2022 midterms

David Perdue May Primary Trump Foe Brian Kemp in Georgia

Does former senator David Perdue have a nasty surprise in store for Brian Kemp? Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Georgia governor Brian Kemp must have been feeling pretty good about his political career in recent weeks. He had, it seemed, dodged not just a bullet but a bullet train: Donald Trump’s open and much-repeated hatred toward him. Kemp defied Trump by seconding Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s certification of Joe Biden’s 2020 win in the Peach State and then disputing the Big Lie of a stolen election, so he was very high on the former president’s purge list for the 2022 midterms. When Trump was in Georgia campaigning for soon-to-be-defeated Republican senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in early January of this year, the soon-to-be-ex-president was already promising he’d be “here in a year and a half campaigning against your governor.”

But Trump couldn’t seem to find an A-list vehicle for vengeance against Kemp. Former representative Doug Collins, Trump’s attack dog during the first impeachment effort, said he was taking a break from elected politics. Then this summer, Trump was gently let down by influential state legislator Burt Jones, who preferred to run for an open lieutenant governor position. Various rumored dark horses with big bags of money they could hurl at Kemp never seemed to materialize. It was beginning to look like hard-core MAGA folk in Georgia were stuck with party-switching former legislator Vernon Jones, who has as much baggage as a prime guest suite at Mar-a-Lago. It looked like Kemp had outfoxed Trump.

That could still be the case, but this development reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution indicates Trump’s dream of taking down the Georgia governor isn’t quite dead:

Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue is seriously considering mounting a Republican primary challenge against Gov. Brian Kemp, according to a number of GOP activists and operatives, which would set up a divisive showdown between two of Georgia’s biggest political figures in the 2022 election.

In recent weeks, Perdue has called donors and other allies to float the idea, according to eight people who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential matters. Several of them said he’s “conflicted” about a run, while others say he’s leaning toward a challenge.

Political people in Georgia had sort of forgotten about Perdue earlier this year after he quickly ruled out a 2022 Senate candidacy against 2020 special election winner Raphael Warnock (paving the way for Herschel Walker’s candidacy). At the age of 71, it seemed Perdue was happy to ease into retirement and enjoy his wealth. Despite his close ties to Trump, he even introduced Kemp (though not effusively) at the state GOP convention this summer. Kemp himself drew some boos and hecklers.

The incumbent governor seems about halfway home to lining up most of the GOP behind him. He’s placated conservatives and boosted his job-approval rating among Republicans by avidly promoting Georgia’s controversial 2021 voting and election law and reminding everyone of his long war over voting issues with likely 2022 opponent Stacey Abrams, in which he proudly posed as a “politically incorrect conservative.” He’s amassed a solid 2022 war chest with more than $9 million in the bank, according to the most recent campaign finance reports. And he’s kept intraparty anger toward him at a low simmer. With respect to Perdue, Kemp has been quietly backing the former senator’s cousin Sonny, himself a two-term governor and then Trump’s secretary of Agriculture, for a highly controversial appointment as chancellor of the University of Georgia system.

Yet here Kemp is, close to an exceptionally dangerous primary challenge. You have to assume Perdue’s interest in this race is attributable to Trump’s relentless pressure. And as I noted earlier this year, the 45th president’s grievances with Kemp go way back:

You have to appreciate that Trump’s beef with Kemp didn’t start in late 2020. The Georgian managed to annoy his president by failing to follow his erratic lead on reopening businesses in April of 2020. Before that, in late 2019, Kemp refused to take Trump’s advice on an appointee to an open U.S. Senate seat. Clearly Trump considered these acts of ingratitude, certain as he was that his endorsement of Kemp before a 2018 Republican gubernatorial runoff was the only reason the governor was the governor.

If Perdue does jump into the race, Trump will have a broad ticket of statewide candidates in contested primaries he has endorsed: In addition to Perdue, there is Senate candidate Walker; lieutenant governor candidate Jones; and secretary of State candidate Jody Hice, who is currently a representative. The primaries will get incredibly nasty, and some if not all may go to runoffs.

Whatever this means for the Republican pols involved, it’s very good news for Georgia Democrats, who are looking at a divided GOP in a closely divided state. Kemp and other Republicans probably figure the usual midterm backlash against the president’s party will give them an advantage. But Trump’s determination to punish his enemies is a wild card that could screw up any winning hand.

David Perdue May Primary Trump Foe Brian Kemp in Georgia