We’re at a hinge point in our politics: In the coming weeks, we will get a clearer sense of the influence that Donald Trump wields over GOP primaries. Nowhere is this more pressing than in Georgia, where Trump has staked a great deal on his endorsements of a slate of Trumpist candidates who are challenging establishment Republican incumbents.
Trump’s candidates may be in trouble, and some observers are interpreting as a sign of his weakening hold on the GOP. But something else is on the ballot, too: Whether running on a vow to subvert future election losses by any means necessary will be a political winner for Republicans going forward.
In a new report on the Georgia primaries, NPR finds that Republicans in the state have little confidence that Trump’s candidate for governor will prevail. Trump has endorsed former senator David Perdue, who is running a primary challenge to sitting Gov. Brian Kemp.
Trump endorsed Perdue for the express reason that Kemp refused to help Trump steal the 2020 election. But Perdue “lags behind Kemp in fundraising and polling,” reports NPR, and Georgia Republicans say Kemp appears likely to hang on.
That’s because Kemp is still seen as conservative, due to things like his opposition to covid-19 mandates and his support for Georgia’s voter suppression law. Republican voters appear to think Kemp delivered for them, despite refusing to irredeemably corrupt himself on Trump’s behalf. Indeed, as Josh Kraushaar reports, Perdue is trailing Kemp even though most GOP voters do know Trump endorsed him, a clear sign his 2020 lies may be falling flat.
If Perdue loses, it will be a comeuppance for one of the sleaziest political hustlers we’ve seen in some time. Perdue’s argument basically amounts to pitching himself as more willing than Kemp to debase himself and corrupt our democracy for the Trumpist cause.
At first, Perdue kept this subtle, if that’s the word for it. He ran an ad featuring Trump, who intoned that Kemp had “let us down.” That implicitly criticized Kemp’s refusal to steal the election for Trump, but without saying so directly.
But now Perdue is all in, declaring outright this week that the 2020 election was indeed stolen. It was actually ratified by numerous audits and recounts, but as Steve Benen notes, this was plainly necessary to keep Trump happy with Perdue’s candidacy.
For good measure, at a rally this week Perdue visibly encouraged the crowd when it chanted “lock him up” about Kemp:
Perdue subsequently backtracked. But Perdue’s campaign promoted his “lock him up” moment, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, boosting the idea that Kemp should be imprisoned for disloyalty to Trump, in an effort to “gain ground” against Kemp among Trump voters.
On top of all this, Perdue has openly declared that he would not have certified Trump’s 2020 loss, as Kemp did. It’s reasonable to read this as an implicit vow not to certify a future loss on the basis of made-up voter fraud claims. It’s also fair to ask whether as governor Perdue would certify a fake slate of electors for Trump or an imitator in 2024, in defiance of the state’s popular vote, which could be counted by a GOP House.
But it gets even worse. Trump has endorsed Rep. Jody Hice’s (R-Ga.) primary challenge to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. One of Raffensperger’s chief transgressions? He rebuffed Trump’s pressure to literally manufacture votes out of thin air to reverse the outcome.
Hice, then, is not just a loyal devotee of Trump’s lies about 2020. He’s really running on an implicit willingness to do what Raffensperger would not, i.e., use his official powers to overturn a future loss. Indeed, this is partly why Trump endorsed him! Hice may still win, but this is proving much closer than observers expected. Trump’s lies are not proving as potent here, either.
This sort of mania is unfolding in many other states. To take just one other bonkers example: the Associated Press reports that a GOP candidate for secretary of state in Ohio who previously acknowledged Trump’s 2020 loss has now backflipped and declared the election stolen.
Why? Apparently because he’s facing primary challengers who full-throatedly embrace that lie, and he needed to keep pace.
A great deal is at stake in seeing candidates like these lose wherever possible. True, liberals might argue that Kemp winning in Georgia — where the primary winner will face voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams in the general election — might be terrible for democracy in other ways. And yes, Kemp did sign one of the worst voter suppression bills in the country.
But if it turns out there’s little political payoff for campaigning on an open vow to treat future election results as illegitimate and nonbinding — well, that would certainly bode better for democracy’s future than the alternative.