7/19/18 - McDonough - Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle speaks to people in McDonough Square at one of his bus tour stops for his campaign for Georgia governor on Thursday, July 19, 2018. Jenna Eason / Jenna.Eason@coxinc.com
Photo: Jenna Eason/Jenna.Eason@coxinc.com
Photo: Jenna Eason/Jenna.Eason@coxinc.com

Casey Cagle on accepting defeat, the secret tape and ‘the Trump card’ 

A year ago, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle was the favorite in a runoff against Secretary of State Brian Kemp. 

Within two months, a secretly-recorded tape by a former GOP rival left him reeling, and President Donald Trump’s endorsement of Kemp sealed his defeat.

The Gainesville Republican sat down with Alpharetta Councilman Ben Burnett and Appen Media’s Hans Appen for the “Ben Burnett Show” podcast that will air Monday.

In the illuminating interview, Cagle said he was disappointed that Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue nudged Trump to endorse his rival in the runoff, ruining what had been a “good partnership” between the two Republicans when Perdue was governor and Cagle was in the state’s No. 2 job. 

“When Governor Deal decided to endorse me, I think that upset Sonny Perdue at the time, and that’s when he decided to throw the Trump card out,” Cagle said. 

And he was still conflicted over Clay Tippins, the fourth-place finisher who surreptitiously recorded a private conversation with Cagle and then released parts of the recording to the media. Cagle’s candid, and damaging, remarks helped pave the way to his defeat. 

“Can you forgive and forget? It’s hard. It’s hard. But, in life as a whole, we are by nature forgiving people. We want to see the best in others, but they’re going to let you down. I don’t want to see that particular individual in a dark alley at night, were it’s just he and I,” Cagle said. “And it’s definitely not because he’s a Navy SEAL. But you’ve got to move forward, and we have.”

Don’t expect him to run for office again. First elected to the state Senate in 1994, the 53-year-old said he’s enjoying running an investment “opportunity fund” and spending more time with his wife, children and grandchildren. 

“I can literally sit here with you today and say I’m completely at peace. I obviously wanted it, but I wanted it for the right reasons,” he said. “I had a life outside of politics and I have a life now outside of politics. And I am loving it.”

That was a common theme of his remarks – that he’s come to terms with his defeat and has moved on to better things.  Judge for yourself – it’s worth your time. 

Here are some excerpts that will tide you over until you listen. 

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the two remaining Republicans in the race for Georgia governor, at last week’s Atlanta Press Club debate. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

On Clay Tippins’ and the secret recording

“The one thing I tell people to this day is there’s a reason that you drive your car through the windshield and not the rear-view mirror. You don’t look at the past. You look forward. And devastation, disappointment always is going to come our way. When it does, you have to deal with it. You have to accept it. And ultimately you have to turn the page and start writing what that new chapter of life is going to look like.

“People are going to disappoint you, even when they look you in the eye and say, ‘I want to have a man-to-man confidential conversation with you.’ And their motive is not what they’re saying. That’s hurtful. 

“Can you forgive and forget? It’s hard. It’s hard. But, in life as a whole, we are by nature forgiving people. We want to see the best in others, but they’re going to let you down. I don’t want to see that particular individual in a dark alley at night, where it’s just he and I. And it’s definitely not because he’s a Navy SEAL. But you’ve got to move forward, and we have.”

On how Trump’s endorsement changed the race: 

“I remember specifically. I was in Lumpkin County, in Dahlonega, campaigning with veterans that day. I’m giving a speech and there’s a room full of veterans. And the staff is running around in the back and it’s strange. I almost stopped, but I didn’t ...”

[After the speech, his campaign manager breaks the news]

“Immediately, you’re in total shock. What happened here? What’s gone wrong? I’ve been a friend of the president, how could he do this to me? There’s a lot of emotions that you go through. You ask why.” 

On why Trump waded into the race: 

“Do I know ironclad? I have not had a conversation with him ... Although he did say publicly it was Sonny Perdue who engaged him to endorse my opponent. And I do believe that to be the case. It’s disappointing and of course, I was the lieutenant governor while Sonny was governor. And we had a very good run and a good partnership during those times ...

“When Gov. Deal decided to endorse me, I think that upset Sonny Perdue at the time, and that’s when he decided to throw the Trump card out.”

On when he knew Kemp was going to win the GOP nomination: 

We knew before Tuesday. When Donald Trump decides to endorse, you know it’s going to be significant. But you don’t really know how to measure that. So we immediately went into the field to survey ... 

“Every morning I woke up and looked at those numbers, we were dropping like a lead balloon. It was not pretty. We knew Tuesday was not going to be good. I’m a competitive guy and I work hard, and you try to do the best you can, and you try to find a way to navigate. We were trying to have a strategy to get the people in the middle to come out, but the environment was just too polarizing.”

On adjusting to life after politics: 

“I can literally sit here with you today and say I’m completely at peace. I obviously wanted it, but I wanted it for the right reasons. I had a life outside of politics and I have a life now outside of politics. And I am loving it. After the campaign, I remember specifically taking the family to the beach, we’re sitting there with my boys around the pool, and one of them said, ‘Dad, I’m glad you lost.’ ... I said, ‘What do you mean?” And he said, ‘We finally have our dad back.’ And when he said that, all of a sudden it became crystal clear.”

“If it’s not meant to be it’s not meant to be, and you just have to accept it. And what is meant to be is going to be far better than any of us can imagine. And I’m here to testify to you that it’s far better than I could have imagined.” 

On whether he’ll run for office again:

“Everybody says never say never, but you know I really am on to a new chapter ... There’s a lot that I continue to do and I’ll be very active in service, but it would take an awful lot to get my name back on the ballot.”

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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