Donald Trump isn’t known for owning up to his mistakes, ever. So it’s natural that in the wake of the setbacks his 2022 Republican-primary endorsement program experienced in Georgia on May 24, the once-and-would-be-future president is looking for excuses. The most tempting to him surely involves blaming his candidates — particularly the feckless gubernatorial aspirant David Perdue and the even more feckless secretary of State challenger Jody Hice, who lost to Trump enemies Brian Kemp and Brad Raffensperger, respectively. But then that would reflect poorly on Trump’s own judgment in hand-picking them to begin with, wouldn’t it?
The website for Trump’s official statements has only one allusion to the Georgia fiasco: an “ICYMI” link to a deranged bit of MAGA conspiracy-mongering basically claiming that only fraud can explain a Trump defeat this severe. But at his Wyoming rally over the weekend, Trump “denounced crossover voting in Georgia, where all voters can choose which primary they want to vote in, by Democrats who opposed Perdue and Hice,” noted the Washington Post. Trump might have been engaging in a little preemptive spinning as well, since the candidate he is trying to purge in Wyoming, Congresswoman Liz Cheney, is openly seeking to pull Democrats and independents into her August 16 primary.
The 45th president isn’t the only one attracting attention to the participation of Democrats in the Georgia Republican primary; it received some serious buzz among election analysts with no particular stake in the outcome. In mid-May, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution estimated that about 7 percent of early voters in the GOP primary were Democratic primary voters in 2020. And after the voting was done, the Associated Press suggested around 9 percent of 2022 Republican-primary early voters in Georgia were 2020 Democrats. So is Trump right? Did those rascally socialist Democrats sneak over into the GOP primary to smite candidates endorsed by the Greatest President Ever?
Maybe and maybe not. First things first: There is absolutely nothing illegal or even mildly inappropriate about Georgia voters choosing to participate in either party’s primaries as they wish. Georgia is one of 15 “open primary” states with no party registration. Voters show up at the polls and are offered either a D or R primary ballot. And while there may be some truth in Trump’s self-centered assumption that crossover voters were seeking to thwart his will, there’s no way to distinguish them from strategic voters seeking to choose the weakest general-election candidate or simply from voters who changed their actual party affiliation for one reason or another (clearly the heavy ad spending on the Republican side could have drawn in previously Democratic voters in the absence of competitive Democratic primaries in the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races). I personally know Democratic voters in Georgia who routinely vote in Republican primaries because they live in deep-red jurisdictions where all the local contests are resolved in the GOP primary (the same was true in reverse for the many decades in which Democratic primaries were tantamount to general elections in states like Georgia).
The other thing to keep in mind is the folly of trying to attribute close election victories to one of many potential causes. The AP story on crossover voting in Georgia noted that the margin by which Raffensperger avoided a potentially dangerous runoff contest was smaller than the estimated number of Democratic voters participating in the GOP primary. Does that mean Democrats decided the outcome? Perhaps, but only if you assume (a) that nearly all of them voted for Raffensperger and (b) that he might not have won a runoff anyway.
The bigger issue in Georgia for Trump at the moment isn’t figuring out why his candidates lost but whether his anger at the primary outcome will lead him to sabotage the GOP ticket in November. His chief Peach State vanquisher, Kemp, is reportedly reaching out to the camp of the ex-president in order to arrange a truce to keep the GOP more or less united going into a tough general election in which Kemp will face a rematch with Democratic voting-rights champion Stacey Abrams, and Trump’s guy Herschel Walker will confront incumbent senator Raphael Warnock. It’s unclear what will happen, as the Journal-Constitution notes:
Two people close to Trump say the chances of reconciliation were worsened when former Vice President Mike Pence headlined a pre-primary rally for Kemp, furthering a split between the two former running-mates. Others remain hopeful they can at least minimize Trump’s potential harm in a race where even slight changes in voting patterns could have a significant effect on the results.
Trump has several months to pout and whine before putting on the party harness and avoiding a replay of his destructive role in the 2021 runoffs in Georgia that gave control of the U.S. Senate to Democrats. But if he remains in a fantasyland in which even a 2022 Republican primary in a state controlled by his party was “rigged” against him, he may never make his way back to a position that makes any sense.
More on the Midterms
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