The way that the language of survival can shift within just a few hundred miles can sometimes be stunning.
Last week, after sharing a box with Donald Trump during Game 5 of the World Series, David Perdue was a stalwart defender of the president.
The Georgia senator was ready when Bret Baier of Fox News asked about the boos and chants of “Lock him up!” from the fans who had surrounded them.
“It just shows how out of touch this town is, Bret,” Perdue said.
And if the U.S. House passes articles of impeachment, what are the odds that the Senate would convict? “Not a chance in hell, Bret,” Perdue offered.
You’ve already made up your mind? “Absolutely. I’ve seen the evidence. There’s nothing that rises to the level of impeachment. And look, this is a clear example of the continued obstructionism to try to undo a duly elected president from 2016,” Perdue said.
These are the words that must be said when one is in Washington, a member of Trump’s political party, and up for re-election next year. Certainly, they are words that will work on Air Force One. (If tradition holds, Perdue will be jetting to Atlanta in the company of the president on Friday for a pair of fundraisers intended to bolster Perdue's already bulging campaign treasury.)
But the words that work in Washington aren’t suited for mixed company in downtown Atlanta.
On Monday, seven days past that Fox News appearance, Perdue was the guest speaker at the Atlanta Rotary Club, a prestigious noon gathering of the city’s movers and shakers. On stage, the word “impeachment” never passed the senator’s lips. President Trump received a single, belated mention.
Perdue began with a confession. “If you were watching Game 5 of the World Series, you know I’m a Republican,” he said, omitting any mention of the catcalls. The direction he took next probably puzzled some in the room.
“The future of America has never been brighter. But we’ve got a big hill to get over – and that’s called extremism. On both sides. You can have religious extremism, political extremism, economic extremism. But we’ve sort of divided America up into two teams,” he said.
Perdue would return to it, but for the moment he dropped that strand of thought — and moved to a defense of Trumpism that didn’t dwell on the president’s name.
“I was involved in the construction of this agenda that we’re under right now. I was in the White House two weeks after this guy got elected,” Perdue said. Yes, that’s what he said: “This guy.”
That 2017 meeting is where Republicans decided to emphasize de-regulation, increased energy production, lower corporate taxes and a rewrite of banking regulations — resulting in economic good times, Perdue said.
Headwinds exist, he admitted. The trade war with China, for instance. And a surprise labor shortage. The senator promised a new immigration bill before Christmas that would “shock some of the people in the room.”
Which brought the senator back to the deal-making that no longer exists in Washington.
“Compromise is not a dirty word,” Perdue began again. “Unfortunately, in government, it’s all about power. It’s about self above service. It’s about individual above the country. I’m just telling you — that’s what you and I have to fix. We have to be more demanding of our national media. We have to be more demanding of people like me. We have to be more demanding of ourselves.”
David Perdue is a bright guy. He is self-aware. He knows that when a fellow speaks of a Washington that prizes self above service, individual above country, a certain narcissistic president springs to the mind of many people.
Perdue continued, offering a clue about what side he thought his audience was on. “We have to do what my dad said – listen to somebody on the other side for a change. It’s challenging, listening,” he said. “If I can listen to Rachel Maddow, you can listen to someone on the Fox side sometimes, too. It’s hard, right? Because you want to argue and debate. But that’s what America is built on.”
There are times on the stump when a politician closes in on an important point, but never quite gets there. This was Perdue at the end of his Rotary address. “If we get through this presidential election, I predict — honestly — that both sides, in the Senate anyway — there’s a growing sense that enough is enough. On both sides. Enough is enough,” he said.
I’ve pondered some over Perdue’s remarks. On one hand, I think, his Rotary speech was an effort to recapture the blue jean-jacketed outsider that was first elected in 2014.
But I’m also sensing something else. Republicans know it is all but certain that the U.S. House will approve articles of impeachment against the president. A trial in the Senate will be necessary, and an acquittal is in the cards — as Perdue rather forcefully stated last week.
Publicly, GOP leaders maintain that this will redound to Trump’s benefit, energizing his supporters. But if the Democratic case is convincingly made, in televised public hearings, and Senate Republicans are unmoved — an acquittal might have the opposite effect.
We do not know what Donald Trump’s standing with voters will be next November. So it is important for David Perdue to be known as something more than a Trump ally — especially to voters in suburban Atlanta.
I left the Rotarians for a 2 p.m. broadcast of GPB’s “Political Rewind,” and encountered more evidence of GOP misgivings.
One of the panelists was Heath Garrett, a longtime confidante of U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who is set to retire on Dec. 31. Gov. Brian Kemp will name his Republican replacement, who will then have to defend himself on the November ballot.
Which means a vote on whether to oust Trump from the White House could be either one of the last votes cast by Isakson, or one of the first cast by his replacement.
The former might be distasteful to Isakson. The latter could be a hazard for a fresh-faced candidate in a state that is rapidly turning purple. Some Republicans have wondered out loud whether Isakson might consider delaying his retirement in order to take one for the team.
Garrett said this was unlikely. But he offered a possible solution to the dilemma – keep Georgia’s newest senator out of the chamber until after our impeachment drama is over.
“One option is the governor can hold off on swearing somebody in,” Garrett said.
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