In what for decades has been a reliably red state, the Republican Party has lost both U.S. Senate seats to Democrats and stands a real chance of losing the governor’s mansion as well. And all of this reflects the GOP’s devolution into a cult of personality devoted to former president Donald Trump — a nationwide phenomenon that could affect key races elsewhere as well.
It is true that the Democratic Party has been gaining strength in Georgia for some time. It is also true that Abrams is a singularly brilliant organizer and electrifying campaigner. But Kemp should be cruising toward another term, and likely would be if not for Trump.
When President Biden narrowly won the state last year, Kemp — long an enthusiastic, MAGA-hat-wearing Trump supporter — showed some integrity and refused to go along with Trump’s false claims of voter fraud. Ever since, Trump has been incensed with him and bent on revenge.
Trump wants to see Abrams defeated, he said in a statement last week, “but it will be hard to do with Brian Kemp, because the MAGA base will just not vote for him after what he did with respect to Election Integrity and two horribly run elections, for President and then two Senate seats.”
Actually, it was Trump who lost those Senate seats for the GOP in January runoff balloting by questioning the legitimacy of Georgia’s voting process and encouraging his supporters not to vote. But, of course, Trump blames Kemp, because anything that goes wrong always has to be someone else’s fault.
While regularly trashing Kemp in the pompous statements he issues from Mar-a-Lago, Trump has been encouraging Perdue to challenge the incumbent. When they appeared together at a rally in September, Trump called Perdue a “great guy” and asked him, “Are you going to run for governor?”
The lesson other Republicans across the nation are meant to learn is that unless they go along with Trump’s “big lie” about the 2020 election supposedly being “stolen,” they will pay a price.
Perdue clearly has been paying attention. Georgia Republicans must be united to defeat Abrams, he said in a Twitter video announcing his candidacy. “Unfortunately, today we are divided, and Brian Kemp and Brad Raffensperger are to blame.” Raffensperger, Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, refused Trump’s demand that he somehow “find” just enough votes so that he, rather than Biden, would win the state.
“Instead of protecting our elections,” Perdue said of Kemp, “he caved to Abrams and cost us two Senate seats, the Senate majority, and gave Joe Biden free rein.”
None of that is true, except in the make-believe world of MAGA-land. Here on planet Earth, recounts and an audit showed that there was no voter fraud in Georgia and that Biden won the state fair and square. And those Senate seats would probably still be in the GOP column if Trump hadn’t told Republicans that their votes wouldn’t be counted fairly and that they might as well not bother.
Kemp might well defeat Perdue in the primary, despite Trump’s machinations. Kemp is familiar to Georgia Republicans, having spent two terms as secretary of state — and having presided over election process changes that Abrams claims were responsible for her narrow defeat in 2018. As of July, he had already reportedly amassed $12 million in campaign funds.
But he might have to spend so heavily against Perdue that he could have a depleted war chest in a general election against Abrams, a prodigious fundraiser. And does anyone doubt that a primary victory by Kemp would be spun by Trump as yet another “rigged” election? Does anyone think Trump would be big enough to advise Republicans to unite behind Kemp, whom he so despises? Or is he more likely, once again, to tell them that their votes won’t matter?
The GOP had the chance to make a definitive break with Trump after the Capitol insurrection in January. The party decided to stick with him — and now it’s stuck with him.
That’s the thing about Faustian bargains. They rarely end well.