ATLANTA (AP) – Less than a year after losing the presidency, Donald Trump has set out to reshape the GOP in his image on the country’s main political battlefields, unleashing bitter primary battles that will force candidates and voters alike to decide how far to embrace Trump and his grievances.
But nowhere is his quest more consistent than Georgia.
Trump inspired a list of loyalists to seek statewide post in the South Swing State, and on Monday that group included former Republican Senator David Perdue, who formally challenged the governor Republican Brian Kemp. The move marked a rare and serious primary threat to a sitting governor, going against the wishes of GOP leaders in Washington and ensuring months of Republican internal strife in a state where the party is trying to restore dominance.
“It will be a political civil war here in Georgia,” current Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, a Republican and frequent critic of Trump who does not run for office, told The Associated Press. âEverything is preventable if we act like adults and move on. But that’s not the reality at this point.
It’s not just Georgia.
The tension between Trump and what remains of the Republican establishment defines the Senate and governor’s primaries in dozens of states – including Arizona, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania – for months before the first ballots are tabled next spring and summer. With President Joe Biden’s endorsement count weakening, political headwinds in Washington suggest Republicans could achieve major political gains in 2022 – if the GOP can get out of its own way.
Trump’s interest in a third presidential candidacy in 2024 ensures that he will be the face of the Republican Party for the foreseeable future.
Look no further for a uplifting tale than Georgia, an evolving swing state where demographic shifts in recent years have paved the way for Democrats to rule. Biden narrowly beat Trump here last fall, and after Trump falsely claimed widespread electoral fraud, Democrats won in two second Senate elections in January that gave them control of the Senate.
Since then, the former president has struck state officials who certified the election results – Chief Kemp among them – with a fierce torrent of political attacks.
Trump’s main problem with Kemp has little to do with substantive politics; he’s trying to oust the governor simply because he refused to support Trump’s fight to overthrow the 2020 election.
The former president called Kemp a “very weak governor” in a statement endorsing Perdue on Monday evening, citing nothing specific in his opposition to the incumbent governor except his stance on “electoral integrity.”
âMore importantly,â Trump said of Kemp, âhe can’t win because the MAGA base – which is huge – will never vote for him. ”
Trump also cheered on former Republican football star Herschel Walker in the GOP push to topple Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock, betting on an untested and uncontrolled professional athlete in a Republican primary against the state commissioner for the Agriculture, Gary Black. He is also backing like-minded candidates in the Republican primaries for Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of State, where current Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is fighting for his political survival.
Nationally, Trump has so far backed more than 60 midterm candidates, several of whom are running against the Republican incumbents.
Trump’s interference in the Georgia governor’s race is a sort of nightmare scenario for some Republican strategists, who were already bracing for a tough general election against former state lawmaker and Democratic voting rights activist Stacey Abrams. , who narrowly lost to Kemp in 2018. Abrams officially announced his candidacy last week.
In his announcement video, Perdue said he was running first and foremost to stop Abrams and an “unprecedented assault from the awakened left.” He also repeated Trump’s baseless claims about the 2020 election.
“We just have to be united,” said Perdue, who narrowly lost her Senate seat in January. âSadly today we are divided, and Brian Kemp and Brad Raffensperger are to blame.â
Meanwhile, an enraged Kemp promised an all out fight. Kemp spokesman Cody Hall dubbed Perdue “the man who lost Republicans in the United States Senate” and accused the ousted senator of a list of complaints including inflation, government spending high and culture cancellation.
The Georgians First Leadership Committee, a Kemp-aligned group that can raise unlimited contributions, also attacked Perdue just hours after her announcement in a fundraising email, taking over the business case and stock transactions of the former senator during his tenure. Democratic Senator Jon Ossoff used similar criticism to defeat Perdue in the January Senate contest.
“This shady, loser ‘America Last’ insider is desperate to regain his political place,” the committee wrote in a fundraising email.
Republicans in Washington and beyond have braced for an obnoxious and costly GOP primary, which could ultimately cost tens of millions of dollars and drag Kemp to the right in a state that has moved to the center. So far, Abrams has no main challenger.
“While David Perdue and Brian Kemp fight, Stacey Abrams will fight for the Georgian people,” Lauren Groh-Wargo, Abrams’ main assistant, wrote on Twitter.
The governor’s race reflects the GOP divisions that are unfolding in Republican communities this year.
In Georgia, pro-Trump activists angered by his defeat flooded local Republican Party meetings, taking control of the party machinery while ditching some Metro-Atlanta County officials deemed insufficiently pro-Trump.
David Shafer, the president of the state party, has maintained a pro-Trump line.
Criticized for speaking at Trump’s rally in September where Trump joined his list of approved candidates, Shafer told The Associated Press on Sunday that the party would be neutral in the contested primaries and said he hoped the Republican candidates “will focus on their own strengths and how they can put together a winning coalition.
National Republican leaders remain loyal to Kemp.
Anticipating a Trump-backed challenge of Perdue, the Republican Governors Association has pledged to back the outgoing governor of Georgia in addition to other sitting Republican governors who have drawn Trump’s ire, including Idaho Gov. Brad Little. However, in helping Republican incumbents, RGA Chairman Doug Ducey, Governor of Arizona, said his organization would not attack Trump’s challengers list.
âThe RGA follows the 11th Commandment,â Ducey said during the group’s recent rally in his state. “We don’t speak ill of another Republican.”
But Republicans on the ground in Georgia aren’t likely to perform as well.
Georgia Republican Party official Randy Evans, who served as Trump’s ambassador to Luxembourg, argued that Kemp could be so unpopular with the Trump base that he will lose to Abrams even if he survives the primary .
âIf the party gets together, Perdue will be the candidate and then he will become governor,â Evans said. “And if the party falls apart, which if bitterness and division continues with that kind of rhetoric, then Kemp will be the candidate and Stacey will be the governor.”
Peoples brought back to New York.