Opinion: The GOP’s goober-natorial runoff

Georgia’s 2018 Republican gubernatorial primary might better be described as goober-natorial. With its absence of policy discussion and cartoonish ads, it has been an embarrassment to the state, to the Georgia Republican Party and to those participating in it. I would guess that it has also given pause to corporations and business leaders looking for jurisdictions that are capable of 21st century governance to approach 21st century problems.

Then again, I’m just a liberal columnist for those lying Atlanta newspapers, to quote the famous phrase.  Of course I’m going to say something like that.

However, in a 50-second audio tape secretly recorded in May, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle also tells us what he thinks of the Republican Party base and how best to appeal to those voters. 

“The issues you talk about are the issues I care about as well, right?” Cagles tells a fellow Republican, his voice falling to a whisper. “The problem is in a primary -- and you and I are just talking off the record, frank -- they don’t give a (expletive) about those things. OK? In the general election, they care about it. OK? But they don’t care about it in a primary. This primary felt like it was who had the biggest gun, who had the biggest truck, and who could be the craziest. That’s what it felt like.”

So yeah. Cagle agrees with me, and he has campaigned accordingly. It’s no accident that with in the last weeks of the runoff, he’s bringing in Oliver North, president of the National Rifle Association, as his big gun.

This latest snippet from that May conversation was released by the campaign of Cagle’s runoff opponent, Secretary of State Brian Kemp. In a tweet Monday morning, Kemp drove the point home:

The problem is, Kemp shares Cagle’s assessment of his party, its base and how to win its support. He may not have confessed to it in a secretly taped conversation, but he communicates it loud and clear through the campaign ads that he is paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to air:

Zell Miller, the late governor and senator, used to go crazy over media depictions of Southerners as nothing more than rednecks and hillbillies. "My neighbors and I have lived with this ridicule and overdrawn stereotype all our lives, as did our parents and their parents before them," he once wrote in a letter to CBS, protesting a proposal to revive its “Beverly Hillbillies” franchise.

"What CBS propose(s) to do with this cracker comedy is bigotry, pure and simple. Bigotry for big bucks," Miller fumed in a speech on the Senate floor. "They know that the only minority left in this country that you can make fun of and demean and humiliate ... are hillbillies in particular and rural people in general."

What we’re seeing in these ads and in this campaign is not a vision for Georgia’s future. It’s not a debate about improving education and the state’s university system so we can compete for well-paying jobs, or about saving the rural hospitals that keep their local communities alive and viable. It’s not about investing in transit options or other foundations of a 21st century economy.

Take it from a man who ought to know: It’s about “who had the biggest gun, who had the biggest truck, and who could be the craziest.”

Georgia is better than this. At least I’d like to think so.

About the Author

Jay Bookman
Jay Bookman
Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.