of the federal indictments broke last week, she was more determined than ever to support the man she had already voted for twice, she said.

“It’s just going to make more people think the system is unfair,” Shepard said. “It’s like revenge. It wasn’t fair and it’s not the way we’re used to doing things in America.”

Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones, a pro-Trump Republican speaking at the convention, used the absence of his statewide counterparts to elicit applause for himself. Jones also served as a substitute voter in 2020.

“I’ve had calls from all our dear friends in the media who are sure to be here in great numbers today. They called me and asked me why I was the only national official who would be at the convention today. “Jones said, triggering giggles and outright laughter from the crowd. (In fact, several non-voting officials from across the state attended the convention.) “I told them, I said, ‘I think they like me.'”

More than half of all delegates to the convention had never been active in the party before 2020, according to state party officials, and they rejected every candidate for party office who had been active before 2020, with the exception of new state leader Josh McKoon , a former state senator who won with Shafer’s support.

Two other party winners — David Cross as second vice chairman and Caroline Jeffords as secretary — are among the state’s top election deniers and are affiliated with the Voter GA organization, which has fought numerous lawsuits to review tens of thousands of mail-in ballots cast in the Atlanta territory in 2020, challenge voter rolls and shutdown machines manufactured by Dominion Voting Systems. Garland Favorito, the founder and head of Voter GA, gave a 45-minute presentation Friday at a breakout seminar that drew standing room only, laying out his baseless allegations of cheating.

“If anyone says they will win the 2024 election without understanding what went wrong in 2020 and 2022, they are lying to you,” Favorito told the crowd.

While such presentations stirred up audiences, questions arose over whether Fulton investigators would pursue charges against state GOP officials. Willis, the Fulton County prosecutor, said she was focusing on the phone calls Trump made to several Georgia officials to reverse his defeat; his campaign efforts to persuade the Georgia legislature to declare Trump the winner; the gathering of Trump’s constituents to vote for Trump in the electoral college after Biden was declared the state’s victor; and the Trump campaign’s possible involvement in an unauthorized voting equipment violation in rural Coffee County, Georgia.

Carroll, one of those voters, said he was interviewed by Fulton prosecutors – and defended his actions. “I still believe we didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “I would do it again because it was the right thing to do.”

Carroll said he believed there was fraud in the election, but didn’t know if the fraud was enough to affect the outcome. Anyhow, he said he’s adamant that stewing 2020 won’t be a win for Republicans in 2024 — particularly in Georgia, an increasingly purple state where moderate voters have outnumbered Trump’s claims have rejected.

“There are different ways of thinking about being a successful activist and being a successful party official,” he said. “Being an activist is about being right. As a party official, it’s all about winning elections. You can be right and win elections, but if you are right and lose elections, you are missing the point.”

Isaac Arnsdorf contributed to this report.