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Georgia Republicans struggle to defend Trump's attack on Lewis

Georgia Republicans are struggling to defend President-elect Donald Trump's Twitter attacks on Rep. John Lewis and his Atlanta-based congressional district, which he said was in "horrible shape."

Trump called the Atlanta district that Lewis represents a “crime infested” area that is “falling apart,” a day after the Democrat told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he will skip Trump’s inauguration next week because he doesn’t see him as a “legitimate president.”

State Sen. Josh McKoon said Trump was justified for being upset at Lewis - though he did not defend Republican's assault on the district - saying that Lewis' decision to boycott the inauguration was "petty and dangerous."

Related: Trump to John Lewis: Fix your ‘horrible’ Atlanta district

"Regardless of whether you're on the right or the left, you ought to respect the election. That's what I did in 2008 when Obama was elected," said McKoon, a Columbus Republican eyeing a bid for higher office.

"Sure, I was disappointed in the outcome, but I respected it and moved on to the next fight," added McKoon. "That's why it's really disappointing to me to see Lewis, who has this enormous legacy, say he was not going to attend the inauguration."

Leo Smith, the director of the Georgia GOP's minority engagement, said in a tweet he was ignoring media requests asking about Lewis.

"His record as an honorable hero in the 60s and 70s is revered. No need to beat him up," he wrote in a tweet ending with a Trump slogan.

Related: Donald Trump condemned for attacks on John Lewis and his Atlanta district

Other Republican leaders, including Gov. Nathan Deal and U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue, declined to comment or did not immediately return messages. Ditto for several GOP legislators who represent parts of Lewis' district.

State Rep. Allen Peake, a Macon Republican who is also a potential contender for higher office, offered a blanket statement that might reflect the mood of many Georgia GOPers.

"I'm not sure I would take on a civil rights icon and hero," he said, "but Donald Trump hasn't asked me for my advice - and he doesn't need my advice."

More on Lewis, Trump and Atlanta:

John Lewis: Donald Trump not ‘a legitimate president’

Politicians and pundits slam Trump for Lewis comments

Trump’s return to Atlanta reminder of Midtown misfire

The high rise Donald Trump planned in John Lewis’ district never happened. Sad!

John Lewis: ‘We will lay down the burden of racism’

Who is Rep. John Lewis

Map: Where is John Lewis’s Atlanta district?

12 times Congressman John Lewis broke the internet

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.