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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

April 7: Trump’s Georgia Purge Not Going Exactly as Planned

As a long-time resident of Georgia, I still follow politics there closely, and was amused at some of what I was seeing in the Peach State this year; I wrote it up at New York:

When Donald Trump got former U.S. senator David Perdue to launch a primary challenge to Georgia governor Brian Kemp last December, it initially looked like a master-stroke for the ex-president’s campaign of vengeance against those who opposed his efforts to overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 victory.

Perdue, after all, had broad support in his party throughout his one-term Senate career. He would have probably beaten Jon Ossoff, winning a second term in a January 2021 general election runoff, had Trump himself not spoiled it all with wild claims of a rigged Georgia election system, convincing many of his core supporters to stay home. That Perdue might not only forgive Trump but serve as his cat’s-paw against Kemp was surprising, and it saved Team MAGA from having to rely on a damaged-goods challenger like former Democrat Vernon Jones to take on the incumbent governor.

snap poll from Fox5–Insider Advantage right after Perdue’s announcement showed him running even with Kemp among likely primary voters. But it’s been a long, slow downhill ride for Perdue ever since. He’s now regularly trailing the incumbent in polls (most recently, a March Fox News survey showing Kemp up 50-39), and despite his own wealth and financial connections, he’s trailing Kemp badly in fundraising as well.

Having intervened so conspicuously in Georgia (he’s endorsed nine candidates so far), Trump decided to give his candidates, and particularly Perdue, a boost with one of his patented rallies last week. But it may have shown his fecklessness instead. Aside from reports of poor attendance (and you know how that bugs Trump!), the event made it painfully obvious that “his” ticket of candidates weren’t all on the same page. In particular, most of them are giving their supposed headliner, David Perdue, a wide berth, as CNN reports:

“None of Trump’s preferred candidates in three of the highest-profile statewide races in Georgia – Herschel Walker for US Senate, Burt Jones for lieutenant governor and Jody Hice for secretary of state – have endorsed Perdue. And in their remarks at a Trump rally in Georgia on Saturday, none of them mentioned the gubernatorial primary.”

Walker has said for a while that he will be neutral in the gubernatorial race, complaining that he’s “mad” at both candidates for spoiling party unity. Hice’s position is more curious: Like Perdue, he is Trump’s handpicked instrument of vengeance; he abandoned a safe congressional seat to purge Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in Trump’s eyes even more culpable than Kemp in frustrating his 2020 plans. The only Trump endorsee eager to support Perdue over Kemp appears to be Vernon Jones, who at the former president’s urging dropped out of the governor’s race and is running for Hice’s open House seat.

Originally Perdue was campaigning on a “unity” message, claiming an ability to bring together both Trump and Kemp loyalists in order to parry the existential threat posed by Stacey Abrams, who is running again with a united state and national Democratic Party behind her. Now it looks more like Republicans are regarding Perdue’s campaign as a distraction getting in the way of Kemp’s long-anticipated rematch with Abrams. That’s how Kemp is regarding it.

You have to figure there’s a bit of an anticipatory smell of death around Perdue’s campaign mixed with a scent of fear about displeasing Kemp. Incumbent governors in Georgia and elsewhere have a lot of power and a lot of favors to call in. Kemp certainly showed he was willing to play hardball back in 2018 when he aggressively used his powers as secretary of State to do everything possible to mess with Democratic opponent Stacey Abrams and her supporters’ ability to cast votes. In Greg Bluestein’s authoritative new account of the 2020 elections in Georgia, Kemp comes across as intensely self-disciplined, resisting every temptation to respond publicly to Trump’s constant insults, while Perdue was temperamental, thin-skinned, and sometimes checked out in his race against Ossoff. In retrospect, deploying Perdue to take down Kemp may have been like (to borrow a phrase from the late Hunter Thompson) “sending out a three-toed sloth to seize turf from a wolverine.” The former senator himself could be having second thoughts.

Perdue still has time to turn things around before the May 24 primary (there’s a minor candidate still in the field, so it’s theoretically possible Perdue and Kemp will face off again in a June 21 runoff if neither wins a majority). But the distance fellow MAGA candidates are keeping from him is not a good sign. At this point, Georgia is looking like a major stumbling block to the 45th president’s plans to show his clout in the primaries, demonstrate his continued grip on the GOP, and perhaps lay the foundation for a 2024 presidential comeback. He’s already abandoned “his” candidate for the U.S. Senate, Mo Brooks, in next-door Alabama. He probably can’t do that in Georgia. But he may be regretting his strategy.

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