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Trump Is Making Georgia All About Himself, And It Could Cost The GOP

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THOMASTON, Ga. ― Lower than two years after he helped deliver Georgia’s two Senate seats to Democrats, Donald Trump is poised to sabotage Republican Brian Kemp and provides the state a Democratic governor too.

The previous president is doing his best to vilify the first-term governor due to his refusal to assist overturn Trump’s 2020 election loss in Georgia, but Kemp has consolidated support all around the state and across the party. Polls suggest he’ll beat his primary opponent, former Sen. David Perdue, soundly on Tuesday ― in all likelihood with greater than 50% of the vote, thereby avoiding a runoff.

Which leaves Trump with three decisions: endorse the person he has forged as his top nemesis; ignore the race entirely; or actively hurt Kemp’s efforts to win reelection against Democrat Stacey Abrams.

For one former top Trump aide, the trail forward is clear: sabotage Kemp, even when it means helping Democrats win the governor’s mansion in Atlanta.

“I don’t know if he’ll do it publicly, but he’ll definitely do it privately,” the previous aide said on condition of anonymity. “That is all personal for him.”

Aides to Trump ― who ultimately tried to overturn democracy itself on Jan. 6, 2021, after his other efforts to stay in power failed ― didn’t reply to HuffPost’s queries.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) greets President Donald Trump as he steps off Air Force One at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Georgia, in March 2020.

Georgia Republicans are unsure what Trump will do, and whether he would risk incurring the wrath of a large segment of the party by tanking a governorship to satisfy his need for vengeance.

“I like Trump. I’m a Trump supporter. But he’s got to provide up his vendetta against Kemp,” said Dave Slade, a 73-year-old retired Delta Air Lines pilot who attended a rally for Kemp last week at a brewery in Canton. “I feel Trump is blowing it.”

James Gisonna, chair of the party in heavily pro-Trump Hall County, said he was impressed that Trump had not attacked Kemp quite as aggressively during his rally in Georgia in late March. “If Kemp does take this, Trump will hopefully back him up,” he said.

That hope, though, ignores Trump’s history of putting his grievances ahead of the interests of the party, corresponding to two years ago when his false claims that Georgia elections were rigged and will not be trusted wound up costing Republicans two key Senate races in Georgia and gave control of that chamber to Latest York Democrat Chuck Schumer.

What’s more, telling Georgians that Abrams could be an improvement over Kemp wouldn’t even break recent ground for Trump. He has already said precisely that.

“We might need been higher if she did win for governor of Georgia, if you wish to know the reality,” Trump said in Ohio on June 27, 2021, at his first rally since leaving office. “We might need had a greater governor if she did win.”

He repeated that evaluation three months later, this time at a rally actually in Georgia: “Having her, I feel, may be higher than having your existing governor, if you wish to know the reality. Might thoroughly be higher.”

And last week, after learning that several GOP governors and former governors were endorsing Kemp, he released a press release again disparaging the legitimacy of Georgia’s elections. “That tells you all you should learn about what you might be getting in Georgia ― only a continuation of bad elections and an actual RINO should you vote for Brian Kemp,” he said, using the acronym for “Republican in name only.”

Georgia Is A Focal Point Of The ‘Big Lie’

Ever since state officials finished their recounts and declared Democrat Joe Biden the winner of Georgia’s 16 electoral votes in November 2020, Trump has effectively made the state’s subsequent elections all about himself.

In December 2020 and the primary days of January 2021, Trump loudly spread the message that the state’s election system was riddled with fraud, whilst he campaigned for the 2 Republican incumbents facing Senate runoffs. Consequently, GOP turnout lagged and Democrats picked up each seats.

Then, as now, his rage was directed at Kemp and GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, whom he accused of betraying him by refusing to overturn Biden’s win. Indeed, Trump could still face criminal charges in Fulton County based on the recording Raffensperger made from Trump’s phone call demanding that he “find” him 12,000 votes.

As each men sought reelection, Trump recruited challengers to run against them in the first. Against Raffensperger, Trump got Rep. Jody Hice, who had already been repeating Trump’s lies a few “stolen” election. And against Kemp, Trump persuaded Perdue ― considered one of the 2 senators Trump sabotaged in January 2021.

Through the actual runoff campaign, Perdue had continuously complained that Trump was essentially telling GOP voters to remain home and that it was hurting his probabilities, in line with a top Republican acquainted with the campaign.

But as he got Trump’s support to challenge Kemp, Perdue adopted Trump’s election lies as his own, and the “stolen” election has been the singular focus of his campaign. “First off, folks, let me be very clear tonight, the election in 2020 was rigged and stolen,” he said in his opening statement during an April 25 televised debate between him and Kemp.

Perdue’s lawn signs declare he’s “Endorsed by Trump.” His campaign website features an unlimited image of him standing beside Trump, each smiling with thumbs up. At his campaign events, Perdue spends a majority of his time pushing long-debunked conspiracy theories concerning the election, including the notion that tabulation machines from Dominion Voting Systems were someway a part of the plot to defeat Trump.

“He’s probably not interested by constructing the Republican Party. He’s interested by constructing the Trump Party.”

