georgia senate runoffs

Trump Divides Georgia Republicans Ahead of Crucial Senate Runoffs

The president and Georgia’s governor in happier days. Photo: John Bazemore/AP/Shutterstock

It is difficult to overestimate the significance of Georgia’s two U.S. Senate runoffs on January 5. If Republicans hold onto the seats of both David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, they will hold a 52-48 margin in the Senate and could maintain a choke hold on the new Biden administration’s Cabinet and judicial nominations, not to mention anything approaching a progressive legislative agenda. A split decision would also continue Republican control, while a Democratic sweep by Perdue opponent Jon Ossoff and Loeffler foe Raphael Warnock would make all the difference in the world in terms of what the 46th president can accomplish between now and the 2022 midterms.

The importance of these unusual winter contests is borne out by the vast, unprecedented wave of money pouring into Georgia, ensuring a heavy diet of political ads, phone calls, and emails throughout the holiday season. Just before the Thanksgiving weekend, Ad Age estimated that $272 million had already been spent by the four campaigns and their allies. Projections of the ultimate dollar count range up to and beyond a cool billion. That doesn’t count the lavish spending by the candidates and the parties before November 3. Terms like “insane” are being deployed in the effort to convey how excessive the commitment of resources has become.

Georgia has clearly become more competitive since the last Senate runoff (won easily by Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss in 2008), as illustrated by Democrats’ pickup of two U.S. House seats in the last two election cycles, Democrat Stacey Abrams’s very close loss to Brian Kemp in 2018, and of course Joe Biden’s history-making capture of Georgia’s 16 electoral votes this year. So both parties need to create lean, mean fighting machines for the tough slog to January 5. And Republicans are decidedly not off to a good start in terms of presenting a united front, thanks to you-know-who. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Greg Bluestein has the latest on the soon-to-be-former president’s fury at those Georgia Republicans who refuse to pretend the state and the White House have been stolen from him:

The rocky relationship between Gov. Brian Kemp and Donald Trump hit a new low on Sunday when the president said he was “ashamed” that he endorsed the fellow Republican in a tight race for governor in 2018.

“The governor has done nothing,” Trump said during a Fox News interview on his false claims of rampant voter fraud in Georgia. “He’s done absolutely nothing. I’m ashamed that I endorsed him.”

The remarks came as the president vented that neither Kemp nor Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, another Republican he supported in the midterm, prevented the certification of results that showed he narrowly lost the state to Joe Biden.

Trump clearly believes Kemp owes him big time for endorsing him just prior to a 2018 gubernatorial runoff that lifted the fiery vote suppressor to the GOP nomination over longtime front-runner Casey Cagle. Their relationship went off the rails near the end of last year when Kemp ignored Trump’s public and private efforts to secure a Senate appointment (upon the health-related resignation of longtime Republican incumbent Johnny Isakson) as a reward for his impeachment pit bull, Congressman Doug Collins. Kemp instead tapped Loeffler, an inestimably rich political novice thought to appeal more to Democratic-trending suburban women than the vicious hillbilly Collins. A few months later Trump found fault with Kemp’s handling of COVID-19, for the unlikely sin of going even further than the president in urging speedy business reopenings — basically Kemp zigged when the administration briefly zagged.

But Kemp’s decision to side with Raffensperger rather than Team Trump in the effort to overturn the presidential results in Georgia was apparently the last straw, notes Bluestein:

The outpouring of anger has been one-sided: Each time Trump has swiped at the governor, he’s either declined to respond or turned to a common enemy, such as Democrats or the media. Still, state GOP officials say the president seems to have taken Kemp’s decision to sign off on the certification of the election as a personal betrayal.

It has put Loeffler in a very tricky position. She dispatched Collins in the first stage of Georgia’s special election for the rest of Isakson’s term with a combination of heavy spending from her personal wealth and an impressively sycophantic effort to be Trumpier than anyone else in the Senate and as reactionary as anyone else in the Georgia GOP. When she gleefully bagged the endorsement of QAnon enthusiast (and soon-to-be congresswoman) Marjorie Taylor Greene, she reached the omega point of right-wing politics. And in the days just after November 3, she joined Perdue in denouncing Raffensperger, demanding his resignation for failure to overturn Georgia’s election results in Trump’s favor.

Loeffler has not, so far, turned on her ultimate benefactor Kemp, but Trump is a jealous god, so it could come to that.

Will all this internecine tension affect Republican unity in January? It couldn’t possibly help. But Republicans these days have become notorious for the ability to turn on a dime when facing the hated opposition. Collins, for example, after 11 months of calling Loeffler a corrupt RINO, endorsed her instantly upon conceding on Election Night. And even though Trump is working hard to keep Georgia Republicans at each other’s throats, his son
Donald Jr. is getting involved in the runoff campaign very personally, as Politico reports:

Advisers to Donald Trump Jr. are launching a super PAC to prod the president’s supporters to vote in the upcoming Georgia Senate runoffs, as Republicans grow concerned that Trump’s backers will boycott the elections.

The group, Save the U.S. Senate PAC, will this week start airing commercials featuring Trump Jr. that are aimed at mobilizing Trump backers across Georgia. A person familiar with the plans said it would be the first in a series of commercials spotlighting Donald Trump Jr. ahead of the of the Jan. 5 vote, which will decide control of the Senate.

It’s a very murky situation. But it is reasonably clear that Brian Kemp has bought himself a world of trouble in 2022, when he is expected to face a rematch with Abrams. There’s already talk that (you guessed it!) Doug Collins will offer a primary challenge to Kemp then. And if Loeffler survives the runoff, she will be on the ballot in 2022 as well, perhaps extending the apparently endless choice she faces between gratitude to the man who put her in the Senate, and fidelity to her Lord and Savior Donald Trump.

Trump Divides Georgia Republicans Prior to Senate Runoffs