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Donald Trump Is Desperate for Vindication in Georgia Donald Trump Is Desperate for Vindication in Georgia
(about 13 hours later)
ELLIJAY, Ga. — In some ways, Brian Kemp looks the part of a popular incumbent governor currently kicking butt in a high-stakes, high-profile re-election race. Decked out in boots and jeans, his checked shirt crisp and his gray hair flawless (despite the cyclonic ceiling fans), he has a casual manner as he addresses the crowd standing around the market shop of BJ Reece Orchards, one of the many orchards tucked into the Appalachian foothills of North Georgia. Standing beside a counter laden with crispy fried pies, Mr. Kemp runs through a laundry list of accomplishments from his first term: signing a fetal-heartbeat law and a parents’ bill of rights, successfully crusading for a permitless-carry gun law, keeping schools and businesses open during most of the pandemic and so on.ELLIJAY, Ga. — In some ways, Brian Kemp looks the part of a popular incumbent governor currently kicking butt in a high-stakes, high-profile re-election race. Decked out in boots and jeans, his checked shirt crisp and his gray hair flawless (despite the cyclonic ceiling fans), he has a casual manner as he addresses the crowd standing around the market shop of BJ Reece Orchards, one of the many orchards tucked into the Appalachian foothills of North Georgia. Standing beside a counter laden with crispy fried pies, Mr. Kemp runs through a laundry list of accomplishments from his first term: signing a fetal-heartbeat law and a parents’ bill of rights, successfully crusading for a permitless-carry gun law, keeping schools and businesses open during most of the pandemic and so on.
From a conservative viewpoint — the prevailing viewpoint in these parts — it is a catalog worth cheering. Yet the governor’s expression remains serious bordering on concerned, and he sounds defensive at times, especially when talking about the new “election integrity” measures the state put in place after the uproar over the 2020 elections. There were “a lot of decisions that were made by other people” that he “never got to weigh in on,” Mr. Kemp insists, obviously uneasy about the entire topic. “So it was proper that we had discussions and talked to people about those issues to make sure everybody has confidence in the elections.” From a conservative viewpoint — the prevailing viewpoint in these parts — it is a catalog worth cheering. Yet the governor’s expression remains serious bordering on concerned, and he sounds defensive at times, especially when talking about the new “election integrity” measures the state put in place after the uproar over the 2020 elections. There were “a lot of decisions that were made by other people” that he “never got to weigh in on,” Mr. Kemp insisted, obviously uneasy about the entire topic. “So it was proper that we had discussions and talked to people about those issues to make sure everybody has confidence in the elections.”
The edge of anxiety and defensiveness makes sense, though. After all, the reason Mr. Kemp has been campaigning so hard this primary season — running a bus tour through some of the state’s most conservative corners — is that he has been targeted for removal in the primary by Donald Trump, who is hellbent on punishing him for refusing to help overturn the 2020 election results.The edge of anxiety and defensiveness makes sense, though. After all, the reason Mr. Kemp has been campaigning so hard this primary season — running a bus tour through some of the state’s most conservative corners — is that he has been targeted for removal in the primary by Donald Trump, who is hellbent on punishing him for refusing to help overturn the 2020 election results.
Mr. Trump’s chosen vessel for revenge is former Senator David Perdue, who lost a runoff with Democrat Jon Ossoff in January 2021. Mr. Perdue has servilely fashioned his campaign around Mr. Trump’s election-fraud nonsense — and little else — basically acting as a proxy for the former president and his Big Lie. But Mr. Perdue threatens to become one of Mr. Trump’s biggest disappointments. Mr. Kemp has been dominating the polls and is expected to come out on top in Tuesday’s primary — very possibly hitting 50 percent and avoiding a runoff. (Mr. Perdue’s situation is considered so dire that even Mr. Trump has reportedly given up on him, according to NBC News.) This would be a humiliating defeat for the former president, who has worked to turn the race into the ultimate grudge match between himself and his nemesis Mr. Kemp. Mr. Trump’s chosen vessel for revenge is former Senator David Perdue, who lost a runoff with Jon Ossoff, a Democrat, in January 2021. Mr. Perdue has servilely fashioned his campaign around Mr. Trump’s election-fraud nonsense — and little else — basically acting as a proxy for the former president and his Big Lie. But Mr. Perdue threatens to become one of Mr. Trump’s biggest disappointments. Mr. Kemp has been dominating the polls and is expected to come out on top in Tuesday’s primary — very possibly hitting 50 percent and avoiding a runoff. (Mr. Perdue’s situation is considered so dire that even Mr. Trump has reportedly given up on him, according to NBC News.) This would be a humiliating defeat for the former president, who has worked to turn the race into the ultimate grudge match between himself and his nemesis Mr. Kemp.
