Yep, the race is shaping up to be exactly the sort of clusterf**k that everyone in the world except one guy who lives in Florida can see coming from miles away.
In fact, I think he sees it too. But he doesn’t care what happens to the party so long as he gets to exact revenge on an enemy by trying to deny him a second term as governor.
If you were looking for maximum chaos in the primary and maximum weakness against Stacey Abrams in the general election, this is precisely what you’d want to see in early polling. Brian Kemp, the Trump bete noire, under 50 percent; David Perdue, Trump’s handpicked challenger, clearly not exciting anyone; and Vernon Jones, the MAGA true believer, providing a vehicle for populists who find both of the other alternatives too establishmentarian.
Gonna be a lot of butthurt after the primary ends. InsiderAdvantage has it Kemp 41, Perdue 22, Jones 11, but when respondents are told that Trump endorsed Perdue the numbers change:
Perdue has more room to grow than Kemp does since Jones and Kandiss Taylor are drawing populist votes and Perdue has been anointed by Trump as the populist choice. I assume Trump aides are already reaching out to to those two candidates behind the scenes, asking them to get out and endorse Perdue. But that may be easier said than done:
— Vernon Jones For Governor (@RepVernonJones) December 8, 2021
Some of the usual suspects in MAGA media aren’t enthused about Perdue either:
In an episode of his “War Room” podcast on Monday, [Steve] Bannon blasted the Trump-endorsed Perdue as a “disaster” for not publicly voicing his support of Trump’s efforts to delegitimize democracy loud enough.
Bannon fumed that Perdue is “the last person in the world” who should challenge Kemp in Georgia’s GOP primary in the governor’s race. Bannon argued that Perdue was “dead silent” about Trump’s 2020 election loss and that the former GOP senator “did not support” Trump’s effort to challenge the election results.
“There’s no difference between Kemp and Perdue,” Bannon said. “This is the classic kind of country club, blue blazer, khaki pants and loafers that are part of the globalist movement that is the problem with the Republican Party.”
Perdue’s candidacy is turning out to be a nice temperature check on populist demagoguery. Turns out Perdue is sufficiently election-skeptical for Trump but not sufficiently so for Steve Bannon.
Which makes Donald Trump a … “stop the steal” moderate?
Bannon and the Vernon Jones supporters will eventually reconcile themselves to supporting Perdue in the name of ousting Kemp after pressure from Trump but it’s anyone’s guess how many voters on each side will reconcile themselves to supporting the other side’s candidate if he wins the primary. Perdue is counting on the threat of Stacey Abrams becoming governor to bring Kemp voters into his camp if he’s the GOP nominee. But Kemp holding 34 percent of Republicans despite Trump throwing everything he’s got at him indicates a surprising amount of resistance to Trump’s whims on the right in Georgia. Kemp may be unelectable in a primary but he and Perdue may both be unelectable in a general election.
Anti-Trump Republicans are a small segment of the GOP but will mobilize nationally to support Kemp, not just to reward him for showing integrity under pressure last fall but because they know that beating Perdue in Georgia will weaken Trump’s case for the nomination in 2024. “There is no half-right on this. You either believe there’s some global conspiracy theory to single out Trump from winning an election or you believe we didn’t do the things necessary to win a close election,” said Georgia’s lieutenant governor, Geoff Duncan, to Josh Kraushaar. Anti-Trump righties in Georgia aren’t enough to get Kemp to 50 percent in a primary but they probably are enough to deny Perdue the governorship — if, that is, they prioritize stopping Trump over stopping Abrams. How many would?
Jonathan Chait is right about the asymmetry between Perdue’s and Kemp’s respective bases:
Maybe Perdue’s association with Trump would alienate enough moderate voters to supply Abrams her winning margin. Alternatively, it is possible that a Kemp nomination would be hindered by opposition from Trump, who might very well prefer that she win to the reelection of a Republican who refused to help him steal the election.
Trump and Perdue no doubt grasp the imbalance here. The pro-Kemp forces are warning of “division” in the event Perdue wins, but ultimately they are not themselves willing to split from their party. Both factions are threatening schism, but only the Trumpian threat has credibility.
Some meaningful share of Perdue’s voters will absolutely sit out the general election if Kemp is the nominee to punish him for not overturning the election last fall. Trump might even encourage them to do so. Most Kemp voters, however, are loyal to the party first. Trump/Perdue voters might be willing to see a Democrat elected in order to spite their Republican enemies but Kemp voters won’t be. Which is why, from a position of short-term self-interest, the GOP probably should prefer to see Perdue win the primary, as he’ll be better able to unite the GOP against Abrams.
From a position of long-term self-interest, in which Trump’s candidate fails to become governor and his grip on the party weakens, the calculus is different.
I’ll leave you with this account of the latest state election audit by a conservative group up north in Wisconsin. Quote: “The report from the institute concluded there were no indications of widespread fraud and there was nothing suspicious about voter turnout or the timing of the vote tally. In addition, voting machines operated properly, the report found.”
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