When the dust settles on the 2022 elections in Georgia, Donald Trump’s loudest critics and fiercest supporters will probably agree on one thing: the state’s politics will be forever changed by his fixation on the 2020 election here.
Speaking on a windy Saturday evening at a former drag racing strip in Commerce, northeast of Atlanta, the former president touted a slate of seven GOP primary challengers and continued a scorched-earth approach against incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and their allies for failing to attempt to overturn his 2020 defeat.
“Brian Kemp is a turncoat, is a coward, and is a complete and total disaster,” Trump said. “If Brian Kemp is renominated, he will go down in flames at the ballot box because Stacey [Abrams] will steal it from him and humiliate him, just like she brazenly stole the Georgia election from right under his nose in 2020, which hurt two senators and which hurt the presidential candidate.”
Three separate counts of the election, including a full hand count risk-limiting audit, confirmed that President Joe Biden narrowly defeated Trump more than 500 days ago, but Georgia is a state that he has remained obsessed with seeking revenge on those who wronged him.
If Trump succeeds in unseating Kemp and other incumbents, his role as kingmaker and avatar for the GOP’s newer “America-first” direction could be further cemented ahead of a likely presidential run in 2024. If Kemp and other Republicans hold off Trump’s challenge and retain power in November, then a pathway to a post-Trump Republican agenda could become more clear.
But publicly and privately, Georgia Republicans worry about a third option — one where Trump’s incendiary primary challenges fail and Democrats like Abrams still win races in an otherwise favorable national environment for conservatives.
“You know what, if Kemp wins, I think Herschel Walker is going to be very seriously and negatively impacted, because Republicans that happen to like Donald Trump — MAGA Republicans — are not going to go and vote for this guy Kemp,” Trump said. “And if they don’t vote for Kemp, they’re not going to be able to vote for a great man right there, Herschel Walker. And we don’t want that to happen. So a vote for Brian Kemp, RINO, in the primary is a vote for a Democrat senator who shouldn’t be in the Senate.”
Normally, Trump’s Georgia rallies have been crowded, raucous affairs, but Saturday’s event saw a smaller crowd with a steady stream of people leaving throughout his speech. For much of the day, the crowd was virtually silent during speeches railing against Biden, Democrats, Republican enemies of Trump and the “fake news.”
Much of Trump’s speech and the rally’s pre-show hit popular themes among the right flank of the Republican party.
U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker said “we need to get men out of women’s sports” and decried “CTR” (meaning so-called Critical Race Theory).
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene called Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams the “Death Star” and said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and his husband should “stay out of our girls’ bathrooms.”
Rep. Jody Hice, who’s running for secretary of state, said the state needs an election official that focuses more on prosecuting more cases of fraud, despite little evidence that massive unchecked fraud exists.
Virtually every speaker attacked Biden and Democrats for how they’ve run the country.
The vendetta against Kemp and his political allies has Trump wading deeper down the ballot and risking defeats against more entrenched, better-funded popular incumbents.
There’s Patrick Witt, the former candidate for Georgia’s 10th Congressional District whom Trump’s now endorsed for Insurance Commissioner against incumbent John King because of his stance on “election integrity” and promises not to make insurance “woke.”
Attorney General Chris Carr will contend with Trump-backed John Gordon, who lamented about a campaign ad removed from YouTube that contained false information about the 2020 election and whose website briefly claimed the 2022 election—not yet conducted—was stolen.
Democrat-turned-Trump supporter Vernon Jones earned Trump’s support in the wide-open 10th Congressional District after dropping out of the governor’s race to clear a path for former Sen. David Perdue. Jones faces a crowded primary in the east Georgia district, including fundraising and polling frontrunner Mike Collins.
Meanwhile, Perdue’s insurgent challenge against Kemp has failed to gain traction in polling or donations.
The former U.S. senator, who lost to Sen. Jon Ossoff in Jan. 2021 runoffs, has escalated personal attacks against Kemp and used stronger language making false claims of election fraud in an effort to appeal to the very Trump voters who skipped those runoffs because of similar claims of fraud.
“Let me be very clear: In the state of Georgia, thanks to Brian Kemp, our elections in 2020 were absolutely stolen,” Perdue said falsely. “I’m fighting right now to find out what happened in 2020 and make sure that those people responsible for that fraud in 2020 go to jail.”
Georgia Democrats, hoping to capitalize on the Republican infighting and shifting demographics, drove a mobile billboard outside the rally blasting current state leaders on their health care policies.
“The positions of David Perdue and Herschel Walker – along with every other Republican running in Georgia – are clear: they would attack the Affordable Care Act, gut protections for people with pre-existing conditions, oppose Medicaid expansion, and support plans that would drive up health care costs for Americans,” Rep. Nikema Williams, chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia said. “While Democrats are fighting to improve Georgians’ health care, the Republican agenda puts Trump first and Georgians last, and will keep people from accessing essential health care in communities all across the state.”
While attacking Republican enemies of Trump was a major theme of the evening, several candidates acknowledged that the only way to oust those politicians and regain power would involve showing up to vote.
State Sen. Burt Jones, the Trump candidate for lieutenant governor, told the crowd of around 5,000 that the 2022 election cycle has an outsized importance on the GOP’s path in 2024.
“It will set the stage for ’24, because all eyes will be on Georgia this year,” he said. “And if we don’t win big—if we don’t have a red wave—then it doesn’t play well for us to put Donald Trump back in the White House in 2024.”
Towards the end of the night, after a sizable number of people had left, Trump reminded the crowd and the candidates of why he came to town.
“Mister future governor—I hope, David, you’re going to be the governor, or I just wasted a hell of a lot of time here tonight,” he said.
This story comes to Flagpole through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a nonprofit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.
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