Thanks to Mr. Trump’s machinations, Georgia’s elections are once again freighted with outsized import, its primaries having become something of a referendum on the health of the Republican Party — and of American democracy. A Kemp win would be a blow not only to Mr. Trump but also to the election denialism with which he has infected the G.O.P. Just this week, “stop the steal” truthers, determined to prove that Joe Biden cheated his way into the White House, won key primaries in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Another election denier with Mr. Trump’s endorsement, Representative Jody Hice, is running for Georgia secretary of state against the Republican incumbent Brad Raffensperger. Thanks to Mr. Trump’s machinations, Georgia’s elections are once again freighted with outsize import, its primaries having become something of a referendum on the health of the Republican Party — and of American democracy. A Kemp win would be a blow not only to Mr. Trump but also to the election denialism with which he has infected the G.O.P. Just this week, “stop the steal” truthers, determined to prove that Joe Biden cheated his way into the White House, won key primaries in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Another election denier with Mr. Trump’s endorsement, Representative Jody Hice, is running for Georgia secretary of state against the Republican incumbent, Brad Raffensperger.
A strong win by Mr. Kemp would be the most promising signal to date that many Republican voters, at least in Georgia, are ready to move on — not from Mr. Trump per se, but from his toxic fixation on 2020. It could also provide a hopeful model for other results-oriented Republican governors, evidence that they can thrive even without bowing to the former president’s anti-democratic obsessions. And if Mr. Trump plays things wrong, he could wind up damaging his own political fortunes as well.A strong win by Mr. Kemp would be the most promising signal to date that many Republican voters, at least in Georgia, are ready to move on — not from Mr. Trump per se, but from his toxic fixation on 2020. It could also provide a hopeful model for other results-oriented Republican governors, evidence that they can thrive even without bowing to the former president’s anti-democratic obsessions. And if Mr. Trump plays things wrong, he could wind up damaging his own political fortunes as well.
Georgia is a sore subject for Mr. Trump. Voters didn’t simply reject him as president; they followed up by handing control of the Senate to the Democrats. Outside the ultra-MAGA bubble, within the state and beyond, even many Republicans recognize that Mr. Trump’s election-fraud ravings most likely helped depress turnout here among his followers. The former president is desperate for vindication — and, of course, vengeance.Georgia is a sore subject for Mr. Trump. Voters didn’t simply reject him as president; they followed up by handing control of the Senate to the Democrats. Outside the ultra-MAGA bubble, within the state and beyond, even many Republicans recognize that Mr. Trump’s election-fraud ravings most likely helped depress turnout here among his followers. The former president is desperate for vindication — and, of course, vengeance.
It’s not simply that Mr. Trump persuaded Mr. Perdue to take on Mr. Kemp. Nor that he worked to clear the field of other challengers, disrupting several races in the process. Nor that he took the unprecedented step of cracking open the coffers of his Save America PAC, forking over $500,000 to an anti-Kemp PAC. On a more personal level, Mr. Perdue is this election cycle’s purest stand-in for Mr. Trump: a 2020 loser desperate to reframe his failure as a theft perpetrated by nefarious Democrats and enabled by weak RINOs. His political brand exemplifies that awkward MAGA posture of strength coupled with victimhood.It’s not simply that Mr. Trump persuaded Mr. Perdue to take on Mr. Kemp. Nor that he worked to clear the field of other challengers, disrupting several races in the process. Nor that he took the unprecedented step of cracking open the coffers of his Save America PAC, forking over $500,000 to an anti-Kemp PAC. On a more personal level, Mr. Perdue is this election cycle’s purest stand-in for Mr. Trump: a 2020 loser desperate to reframe his failure as a theft perpetrated by nefarious Democrats and enabled by weak RINOs. His political brand exemplifies that awkward MAGA posture of strength coupled with victimhood.
