2020 elections

After Meeting, Trump and Georgia Governor Still at Odds on Senate Pick

Would-be U.S. senators Kelly Loeffler and Doug Collins. Photo: Getty Images

The saga of Donald Trump’s effort to force Doug Collins into Johnny Isakson’s Senate seat over the objections of Georgia governor Brian Kemp, who actually makes the appointment, is getting really interesting. In case you missed it, Kemp has made it broadly known that he wants to place Atlanta entrepreneur and WNBA franchise owner Kelly Loeffler in the seat, as a gesture to the suburban voters (especially women) who may hold the balance of power in this increasingly competitive state. Loeffler is also capable of self-financing the 2020 special-election campaign the appointee will face (and then if she wins, a 2022 reelection campaign), which is mighty helpful in a year when Georgia Republicans will face multiple demands for cash (including at least two competitive House races and the reelection bid of the other senator, David Perdue).

The vacancy is being created by Isakson’s health-related resignation effective at the end of the year.

But Trump has made it equally clear that there’s just one candidate for him: Congressman Doug Collins, who is as we speak girding his loins to fight for the president when the House Judiciary Committee considers articles of impeachment (Collins is the ranking minority member on Judiciary).

On Sunday, Kemp quietly flew to Washington with Loeffler (and as a go-between, Mike Pence adviser and Georgia native Nick Ayers) in tow to introduce his favorite to Trump and perhaps get his blessing. According to The Wall Street Journal, the meeting “turned tense and ended quickly,” without either of the principals changing his mind. They have since talked by phone, but there’s no sign of agreement so far.

Aside from being Trump’s designated pit bull in a key House venue, Collins is also the favorite of conservative ideologues in Georgia, who fear Loeffler is a squishy RINO (she and her husband, who is president of the New York Stock Exchange, gave a lot of money to Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, and have only recently begun ponying up for Trump’s reelection effort). Taking a cue from the White House and from their ideological brethren down South, Breitbart News has taken up the cry for Collins as opposed to Loeffler:

Debbie Dooley, a Tea Party movement co-founder and a Georgia conservative activist, told Breitbart News in an interview Friday that Collins will both defend Trump during the impeachment proceedings as well as advance Trump’s America First agenda …

Dooley said in contrast to Collins, Loeffler is a “country club Republican” with concerning ties to Planned Parenthood, Stacey Abrams, and has donated to Republicans such as Sen. Mitt Romney and former Speaker Paul Ryan, who have been sharply critical of Trump.

These “ties” involve a WNBA charitable contribution from ticket sales that included Planned Parenthood as one of a number of beneficiaries. And Abrams — Kemp’s 2018 general-election opponent, whose nearly successful race made her a national Democratic icon — was simply on an advisory committee for the WNBA players’ union, which doesn’t exactly make the team owner her friend. But a smear’s a smear.

The backstory here is that Kemp owes Trump bigly for a last-minute endorsement when he faced Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle in a Republican runoff last year. There is at least some circumstantial evidence, moreover, that the really big dogs in Georgia Republican politics, the Perdue cousins (Senator David and USDA Secretary and former two-term governor Sonny) are in the Collins camp as well. Another problem for Kemp is that Collins is threatening to run for the seat in next year’s special election to finish Isakson’s term (a jungle primary followed more than likely by a January 2021 runoff) even if Loeffler or someone else gets the interim appointment.

Kemp surely doesn’t want a rift with Trump, an ideologically freighted intraparty battle, or a ticket weakened heading toward a 2020 election with the highest possible stakes. If Republicans screw this up, they could lose two Senate seats, which could make the currently low odds of a Democratic takeover of the upper chamber much higher. But these are two stubborn men in what seems to have become a game of chicken, and nobody’s backed down yet.

After Meeting, Trump and Kemp Still at Odds on Senate Pick