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Don’t poke the bear: Why Republicans are backing Trump during lame duck

Even if they privately relish the prospect of a Donald Trump-less Washington, Republicans are not poking the bear ahead of two crucial January runoffs in Georgia, which will determine US Senate control and, in effect, the balance of political power in America.

The post election autopsy is already showing that Republican incumbents in runoffs may not get the same enthusiasm from voters if Trump is seen as a president who has accepted the Biden victory and is well and truly into his lame duck days. If Republicans distance from Trump and Trump takes his base and goes home, Georgia might be lost and so too the Senate.

So far, the tally in the 100 member Senate is a dead heat. Republicans and Democrats have 48 seats each. If Democrats get 50 seats, they will effectively have control because the Vice President has the tie-breaking vote. That VP will be Kamala Harris in 2021. Republicans absolutely need 51 seats to retain control.

Trump, despite his electoral college loss to Biden, pulled in a record number of votes – more than 71 million at last count. A lot of the down ballot races benefited from Trump on top of the ballot. There is real fear now that the support may wane if Trump is decidedly off the ticket.

For as long as possible before the January 5 runoffs in Georgia, Republicans want to keep their voters riled up with claims of victory or seen to be supporting Trump, at the very least.

Based on dispatches from a leaky White House and rattled Republicans, these are the calculations animating the sometimes comical, often bizarre support for Trump’s claims of a rigged election. For Trump, the lawsuits are an off ramp that allow him a wronged man avatar before the eventual exit.

Republicans are also looking to lean into Trump’s grievances in a bid to keep the Trump base loyal for as long as possible.

With a Democratic majority in the Senate, Biden will have real power in Washington to push a bold legislative agenda. The Democrats already control the House of Representatives, although with a slimmer majority than earlier.

Two seats in Georgia are proceeding to runoffs on January 5 because no candidate reached the 50 per cent mark needed to win multi-candidate races. North Carolina is in the thick of a tight race and Alaska is too early to call.

“Now we take Georgia, and then we change America,” is the battle cry of the Democrats, buoyed by Biden’s victory. For the other side, the “Senate is the last line of defence”.

Both Senate seats in Georgia are held by Republicans.

“I can’t tell you how important it is that we flip the United States Senate. There’s no state more consequential than Georgia in that fight,” Biden said during the campaign.

It’s all on the line here.