A Bigger Voice for Georgia?
Georgia Republicans have shown an independent streak we haven’t seen in other states, and their decisions have proven wise.
The day after the Georgia General Assembly session ends, legislators usually wake up from their late-night revelry and dart out of town. After three months of work in the Capitol, there’s an urgency about getting home to their businesses and family vacations.
But tourists visiting the Georgia Capitol that late March day might have run into nearly the entire Senate Republican caucus filing out after a lunch with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. They had delayed their homecomings to hear a bit about their neighbor’s work on school choice, gun rights and Florida becoming “where woke goes to die.” Speaker Jon Burns welcomed DeSantis to the Capitol, other House members took photos with him, and Georgia’s big dog, Gov. Brian Kemp, hosted him in his office for a meeting, as media waited in the hallways.
No one seemed worried about a mean Trump post on Truth Social.
DeSantis didn’t talk about running for president, and none of the elected officials expressed their support for him. But no one attended those meetings seeking some nifty policy ideas we might steal from Florida. Legislators wanted to see him in action and kick the tires of a nascent campaign.
Later that day, more than 600 Georgia Republicans turned up for his campaign rally disguised as a “book event” at the “World’s Largest Gun Store” in Smyrna. The crowd began gathering hours before the event started and included a few of the Trump loyalists who had served as “alternate electors” – dubbed “fake electors” by media – in the wake of the 2020 election.
Given what we saw with non-Trump Republicans in Georgia last year, there’s good reason to believe that our state might have a higher percentage of the Ready to Move On crowd.
At that time, DeSantis had reason for optimism about non-Trump candidates in Georgia. After November’s election, the Club for Growth – once a bastion of Trump support that turned against him strongly – released polling that showed DeSantis beating Trump in a head-to-head matchup by 20 points among Georgia Republicans. The week of his book tour event, a super PAC affiliated with DeSantis released Georgia polling showing him up 48-38 over Trump – narrower than November but still strong.
All Republican candidates thinking about taking on Trump should see Georgia as fertile ground, at least compared to other states. The Georgia GOP served Trump-endorsed candidates humiliating defeats in its 2022 primary. And the state’s Republican Establishment, led by Kemp, and the donor class fear that Trump at the top of the ticket could cause a drag down the ballot.
Looking back, we now must ask if DeSantis’s moment in the Atlanta sun was a high watermark for a campaign not yet launched. After his visit, DeSantis’s fortunes took a turn for the worse – way worse, in fact. Not long after, Trump proved he’s still the man to beat, with a University of Georgia poll showing him over 50% with Georgia Republican voters, far ahead of DeSantis and other contenders.
Time will tell if Trump’s lead among primary voters is built on rock or on sand. Because the normal rules that have governed almost every other candidate in history don’t apply to Trump, news of indictments and court rulings that he’s liable in a sexual assault case appeared to bolster his support. Whatever quibbles Republicans might have with Trump, he’s a known quantity at a time when his primary opponents remain undefined.
That’s why hope isn’t lost for the other candidates. Sarah Longwell, a cofounder and writer for The Bulwark who hosts weekly focus groups, says 30% of Republicans are Always Trump, 30% are Maybe Trump, 30% are Ready to Move On and then 10% are Never Trump. Given what we saw with non-Trump Republicans in Georgia last year, there’s good reason to believe that our state might have a higher percentage of the Ready to Move On crowd.
The Republican National Committee missed an opportunity when it didn’t join its Democratic counterparts in moving Georgia’s presidential preference primary to the front of the calendar. Georgia Republicans have shown an independent streak we haven’t seen in other states, and their decisions have proven wise. In rejecting Trump’s candidates, Republicans kept power here, as nominees endorsed by Trump in other swing states got crushed.
To paraphrase Sinatra, if Trump can win here next year, he can win anywhere, and the party can quickly coalesce around its nominee early in 2024. Georgians may determine who the next president is. We should have gotten a bigger voice in who the nominees will be.