The 45th President Donald Trump is on a revenge mission in Georgia.
After top Republicans denied rigging the state’s 2020 vote in his favor, he’s already inspired one primary challenge to Gov. Brian Kemp, and he supported another against Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Hurt by two special election losses that cost the GOP control of the Senate, he’s also trying to persuade Herschel Walker — a football legend in Georgia — to run for the seat that’s up again in 2022.
Trump’s angry is reflected in the emailed statements he makes to avoid social media bans. Since March, at least two dozen have mentioned Georgia, accounting for nearly 12 percent of the messages Trump’s Save America PAC has sent during that time. No other state was picked out more.
Recently, Trump recommended that the “PEOPLE of Georgia should SUE the State, and their elected officials, for running a CORRUPT AND RIGGED 2020 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION”- a response to the news that the Justice Department is accusing the state of the restrictive voting law Kemp signed after Trump’s loss and that Trump has complained does not go far enough.
At a rally Saturday night in Wellington, Ohio- Trump’s first since leaving the office — he spent time complaining about Kemp and Georgia.
Democrats have made Georgia, once reliably conservative, a competitive state. President Joe Biden’s narrow success there, the Senate victories in January, and Stacey Abram’s close race with Kemp in 2018 all have an important battleground role.
At the same time, some notable Georgia Republicans are completely aligned with the former President. The state’s congressional delegation includes some of his most loyal defenders. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who addressed at the Saturday Trump rally, is known as supporting noxious and racist conspiracy theories.
Reps. Andrew Clyde and Jody Hice are among those who have given a wrong revisionist history of the Jan. 6 riot that Trump advocates led on the Capitol. In March, when Hice began his primary bid against Raffensperger, the former president promptly supported him.
Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, a Republican who criticizes Trump, indicates the party’s tilt toward personality-driven politics and grievance over policy and empathy as an element in his decision not to run for the 2022 second term.
Duncan told NBC News “Georgia is a small microcosm of what’s happening all over the country with Republicans”. “We, unfortunately, happened to be on the front page of the paper for 10 weeks. Certainly, the crosswinds and chaos are going to show up all over the country.”
To no result, Trump frequently pressed Kemp and Raffensperger to help reverse the 2020 results in the state, at one point asking the state secretary to “find” him enough votes. Trump’s lie that the election was stolen from him has since become a litmus test for GOP applicants looking to get support from his right-wing supporters.
In 2018, Kemp launched over an establishment-friendly Republican on the then-president endorsement’s strength. Even now, under Trump’s clear threat to campaign against his re-election, Kemp has been cautious not to further antagonize him and increase the situation. However, exactly how far Trump will go to exact revenge remains to be seen. He’s expected to organize a rally in Georgia soon.
“Depending on how involved he wants to get — and it seems very involved — Trump could be a determinative voice in more than one race in Georgia,” according to one GOP operative close to Trump’s political operation.
Vernon Jones, a former state lawmaker and former Democrat whose previous party affiliation helped him a convenient Trump substitute in 2020, has begun a primary bid against the governor. He says Trump would still be president without Kemp. His campaign manager, CJ Pearson, said Trump’s dissatisfaction with Kemp was the “catalyst” for his application
But Donald Trump has not approved Jones. And Corey Lewandowski, a Trump adviser who operates one of the former president’s super PACs, indicated last week about a potentially powerful new contender.
“I have talked to what I think is going to be a phenomenal candidate,” Lewandowski announced Tuesday on conservative commentator John Fredericks’ syndicated radio show.
Lewandowski would not recognize the mystery candidate by name but named him a “known commodity” who’s “been elected in an area that traditionally Republicans don’t get elected in.”
Kemp enters 2021 with $6.3 million on hand for a re-election campaign he formally kicked off last month. Allies say he has been concentrated on activating a large group of grassroots advocates across the state.
When people at GOP events pressured him about his rejection to reverse Trump’s loss, Kemp replied by “telling the truth,” reminding them that he followed the law and stressing his achievements, said a Republican close to the group of governors who requested anonymity to discuss a politically full topic.
Pearson asked Kemp’s viability if not Trump behind him.
“We’ve seen that Brian Kemp can run well with the president’s support,” said Pearson, mentioning Trump’s 2018 endorsement. “What we haven’t seen him do is run without it.”
Raffensperger started the year with nearly $87,000 in his campaign account, and Republicans mindful of his down-ballot office and of Trump’s passionate approval of Hice view him as more vulnerable than Kemp. A Raffensperger spokesperson refused to discuss. Hice’s campaign did not answer the questions to comment on the primary.
As for the Senate race, some Republicans have shown interest in challenging Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock, including former Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who failed to him in January’s special election. Gary Black, the state’s elected agriculture commissioner, is the only published candidate with name recognition around the state.
Walker — a Heisman champion at the University of Georgia who played for Trump’s old the United States Football League franchise and later in the NFL — gave expectations that he’ll run for the seat in a tweet recently. The operative close to Trump, who demanded anonymity to talk frankly, foretold Walker would obliterate the GOP field and force the former president and his family to spend even more on Georgia. A Walker campaign also would give the party a prominent Black candidate to competing Warnock, and probably Abrams, at the top of the ticket in 2022.
With her near miss in 2018 and kept going on national profile as a right activist, Abrams would again be a awesome Demorcrat opponent for if she runs for governor, as many expected. In a state where fewer than 12,000 votes separate Biden and Trump, her potential strength is an element GOP primary applicants and voters may consider.
“At the end of the day, are you sufficiently Trump in the primary? And in the general election, does that create a burden or a problem?” said Nick Everhart, a Republican media consultant who served with Kemp’s campaign in 2018.
There have been early indications that the first question is more important. Activists at the Georgia’s GOP convention this month booed Kemp and voted to criticize Raffensperger. But there is still a part of the party that worries about the second.
Duncan, the outgoing lieutenant governor, is writing a book, expected to be publish in Septembner, describing his plans for a “GOP 2.0” to rebuild a post-Trump party. He represented the primaries against Kemp and Raffensperger as “selfish” and “solely based on wanting to pacify a former president sitting in his resort down in Mar-a-Lago.”
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