– Charles Bullock, political science professor on the University of Georgia

Yet despite Trump’s appearances on his behalf and continued attacks on Kemp, Perdue has faltered. While a survey released by Trump’s pollster in December showed that Perdue, with Trump’s support, would handily defeat Kemp, the other appears to be going down.

A poll released this week from Fox News found Kemp beating Perdue by a 2-1 margin. Perdue has pulled his television ads off the air and in the ultimate weeks has been scheduling campaign events at county party meetings ― which guarantees not less than a modest audience, but at the associated fee of squandering precious time.

At a gathering of the Morgan County Republicans earlier this week, for instance, Perdue found himself standing around and pacing outside the meeting room. Party leaders discussed the summer schedule of events, the plight of two schoolchildren in Wisconsin punished for using the unsuitable pronouns, and even Elon Musk’s bid to purchase Twitter before inviting Perdue in.

On Thursday, a meet-and-greet at Sutton’s American Grill in Carrollton drew just 11 supporters. Perdue arrived 20 minutes late and left after only eight minutes.

Within the closing days, in truth, the likely consequence of the first has develop into so evident that Trump critics within the party have made some extent of openly backing Kemp.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, whom Trump has similarly attacked for not undoing his narrow loss to Biden there, campaigned with Kemp last weekend. Former Latest Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a probable 2024 presidential candidate, appeared with Kemp on Tuesday.

Trump’s former running mate who’s considering his own 2024 campaign, Mike Pence, last week announced that he would seem at an election-eve rally for Kemp on Monday, likely giving the previous vice chairman a high-profile, head-to-head victory over Trump.

An ally of Pence said he and Kemp have been friends for years, and Pence, while generally avoiding getting involved in GOP primaries, made an exception for Kemp. “Brian has perhaps probably the most conservative record of any governor,” the ally said on condition of anonymity.

Trying To Predict Trump

If public and internal polling is correct, Kemp could emerge Wednesday morning with a 30-point victory margin over Perdue, way beyond the straightforward majority he would wish to avoid a runoff.

At which period, the query will quickly turn to how Trump will reply to what could be an embarrassing loss against the Republican he most desired to punish.

“It’s type of hard to think that Trump would come out and endorse Brian Kemp. Perhaps he’ll come out and support Stacey Abrams,” said Charles Bullock, a political science professor on the University of Georgia. “He just might do this. He’s probably not interested by constructing the Republican Party. He’s interested by constructing the Trump Party.”

Bullock said some percentage of Georgia Republicans, out of loyalty to Trump, is not going to vote for Kemp come November, although what that percentage might find yourself being will not be clear.

Retired police officer John Strickland, who attended Perdue’s visit to the county Republican meeting in Madison, said he knows “loads” of people that will sit out the autumn election, including possibly himself.

Keith Wilson, who also attended that meeting, said he too may stay home in November if Perdue will not be the nominee. “Brian Kemp has burned numerous bridges in Morgan County,” said Wilson, 55, who owns a trucking business.

Perdue, for his part, has been making that argument explicitly, saying that even when Kemp were to end up 90% of “MAGA voters” this autumn, he would still lose, and that Kemp was not going to win over that 90% anyway.

Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) speaks as President Donald Trump looks on at a campaign rally at Valdosta Regional Airport in December 2020. Perdue is building his 2022 gubernatorial campaign around Trump and veering to the right as he tries to unseat Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in the primary.Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) speaks as President Donald Trump looks on at a campaign rally at Valdosta Regional Airport in December 2020. Perdue is constructing his 2022 gubernatorial campaign around Trump and veering to the best as he tries to unseat Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in the first.

AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File

Mockingly, Perdue said he would absolutely be a part of that 90% and never just endorse Kemp, but actively work to assist elect him. “I’ll support him with the whole lot I got,” he told reporters in Madison last week.

He laughed, though, when asked whether Trump would follow suit. “You’re thinking that I’m going to talk for the president? I’ve got no idea.”

One senior adviser in Kemp’s campaign said that Trump could well resolve that one of the best method to cope with a humiliating loss is to pretend it never happened and to maneuver on to other things. He added that attempting to predict Trump’s behavior was likely an exercise in futility. “It’s not something we lose numerous sleep over,” he said on condition of anonymity.

Andy Chastain, a Kemp supporter who attended his bus tour stop in Thomaston, said he doubted Trump will have the ability to simply let it go. “Trump’s at all times got something to say about the whole lot, whether or not it hurts the Republican Party,” said Chastain, the tax commissioner for Upson County who said he voted for Trump twice but admires how Kemp refused to go together with Trump’s “antics” after the 2020 election.

Susan Slade, who attended Kemp’s Canton rally together with her retired Delta pilot husband, said that Trump might show some humility after Kemp wins and work to assist Republicans hold on to the governorship. “Let’s pray he backs down,” said Slade, who’s 70 and a retired dental hygienist. She acknowledged that her hope was perhaps far-fetched. “I don’t know. There’s no telling with him.”

The previous Trump aide, though, said he’s pretty sure the previous president is not going to be in any mood to back down and ultimately doesn’t really care who the governor of Georgia is, as long as it’s not Kemp ― even when which means electing Abrams.

“He needs that final victory,” the ex-aide said.

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