early and often

Georgia Republicans Pretend Trump Didn’t Label Them Traitors

Brian Kemp has made a habit of ignoring the 45th president for long stretches of time. Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo: Megan Varner/AP/Shutterstock

This year virtually every Republican politician has had to figure out how to come to grips with the phenomenon that is Donald Trump. He won’t go away, even for a moment. Like Santa Claus, he always seems to know who is being naughty or nice from his very self-focused point of view. And he is demanding, to put it mildly; you cannot be neutral about much of anything he does, particularly if you are a member of the political party he dominates. So Republicans take all sorts of postures, ranging from mega-MAGA strident howling at the moon to anti-anti-Trumpism. The once-noisy band of Never Trump Republicans has now been hunted virtually to extinction.

But there is one type of Republican, whose habitat is mostly in Georgia, who has an especially difficult line to toe: elected officials targeted for destruction by Trump himself, who nonetheless survived their primaries and would prefer to go on with their business without further grief from MAGA-land. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Greg Bluestein notes, they are acting as though the thunderbolts from Mar-a-Lago they escaped were just a noisy night of bad weather:

Although Trump treated some of Georgia’s top Republicans as traitors and unsuccessfully fought to unseat them in the May primary, the venom was almost entirely one-sided.

The four GOP incumbents who drew Trump-backed opponents each avoided swiping back at the former president even as they were branded as phony Republicans — or, in some cases, more derisive labels.

They continue to support Trump’s policies and receptive to accepting his blessing in November’s election.

This requires some real self-discipline, I’d imagine. You just know that when he smoked Trump candidate David Perdue by nearly a three-to-one margin on March 24, Governor Brian Kemp — whom Trump called “the worst governor in America,” among other insults — wanted to smirk and gloat and call the 45th president a stone loser. The same might be said of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, left for dead by virtually everyone when Trump talked a sitting congressman into giving up a safe House seat to dispose of the state election chief who defied orders to find him enough additional votes to carry the state in 2020. When opponent Jody Hice stupidly went dark to save money for a runoff that never happened, Raffensperger probably wanted to go wild. But he quietly claimed victory and began making up with the MAGA crowd by investigating the phantom menace of voting by non-citizens.

The nothing-to-see-here strategy has been adopted by other Republican incumbents who escaped Trump’s attempted purge, notes Bluestein:

[T]wo other down-ticket candidates opposed by Trump in the primary have avoided attacks by focusing on their races — and adhering to buzzy GOP talking points that have energized the former president’s base.

Attorney General Chris Carr has issued fundraising appeals targeting “Hunter Biden’s emails” — a favorite Trump topic — while Insurance Commissioner John King recently accused Democrats of supporting the teaching of “anti-American propaganda” in schools, even though their offices have nothing to do with either matter.

And virtually every Georgia Republican has joined the chorus of high-pitched alarms about the terrible threat posed by Kemp opponent and Democratic base–mobilizing champion Stacey Abrams, particularly now that the stiff breeze all of them expected to benefit them this year is looking more like a passing zephyr. At a time when Trump’s one big trophy from his disastrous 2022 primary night in Georgia, U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker, is unexpectedly looking like a drag on the ticket — financially as well as electorally — pointing fingers across the partisan barricades will become an even more regular habit for the Georgia GOP.

If, as many expect, Trump announces a 2024 candidacy before November 8, it will be interesting to see if politicians like Kemp and Raffensperger climb onto the bandwagon or just keep their mouths shut. They may not want to risk another rift with the reigning king of their party. After all, he proved in the 2021 Georgia Senate runoffs that he is perfectly capable of placing his ego ahead of his party’s electoral prospects.

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Georgia Republicans Pretend Trump Didn’t Label Them Traitors