Bookman: Georgia GOP chair’s lack of regret over 2020 election denial dangerous

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by Jay Bookman, Georgia Recorder [This opinion article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]

May 4, 2023

Until the last few years, I did not fully comprehend our human capacity to delude ourselves, to insist on believing what we wish to believe, regardless of evidence or logic, and regardless of the damage that the delusion might do to ourselves and to others. 

Having seen some things, I’m now sadder, perhaps wiser. Definitely sadder, though. Yet on occasion, it can still astound me how easily some people can twist truth into whatever they want it to be, as if truth were something malleable rather than hard and fixed.

Over the weekend, for example, state GOP Chairman David Shafer addressed members of the Georgia Republican Assembly at a meeting in Smyrna. Shafer has had a significant career in Georgia politics, serving eight terms in the state Senate, holding several important committee chairs and rising to Senate president pro tem. After narrowly losing a GOP primary for lieutenant governor, he became state party chair in 2019.

Since then, we have seen a side of the man I could not know existed. In the aftermath of the 2020 election, Shafer became an active, vocal proponent of claims that the election had somehow been stolen, and he began to conspire to overthrow its results. Even now, more than 30 months after the election, more than two years after the assault on our nation’s Capitol by angry people who believed what leaders such as Shafer were telling them, he continues to spout that dangerous nonsense.

“In the last four years, not a single allegation about what went wrong in 2020 has been seriously investigated by anyone in law enforcement,” Shafer told the audience to cries of support. “The only people that law enforcement is investigating are those that have made the allegations.”

That of course is untrue. The Trump Department of Justice investigated those claims. The FBI investigated those claims, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation investigated, as did investigators for the Georgia secretary of state. The Trump-appointed U.S. attorney for northern Georgia investigated, and was fired by Trump when he reported the election had been clean.  In recent months, we’ve learned that the Trump campaign secretly commissioned not one but two private investigations of fraud allegations, and both turned up nothing.

But in the mind of David Shafer, none of that happened. Even now, he has no second thoughts about his statements or actions, including his leadership of an effort to create “alternate electors” who would falsely cast Georgia’s 16 electoral votes for Trump.

“I don’t regret a single thing that I did in the four years I was state chairman,” Shafer told the crowd. “There have been times in my life where I’ve done things and then said to myself afterward, ‘Well, I wish I hadn’t done that.’ But there’s not a single thing I did in the pursuit of election integrity that I have any regret or concern about.”

One man’s self-delusion, however profound, is usually not cause for general despair, but multiply it by millions and millions and scale begins to matter. In a new poll by CBS, 61% of Republican primary voters say they want a nominee who will tell them that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. Overall in that poll, Trump leads Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis by 58% to 22%, and 75% of Trump voters say they support him because “he actually won in 2020.” They want to restore to him what they believe was stolen from him.

This is not a healthy place for a democracy, and it offers yet another important reason for the work being done by Fulton Country District Attorney Fani Willis and independent counsel Jack Smith in Washington. The David Shafers of the world will never be convinced that Trump lost; it is too engrained in their personal identity and worldview; for them to acknowledge this gigantic truth at this late date would be to acknowledge far too many other truths as well. So they do not permit themselves such thoughts.

However, if reality matters, if we hope to build our futures and world upon a foundation of shared truth, then that we must establish that truth, defend that truth. And the courts were created to serve exactly that purpose.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.