On the face of it, Tuesday’s primary election for the Republican gubernatorial candidate in the US state of Georgia was nothing remarkable. Brian Kemp, the incumbent governor, faced off against former US Senator David Perdue and comfortably approved his party to pursue another term in office from 73% to 22%.
Normally, two stalwart politicians touted it as a chance to win the state’s highest office, it didn’t raise too many eyebrows. But some wonder whether the Georgia race predicts a major battle in the GOP that will play out in both the 2022 midterm and the 2024 general elections.
That’s because Kemp and Perdue’s two high-profile supporters were former Vice President Mike Pence and former President Donald Trump, respectively.
Trump’s influence varies
A clear conclusion from Tuesday night is that support for Trump is not carrying the weight it used to and the former president’s inner circle seemed to have just days ago.
As Pence prepared to campaign for Kemp in Georgia on Monday, a Trump spokesman said in a statement, “Mike Pence was set to lose the governor’s race in 2016 before he was fired and His political career was saved. Now, desperate to pursue his lost relevance, Pence is parachuting into the race, hoping someone is paying attention. The reality is that President Trump is already 82-3 in his support. We are with, and no one can stop them from saving America in 2022 and beyond.”
However, that was not how things played out on Tuesday. And according to Charlie Cook, founder of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, Perdue’s weakness in Georgia exposes the limits of Trump’s power over individual races.
“In the Republican primary, when voters don’t know much about either candidate, support for Trump is huge,” Cook told VOA.
But in a high visibility race like Georgia, where a current governor ran against a challenger who had served as one of the state’s US senators, Trump’s influence is markedly less powerful, Cook said. .
“If it’s a blank slate, his support means a lot in a Republican primary,” he said. “But if they already know a lot about both people, it doesn’t mean nearly as much.”
Deep conflict in the GOP
There are many reasons why Pence and Trump have spent four years together in the White House, they find themselves on different sides of the race for governor of Georgia.
One is that Pence is clearly testing the waters for a run against Trump in the GOP presidential primary in 2024.
But the most important factor is the ongoing battle within the Republican Party for control over the narrative surrounding the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol, when Trump supporters – some threatened to “hang up” Pence – were holding the reins of Joe Biden. WIN’s authentication interrupted. In the 2020 presidential election.
“It’s a proxy conflict between a former president and a former vice president,” William A. Galston, a senior fellow in Brookings’ Governance Studies Program, told VOA as the ballots were being cast Tuesday.
“And it’s a conflict not only over the candidates they supported, but also about the end of the Trump administration and the January 6, two different stories that each of them represent.”
Galston said he had begun to notice “a steady undertone” of resistance to the former president’s fixation on his 2020 loss, even among Republicans who supported Trump during his presidency. did.
“He doesn’t think continuing this endless retrospective into the 2020 presidential election is helpful to the party or the country, and Mr. Trump maintains it,” Galston said. “That may well open the door for candidates attacking Republicans — including staunch Republicans, including Trump Republicans — as more visionary.”
A Potential Trump Challenger
It was not always clear whether Pence would challenge his former running mate.
Trump, on the day of the Capitol riot and its aftermath, criticized Pence for refusing to accept electoral votes submitted by several states after it became clear that Joe Biden had won the 2020 presidential election. Trump and several of his advisers came up with a plan to throw the election to the House of Representatives, where Republican lawmakers may have voted to declare Trump president.
The plan was illegal, and Pence refused to go along with it, fueling the fury of both Trump and the crowd that stormed the Capitol.
In the year following the January 6 attack, Pence slowly and carefully distanced himself from his former running mate.
pence steps away
After more than a year of mostly silence, Pence gave a speech to the Conservative Federalist Society in February in which he publicly split from the former president on Trump’s claims about Pence’s ability to negate electoral votes. were wrong.
“President Trump is wrong,” Pence said. “I had no right to reverse the election.”
He continued, “The presidency belongs to the American people, and to the American people alone. And clearly there is no more non-American idea than the notion that any one person can elect a US president.”
The same day, Trump issued a statement reiterating his false claim that the 2020 election results had been fraudulent. “I was right and everyone knows it,” he said. “If there were frauds or large-scale irregularities, it would have been appropriate to send those votes back to the legislatures to find out.”
Trump targets Kempo
The Georgia governor primary became a flashpoint between Pence and Trump as Kemp was one of the Republican elected officials who refused to go along with the former president’s attempt to reverse the election.
Georgia, which Trump lost in 2020 by just 12,000 votes, was one of the states where Trump and his advisers hoped to reverse the election results. Kemp, however, publicly denied his request that he certify the election results and appoint voters who would vote for Trump.
Trump has been highly critical of Kemp ever since, and when Perdue announced its campaign in December 2021, Trump immediately backed him.
Perdue’s defeat on Tuesday shows that the former president’s continued focus on the results of the 2020 election may not continue to pay political dividends.