A troubling percentage of Republicans tell pollsters they believe the stolen-election fiction. But it can be hard to know precisely what that means — or how much they really care. For many, “it’s more of a vibe than anything else,” said Sarah Longwell, an anti-Trump Republican strategist. It has become a cultural signifier, something Republicans grumble to their friends about but “don’t hold to that firmly,” she said. “There’s an element of voters kind of being like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, the election was stolen, but do we have to keep talking about it?’”A troubling percentage of Republicans tell pollsters they believe the stolen-election fiction. But it can be hard to know precisely what that means — or how much they really care. For many, “it’s more of a vibe than anything else,” said Sarah Longwell, an anti-Trump Republican strategist. It has become a cultural signifier, something Republicans grumble to their friends about but “don’t hold to that firmly,” she said. “There’s an element of voters kind of being like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, the election was stolen, but do we have to keep talking about it?’”
In Georgia, this ambivalence seems to be reflected in an April poll of Republican-primary voters, only 5 percent of whom cited election integrity as their top issue.In Georgia, this ambivalence seems to be reflected in an April poll of Republican-primary voters, only 5 percent of whom cited election integrity as their top issue.
Certainly, this sentiment is prevalent among Kemp supporters. Andy and Patricia Bargeron were among the attendees at a breakfast meet-n-greet that Mr. Kemp held in Chatsworth — part of Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene’s district — before heading to Ellijay. After 64 years of marriage, the Bargerons know the value of agreeing to disagree on certain issues. She believes that the 2020 election was stolen. He remains unconvinced and thinks Mr. Trump has “gone too far” in pressing the issue.Certainly, this sentiment is prevalent among Kemp supporters. Andy and Patricia Bargeron were among the attendees at a breakfast meet-n-greet that Mr. Kemp held in Chatsworth — part of Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene’s district — before heading to Ellijay. After 64 years of marriage, the Bargerons know the value of agreeing to disagree on certain issues. She believes that the 2020 election was stolen. He remains unconvinced and thinks Mr. Trump has “gone too far” in pressing the issue.
No matter: Both are voting for Mr. Kemp because they feel he has done a crackerjack job. And even if he could have done more to deal with the 2020 monkey business, Ms. Bargeron reasons, “No one’s perfect.” No matter: Both are voting for Mr. Kemp because they feel he has done a crackerjack job. And even if he could have done more to deal with the 2020 monkey business, Ms. Bargeron reasoned, “No one’s perfect.”
Debra Helm — who quips that she is “one of those right-wing” evangelicals — claims to still be undecided in the race. Waiting around for the Chatsworth event to start, she says she has no idea if Mr. Kemp handled the 2020 election mess well. But after listening to his sales pitch, she is clearly impressed by his record. “To use lower-class language,” she says, “he’s pretty ballsy.” Debra Helm — who quipped that she is “one of those right-wing” evangelicals — claimed to still be undecided in the race. Waiting around for the Chatsworth event to start, she said she had no idea if Mr. Kemp handled the 2020 election mess well. But after listening to his sales pitch, she was clearly impressed by his record. “To use lower-class language,” she said, “he’s pretty ballsy.”
Pretty much everyone at Mr. Kemp’s events spoke approvingly of Mr. Trump’s presidency, and plenty had lingering doubts about the 2020 election. But they had other, more pressing items on their lists of concerns as well — many of which their governor has been busy addressing.Pretty much everyone at Mr. Kemp’s events spoke approvingly of Mr. Trump’s presidency, and plenty had lingering doubts about the 2020 election. But they had other, more pressing items on their lists of concerns as well — many of which their governor has been busy addressing.
Herein lies Mr. Kemp’s advantage over many of the candidates targeted by Mr. Trump. Governors, more than most public officials, have high-profile posts and clear records to run on. Voters expect concrete results from them. And, for better or worse, they are known quantities — a little like presidents. This can reduce the need for, and in some cases the impact of, outside endorsements, even from someone like Mr. Trump. Herein lies Mr. Kemp’s advantage over many of the other candidates targeted by Mr. Trump. Governors, more than most public officials, have high-profile posts and clear records to run on. Voters expect concrete results from them. And, for better or worse, they are known quantities — a little like presidents. This can reduce the need for, and in some cases the impact of, outside endorsements, even from someone like Mr. Trump.
