Premium

Georgia’s Gubernatorial Race Will Reveal the Extent of Trump’s Influence

AP Photo/Ben Gray

The campaigns for the next year’s midterm elections are about to start ramping up and we can expect to see a lot of fiery political battles over the next 12 months. Much of the attention will center on congressional races – but there is one particular campaign that will be revelatory about the direction of the conservative movement.

The Georgia Republican gubernatorial primary will be a race worth watching, for more reasons than one. The upcoming battle between current Gov. Brian Kemp and his challenger, former Sen. David Perdue will be quite significant especially since it seems clear Vernon Jones, another GOP contender, is unlikely to make much of a showing.

This race, probably more than any other, will give us an idea of just how much influence former President Donald Trump has over the conservative movement, now that he has been out of office for nearly a year. Perdue was recently endorsed by the former president, who has been feuding with Kemp since earlier this year because he believed the governor did not do enough to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Perdue, who announced his candidacy earlier this month, slammed Kemp, blaming him for his loss in the January runoff election against Sen. Jon Ossoff. He also accused the governor of failing to sufficiently stand up for Trump.

“Look, I like Brian. This isn’t personal,” Perdue said during his announcement. “It’s simple: He has failed all of us and cannot win in November. Instead of protecting our elections, he caved to Abrams and cost us two Senate seats, the Senate majority and gave Joe Biden free reign. Think about how different it would be today if Kemp fought Abrams first instead of fighting Trump.”

Kemp’s campaign clapped back against the former senator, claiming he was only running “to soothe his own bruised ego, because his campaign for U.S. Senate failed to inspire voters at the ballot box – twice.”

Cody Hall, the governor’s communications director, and senior adviser also lashed out at Perdue:

“The man who lost Republicans the United States Senate and brought the last year of skyrocketing inflation, open borders, runaway government spending, and woke cancel culture upon the American people now wants to lose the Georgia governor’s office to the national face of the radical left movement.”

As of now, it appears Perdue will be a formidable opponent. The Hill reported:

A poll commissioned by Trump’s leadership PAC Save America in August showed that with the former president’s endorsement, Perdue would lead Kemp 41 percent to 26 percent in a multi-candidate primary field.

President Trump, for his part, has not pulled any punches. When he announced his endorsement of Perdue, he called Kemp a “very weak Governor” who will lose to Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams because his base “will never vote for him.”

Trump’s contention that the base will not support Kemp is the crux of the matter. Is Trump’s opinion on Kemp powerful enough to take him out of the running, even though he has already shown he can defeat Abrams?

The Hill notes:

Few Republicans are willing to question Kemp’s conservative bona fides. He’s been an outspoken advocate for conservative positions on everything from immigration to abortion, and scored political points with many Republicans earlier this year when he signed controversial new voting restrictions into law.

One Republican strategist who has worked on governor’s races said that Kemp’s record leaves Perdue with little to attack him for in terms of policy and ideology.

This further illustrates the point. Kemp is undoubtedly a conservative governor. The only real attack Perdue will have against him is that the governor supposedly did not do enough to support Trump. The question that remains is whether this alone will be enough for Perdue to oust Kemp.

“It’s going to be a primary about Donald Trump and 2020,” the strategist told The Hill. “You can’t really argue that Kemp’s not a real conservative. There’s not going to be a real debate over actual policy, and I think that’s what makes it so dangerous.”

This is an apt assessment. But the bigger issue here is what this race will say about the level of influence Trump wields.

There is no doubt that the former president still enjoys a great level of sway over the right. But this influence is not absolute. Some candidates he has supported have not won. Moreover, Glenn Youngkin defeated Terry McAuliffe in Virginia’s gubernatorial race with neither hitching himself to Trump nor distancing himself from the former president.

If Perdue wins, it will show that Trump’s power – and the controversy over the 2020 election – still looms large on the right. It will show that Republican voters might consider last year’s outcome to be more important than electability, which Kemp has already shown he has against Abrams.

Conversely, if Kemp defeats Perdue, it will underscore the notion that while Trump is still a formidable force on the right, voters are not fully in his thrall. It could signal that the conservative movement isn’t going full populist, but is also not going back to the pre-Trump era. Either way, it will almost certainly be a significant factor determining the direction of the party going forward. If one wishes to know where the GOP is going, Georgia’s Republican gubernatorial primary is the race to watch.