The Great Georgia Senate Seat War
Nothing sets off the political infighting like an open senate seat.
Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson is retiring at the end of this year due to his battle with Parkinson’s. Governor Brian Kemp will be appointing his replacement. Under normal circumstances, there would be a lot of behind the scenes jockeying for position after which the governor would pick a sitting congressman, everyone would politely applaud his decision and then it would be back to business as usual. But these are not normal times and this particular vacancy has set up a showdown between the governor and President Trump. Governor Kemp made an unprecedented move by requiring any interested party to publicly apply for the position. This cut out a lot of candidates that would love to be secretly handed a senate seat, but didn’t want to go on record asking for it while simultaneously running for reelection to the office they currently hold. Still, conventional wisdom held that Kemp would eventually settle on conservative Congressman Doug Collins. The governor, apparently had other ideas.
Instead of going with the safe pick of Collins, Kemp is set to appoint local business woman Kelly Loeffler to the seat. This has set off an explosion of infighting among Georgia Republicans. Some think the governor is making a wise choice and that Loeffler gives the party the best chance to keep the senate seat in Republican hands. But supporters of the president seem to think that the governor owes him more allegiance. For those of you not familiar with Georgia state politics, Brian Kemp was previously our Secretary of State. He was locked in a very heated primary battle with four other Republicans and was in a close race for second place before running these notorious campaign commercials showing him pointing a shotgun at his daughter’s “boyfriend,” and driving his pickup truck while pledging to personally round up illegal aliens. That pushed him over his closest rival but he still had to square off against the front runner, Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle. The entire establishment was backing Cagle and convinced he would win, but Republican voters were considerably less enamored of him (for reasons I’m not going to discuss here.) Kemp most likely would have prevailed, but President Trump decided to get involved and Tweeted out an endorsement of Kemp. To this day, nobody knows why, but Kemp won the runoff in a landslide. So naturally, Trump’s supporters claim that Kemp owes his victory to Trump and presumably owes him this senate seat as well.
In spite of the embarrassing campaign he ran, Kemp has been a very good governor. He honored his pledge to conservatives by signing the “heartbeat bill.” He has surprised his critics with his other appointments, including appointing an openly gay judge to my county’s Superior Court. His approval ratings are at 63% – way higher than Trump’s in this state. Will that change now that he’s perceived as defying the president?
Trump surrogates from outside the state have jumped to push Collins. Sean Hannity even has his listeners calling the governor to express their outrage. Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz Tweeted to Kemp “It’s not the establishment you are screwing with your donor-induced stubbornness. You are hurting President Trump. You know this because he told you. You are ignoring his request because you THINK you know better than @POTUS. If you substitute your judgement for the President’s, maybe you need a primary in 2022. Let’s see if you can win one w/o Trump.” Gaetz basically made himself a pinata with his comments, because Kemp’s supporters may be reluctant to attack the president, but nobody has qualms about dunking on Gaetz. Kemp advisor Ryan Mahoney Tweeted back at Gaetz “Self-serving politicians who wear tight, acid-washed jean shorts and cowardly hide behind their keyboard can’t cut it in South Georgia.”
Inside the state, elected officials have been quiet. After all, who wants to get in the middle of a fight between the governor and the president? Activist groups such as the Tea Party and right to life have been vocal in their support of Collins. Insults have been thrown. I find it ironic that criticism against Loeffler – she’s a political outsider who never held public office, she’s made contributions to politicians in both parties – could just as easily apply to Trump. Her biggest challenge might be that she’s a graduate of the University of Illinois and if she’s a Big 10 fan, that may be disqualifying. But don’t mistake this as objections from “conservatives” here in Georgia. This isn’t about Loeffler not being conservative enough. This – like every other issue in American politics right now – is all about Trump. His supporters think fealty to him is the only issue that should influence the governor’s decision.
It should not be. Ideally, the most important consideration should be qualification, but that’s such a subjective term. Realistically, the most important issue influencing the governor’s decision is electability. It is no secret that the Republican party has been absolutely hemorrhaging women voters. Particularly, white suburban women voters. Their change of party in the last 2 election cycles has flipped 2 formerly reliable Metro Atlanta counties from red to blue and caused a wipeout of elected Republicans inside the perimeter. The GA GOP will undoubtedly rerun the same playbook they did in 2016 and 2018: focus entirely on churning out rural white voters to the exclusion of everything else. And in their defense, that worked for them before. But nobody thinks that’s a long term winning strategy. Party operatives and campaign advisors have been actively trying to recruit more Republican women candidates, but with little success. All of our statewide officials are white guys. There was only one female Republican state senator, but she’s launched a bid for congress next year. The only woman Republican ever elected to congress was Karen Handel in 2017, but she lost her re-election in 2018 when the Democratic wave hit Georgia.
I know that as a good conservative, I should abhor identity politics. So, let me issue this disclaimer: I don’t vote based on sex. I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton. I didn’t vote for Stacey Abrams. I won’t be voting for Elizabeth Warren. But still, I would LOVE to have a woman Senator, Governor and President! Many Republican women feel slighted by the state and national party. We’re tired of the condescending attitudes of party leadership and the blatant sexism of our fellow voters. I’d like to remind these people that they need us to win. After the successful RINO hunt of 2016, most moderates have been chased off. Good luck putting together a winning coalition without them.
Not to exaggerate the importance of this appointment, but the fate of the free world could very well depend on it. Whoever Governor Kemp appoints, they not only have to run in 2020 to finish Isakson’s term, they’ll have to run again in 2022. Trump supporters should know how important holding the senate is. If Trump wins reelection, he’s going to need Republicans in the senate to keep confirming his justices. And if he loses, Cocaine Mitch will be the only thing standing between us and President Warren’s Medicare for all plan.
Another point in Loeffler’s favor is that she can fund her own campaign. This will be particularly important because the state party is broke. They’ve spent a tremendous amount of money keeping the state in Republican hands, but they also lost a lot of donors over the previous chair’s racial discrimination lawsuit. And in addition to trying to keep Georgia in the Trump column, there’s another senate seat to defend. If Trump supporters think allegiance to Trump is the ultimate asset, they already have that in our other Senator David Perdue. So, maybe the governor is hedging his bets. This infighting indicates that appeasing Trump supporters AND Trump detractors may be impossible. At least this way, we could hold at least one of these two senate seats regardless of how Georgia voters ultimately decide about Trump.
Not appointing Collins will also spare Georgia voters from yet another expensive round of special elections. State law prohibits any official from running for two elected offices at the same time. It does not require that a politician resign from his current office first, but many do. That has meant that each open seat triggers several resignations that each spawn their own special election. This has been exhausting and expensive over the last three years. If Doug Collins wants to run for the senate on his own power, he’s free to do so. He shouldn’t expect anyone to hand him a seat.
Sean Hannity, Mark Levin and Matt Gaetz don’t get to vote on this next November. Only Georgia voters do.
Everyone needs to remember that a senator represents ALL the people of the state. Not just one party. And certainly not just one faction of a party.