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Opinion The looming humiliation of David Perdue will show Trumpism’s limits

Republican candidate for Georgia governor and former senator David Perdue. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

If David Perdue’s challenge to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp fails Tuesday, it will show that you don’t have to embrace Trumpian insurrectionism to compete in GOP primaries. That would be welcome: Perdue’s candidacy is built on the idea that Kemp’s refusal to help Donald Trump steal the 2020 election was a massive betrayal, an absurdity that merits the most dramatic humiliation possible.

But the looming shaming of Perdue is important for another reason. If he loses decisively, as is widely expected, this will also suggest that a certain type of Trumpist culture-war politics has its limits at a time when that sort of politics is metastasizing in a virulent and ugly new way.

With Georgia voters going to the polls Tuesday, Perdue is ending his campaign with a fitting burst of abject self-debasement. Perdue spent months running on an implicit vow to use the powers of the governor to subvert a 2024 election loss on Trump’s behalf in a way Kemp refused to do.

Now Perdue, who lost his Senate seat in a 2021 runoff and has tried to hitch a ride on Trumpism to revive his career, is signaling that he might not accept his own election loss. Asked about this by reporters on Monday, Perdue said: “Depends on if there’s fraud or not.”

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This raises an amusing possibility: If Perdue loses and refuses to accept the results, will Trump even join him? Trump is reportedly angry that his endorsement of Perdue has associated him with a losing campaign and is washing his hands of it.

So you can easily see Perdue claiming that he’s the victim of fraud, waiting for Trump to amplify this injustice and getting silence from Trump, who will have moved on to blaming Perdue for failing him. That would be a well-deserved humiliation, payback for an extraordinarily cynical exercise in this kind of Trumpist politics.

But beyond this, another form of ugly politicking is also on the ballot. It concerns efforts to turn the battle over climate change into yet another marker in the culture wars.

Perdue has attacked Kemp for supporting the construction of an electric vehicle factory in rural Georgia. As NBC News reports, the electric truck company Rivian is promising 7,500 new jobs, and Perdue is faulting Kemp for offering $1.5 billion in taxpayer incentives to make that happen.

But Perdue has gone beyond attacking the deal’s financing. In what appears to be a desperate effort to rescue his campaign, he has insinuated that the company’s true goal isn’t reducing greenhouse gas emissions, denouncing it as a “George Soros-owned woke corporation.”

Perdue even put this into an ad, which intones about “a secret backroom deal between a governor and liberal billionaire George Soros.”

As NBC notes, Soros owns only a small stake in the company. But nonetheless, Trump himself has blazed the trail straight from Kemp to Soros, recently alleging a direct Kemp payoff to him, and Perdue has done the same.

It’s hard to overstate how vacuous this nonsense truly is. It’s disgusting enough when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Republicans attack Disney, but at least there’s an actual dispute over values involved, i.e. the one over Disney’s opposition to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.

By contrast, Perdue’s attack on Rivian as “woke” appears to be based on … its manufacture of electric vehicles. As Perdue recently sneered: “It’s a woke California company whose mission is to turn the world green.”

To simply bank on voters reading concern about climate change as inherently unacceptable “wokeness” demonstrates an almost boundless contempt for them. The mere act of demonstrating such concern is getting transformed into yet another cultural signifier.

At this point, Trump is apparently presumed by the likes of Perdue to have the power to make just about anything into such a signifier, merely by saying it’s so.

Along those lines, Trump recently suggested that a GOP House primary candidate in West Virginia he opposed had betrayed Trumpism by supporting more infrastructure spending in the state; that candidate actually lost on this basis. Now, support for the creation of manufacturing jobs has somehow been turned into a mark of the cultural enemy, simply because it might also benefit the planet.

This is comically weak stuff. Indeed, it’s almost as though Trump is phoning it in. Yet in another act of self-abasement, Perdue has pantingly followed Trump down this path.

Even worse, this is spreading. The Associated Press has a remarkable piece documenting that numerous officials in red states have launched campaigns to smear companies as “woke” for the simple act of factoring concerns about long-term environmental risk into investment decisions.

One has to hope Perdue is decisively defeated. Whether he’s campaigning on a vow to subvert future elections or on efforts to turn the battle over our planet’s future into yet another Own The Libs culture war, what needs repudiation is this ludicrously empty and destructive form of politics.

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