It’s possible, I suppose, that Georgia Governor Brian Kemp has cut some sort of deal with the White House to get POTUS to go along with the selection of WNBA executive and all-around moneybags Kelly Loeffler to the U.S. Senate seat being vacated at year’s end by Johnny Isakson. But if not, then when Kemp announces Loeffler as his choice at a planned Wednesday morning presser, he will be courting some serious MAGA/right-wing blowback.
For a while now, Trump and various allies have been publicly and privately lobbying Kemp to give the coveted Senate seat to congressman Doug Collins, the president’s designated pit bull on the House Judiciary Committee and a favorite of hard-core conservatives. It also seemed that two very powerful Trump friends in Georgia, Senator David Perdue and his cousin, USDA Secretary (and former two-term governor) Sonny Perdue, might also be in Collins’s corner. Once word got out that Kemp was inclined to go with Loeffler instead, things got a little sticky. He took Loeffler to a secret White House meeting with Trump, which did not seem to go all that well. And then Trump’s (and Collins’s) Florida buddy, congressman Matt Gaetz, got into a very public twitter fight with Kemp, suggesting that if the governor bucked Trump on the appointment he might be inviting a 2022 primary challenge for his own self.
The rap on Loeffler has mostly been that she’s a wealthy RINO, viz. her and her husband’s heavy financial support for Mitt Romney (and failure to give big money to Trump until recently). There have also been suspicions aired that Loeffler is soft on baby-killers, mostly because the WNBA, with whom she is associated as co-owner and CEO of the Atlanta Dream franchise, has designated Planned Parenthood as an eligible recipient of charitable funds from ticket sales. Kemp, however, whose own right-wing street cred has been pretty solid (he campaigned in 2018, with key support from Trump, as a “politically incorrect conservative,” or some would say, as a nasty gun-toting vote-suppressing nativist redneck), appears willing to take some flack in order to get a senator who (a) can self-fund in the 2020 special election — and 2022 general election, if she’s successful — she will face; and (b) can help Georgia Republicans shake the very piggy image he projected as a candidate at a time when Democrats are showing unmistakable strength among women in the vast and politically critical Atlanta suburbs.
Kemp has gotten some backup in going in this direction, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:
Loeffler, meanwhile, started introducing herself to her soon-to-be colleagues. She spoke with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell by phone in what a senior Republican official described as a positive conversation.
She was told she’d be treated as an incumbent with the full support of the NRSC, the political arm of the Senate GOP whose support could help her defend against a possible primary challenge, according to the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the private conversation.
On the abortion front, Kemp and Loeffler were defended by pundit and agitator Erick Erickson — not a big Trump fan, but certainly a reliable right-winger, particularly on this issue:
I have been told by multiple people that Loeffler is a devout, pro-life Catholic with a worldview that reflects that. I have no reason to believe otherwise….
This is one of those times to have a leap of faith with a trusted ally and perhaps give her a chance.
There’s at least one indication from the nation’s most prominent pro-Trump pundit that the president’s friends may think it’s not to late to turn Kemp around:
Aside from Trump’s reaction, the big variable here is whether Collins (or some other, probably-less-formidable conservative) decides take on Loeffler in the November 2020 jungle primary special election for the last two years of Isakson’s term (if no one wins a majority then, there would be a January 2021 runoff, potentially with Senate control at stake). He’s already said he’s considering this fractious step. And you might as well view whatever histrionics Collins pulls off as ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee during impeachment proceedings as an extended audition for Trump’s loyalty and grassroots MAGA support.
The Democratic field for this seat is still forming, but there’s nothing Donkey Party folk would love better than a Trump-involved intra-GOP food fight like the one that helped Doug Jones win a special Senate election in Alabama in 2017.