Mr. Kemp might be in a tougher spot if Mr. Perdue were a fantastic retail politician or a charismatic speaker. But he’s not. In this matchup, the former senator has little to offer beyond his Trump ties and his Stop the Steal blather. Worse, the stench of his 2021 loss is still fresh. “Perdue didn’t beat Ossoff,” Mr. Bargeron reasons. “How is he going to beat Stacey Abrams?” Mr. Kemp might be in a tougher spot if Mr. Perdue were a fantastic retail politician or a charismatic speaker. But he’s not. In this matchup, the former senator has little to offer beyond his Trump ties and his Stop the Steal blather. Worse, the stench of his 2021 loss is still fresh. “Perdue didn’t beat Ossoff,” Mr. Bargeron said. “How is he going to beat Stacey Abrams?”
In the Trump Republican Party, anything can happen come Election Day. But plenty of Republicans are poised, eager even, for Mr. Perdue to crash and burn so that they can point to the failure as proof that Mr. Trump’s Big Lie has run its course — or, better still, that Mr. Trump’s grip on the party is slipping. Some are actively working to help the cause, including former President George W. Bush, who was scheduled to attend a fund-raiser for Mr. Kemp this month.In the Trump Republican Party, anything can happen come Election Day. But plenty of Republicans are poised, eager even, for Mr. Perdue to crash and burn so that they can point to the failure as proof that Mr. Trump’s Big Lie has run its course — or, better still, that Mr. Trump’s grip on the party is slipping. Some are actively working to help the cause, including former President George W. Bush, who was scheduled to attend a fund-raiser for Mr. Kemp this month.
Supporting Mr. Kemp is also a way for some party players to put some breathing room between themselves and Mr. Trump without taking him on directly. Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, and former Vice President Mike Pence are among the boldfaced names hitting the trail with the governor. Both men have evinced an interest of late in fashioning themselves as independent, principled conservatives — a brand they may anticipate will play well in a future presidential contest.Supporting Mr. Kemp is also a way for some party players to put some breathing room between themselves and Mr. Trump without taking him on directly. Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, and former Vice President Mike Pence are among the boldfaced names hitting the trail with the governor. Both men have evinced an interest of late in fashioning themselves as independent, principled conservatives — a brand they may anticipate will play well in a future presidential contest.
The more it looks as though Georgia voters will reject Mr. Perdue, the more Republicans feel empowered to criticize his campaign. A recent CNN piece featured a parade of his former Senate colleagues expressing dismay over his election-fraud focus — again, a far safer route than directly criticizing Mr. Trump.The more it looks as though Georgia voters will reject Mr. Perdue, the more Republicans feel empowered to criticize his campaign. A recent CNN piece featured a parade of his former Senate colleagues expressing dismay over his election-fraud focus — again, a far safer route than directly criticizing Mr. Trump.
If Mr. Kemp trounces Mr. Perdue, and by extension Mr. Trump, the key question then becomes how the former president responds — especially as people play up the Trump-is-losing-his-juice narrative. The sensible course would be for him to shrug off the taunting and walk away, letting the loss fade to just another entry in his long endorsement record.If Mr. Kemp trounces Mr. Perdue, and by extension Mr. Trump, the key question then becomes how the former president responds — especially as people play up the Trump-is-losing-his-juice narrative. The sensible course would be for him to shrug off the taunting and walk away, letting the loss fade to just another entry in his long endorsement record.
But if he bows to his ego and continues assailing Mr. Kemp deep into the general election, many Republicans could start having ugly flashbacks to 2021, posits Jay Williams, a Republican strategist in Georgia. If the party winds up faring less well in November than expected, part of the blame will most likely fall on the former president. And if Stacey Abrams wins, Mr. Williams adds, that could be traumatic enough to sour many Republicans on Mr. Trump’s Big Lie — and possibly the man himself.But if he bows to his ego and continues assailing Mr. Kemp deep into the general election, many Republicans could start having ugly flashbacks to 2021, posits Jay Williams, a Republican strategist in Georgia. If the party winds up faring less well in November than expected, part of the blame will most likely fall on the former president. And if Stacey Abrams wins, Mr. Williams adds, that could be traumatic enough to sour many Republicans on Mr. Trump’s Big Lie — and possibly the man himself.
Georgia Republicans may still be enamored of Mr. Trump. But that doesn’t mean they want to carry his 2020 burden around with them forever — or even into November.Georgia Republicans may still be enamored of Mr. Trump. But that doesn’t mean they want to carry his 2020 burden around with them forever — or even into November.
“The people who are supporting Perdue are living in the past,” said Brian Wilson, a Kemp supporter at the breakfast event. “I want to live in the future.”“The people who are supporting Perdue are living in the past,” said Brian Wilson, a Kemp supporter at the breakfast event. “I want to live in the future.”
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