The last time Donald Trump screwed things up for the Republican Party in Georgia—less than a year ago—it cost his party control of the U.S. Senate and the country trillions of dollars (so far). Guess who’s back to offer more “help” to Georgia Republicans?
In case you missed it, Trump (who also managed to lose Georgia’s electoral votes during the presidential election to a Democrat for the first time since 1992) is backing former U.S. Senator David Perdue in a primary bid against Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, who angered Trump by not helping him overturn the 2020 election results. Trump wants to get even, but a lot of Republicans just want to get ahead.
“I would hate to see two good men run against each other,” Eric Tanenblatt, who served as chief of staff to former Gov. Sonny Perdue, told CNN’s Mike Warren in November. “Having watched the Republican Party become the dominant party in Georgia, it’s puzzling to me [that] we would see a sitting incumbent Republican governor be challenged by another Republican.”
“My hope is that [Perdue] won’t run,” Georgia Rep. Buddy Carter, a Trump supporter, told Warren at the time. “My hope is that we’ll have just one candidate that we can unify behind.”
Guess what? Party unification isn’t at the top of Trump’s priority list. And keeping Stacey Abrams from becoming governor is, at best, a distant third (right behind getting revenge against his enemies and paving the way for his own 2024 election).
Trump is picking up where he left off in Georgia, doing and saying the same sorts of things that cost Republicans not one, but two, absolutely crucial U.S. Senate seats in January.
As you might recall, Trump’s talk about his election being rigged convinced some Republicans to simply stay home during the state’s January 2021 runoff contests that would determine which party controlled the U.S. Senate.
Trump later conceded this to David Drucker, telling him “They didn’t want to vote, because they knew we got screwed in the presidential election.” Trump also told Drucker that during his rallies in the state, he didn’t stress to voters that Georgia’s voting system was reliable because he “was angry with what happened there.”
Smash-cut to December, and Trump is actively laying the groundwork for a similar outcome. On the heels of Perdue’s announcement, Trump issued a statement saying, “I can’t imagine that Brian Kemp, who has hurt election integrity in Georgia so badly, can do well at the ballot box (unless the election is rigged, of course).”
Unless it is rigged?
As conservative blogger Allahpundit put it, “Probably the single most disruptive and deleterious thing Trump could do to undermine that [post-primary Republican] reunion would be to push the idea that if Kemp wins then he must have cheated to do so. That’ll delegitimize Kemp’s victory in the eyes of some Trumpers and convince others that Georgia’s elections are too tainted to warrant their involvement. They’ll protest by staying home in the general election. Result: Abrams wins.”
This is not some flippant, off-the-cuff remark that Trump said once. Just last week, Trump said that “the MAGA base will just not vote for [Kemp] after what he did with respect to Election Integrity and two horribly run elections, for President and then two Senate seats.”
Back in September, Trump told Georgians that Abrams “might well be better” than Kemp as governor.
Under normal conditions, an incumbent Republican governor like Kemp would cruise to another nomination, thus avoiding a bruising and divisive conflict before a general election rematch with Abrams (who, a little like Trump, refused to acknowledge the validity of her own close loss in 2018.)
In this scenario, Abrams’ candidacy would likely end up in the same quixotic league as Beto O’Rourke’s. In other words, she would drain national funds and suck up attention without winning in a race against a reasonably popular incumbent in a state that still favors Republicans.
But Trump in the mix changes that dynamic dramatically. Keep in mind, if Abrams wins the governorship in Georgia, she instantly becomes a top-tier candidate for president.
Republican infighting is the best way to help that outcome along, and this gubernatorial primary is already shaping up to be a heavyweight fight, pitting two statewide elected Republicans against one another. Neither side seems likely to back down, and both sides appear to be well financed (Kemp beat Perdue to the punch, running an ad last month that touted his work “stopping the radical left from defunding the police”). And Perdue and Kemp (via his spokesperson) are already trading blows. One thing seems certain. Whoever wins this brawl will already be bleeding by the time they face off against Abrams.
If you’re a Republican who cares about issues (not Trump’s wounded ego), the real shame is that this is all pretty much pointless. Truth be told, Perdue’s rationale for primarying Kemp seems to be wholly concocted. “I’m running for governor to make sure Stacey Abrams is never governor of Georgia,” Perdue declared as he launched his campaign that could elect Stacey Abrams against the guy who just beat Stacey Abrams. To beat her, “we simply have to be united,” Perdue continued, while announcing a bid guaranteed to ensure Georgia Republicans are not, in fact, united.
Kemp “cost us two Senate seats,” claimed the guy who literally lost a Senate seat to a Democrat in Georgia, with some help from Trump who also managed to lose Georgia himself.
Any way you look at it, this race is shaping up to be a hot mess. And I’m just scratching the surface.
Keep in mind that MAGA fan Vernon Jones, an African American and former Democratic state representative, is also currently running for governor as a Republican, and he’s already out there calling Kemp and Perdue “two peas in a pod!”
And keep in mind that this is happening at the same time former NFL star and problematic politician Herschel Walker is the leading Republican in the campaign to win back Georgia’s U.S. Senate seat that Republican Kelly Loeffler lost earlier this year.
As if that wasn’t enough internecine drama, Trump (in what many fear is an effort to purge and replace anyone who blocked his attempt to overturn the 2020 election) is also backing a primary challenge to Georgia’s incumbent Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger—the man whose only sin was refusing to “find 11,780 votes” for Trump.
This is a lot for one state to handle. It’s as if Trump wants to go nuclear in 2024 and he’s testing it now. I guess that makes Georgia Los Alamos.
If Trump blows up the state’s Republican Party in the process, it will all be worth it—at least for him.
Don’t worry, Donald. They’ll still love you tomorrow—no matter what.