Gov. Lite Casey Cagle has gotten himself into a pickle in his race for governor.
He did it by not patting down the losing candidate who came to talk with him … and by telling the truth. In a secretly recorded tape, Cagle told voters that politics has become professional wrestling. And that ‘rasslin is fake!
Last week, Cagle’s runoff opponent, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, released the recording and then breathlessly accused Cagle of demeaning his Republican base.
The recording was made weeks ago by Clay Tippins, a losing candidate who hit “record” on his iPhone and let Casey hang himself as he tried to sweet talk Tippins into an endorsement.
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“The issues you talk about are the issues I care about as well,” Cagle told Tippins in hushed tones. “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. … This primary felt like it was who had the biggest gun, who had the biggest truck, and who could be the craziest.”
Cagle was referring to Kemp, who did well in the primary by employing some country boy shtick in his ads featuring shotguns, chainsaws and his pickup. You remember, the one where he was gonna drive ‘round and pick him up some illegals.
But those ads must have impressed Donald Trump, because The Big Guy came out Wednesday in a surprise move and endorsed Kemp.
Before the May primary, I called the Republican campaign the “Machismo rodeo,” an act where the five candidates “wrestle to demonstrate who has the least amount of estrogen.”
It was a slate of manly men, to be sure: Two ex-commandos, a former hair salon owner with a Deportation Bus, a triathlete (Cagle) and the drawling dude with a big shotgun and an even bigger pickup truck.
To be fair, the candidates simply employed a well-established political norm: They did or said whatever it took to get voters to remember who they are. If it’s seen as popular to act like a clown on the campaign trail, many candidates will immediately get fitted for big, floppy shoes and a red nose.
Cagle, with 25 years in elected office, 12 of them statewide, entered the race as the favorite — the establishment candidate with a pile of cash the size of Zanzibar’s GNP.
But Kemp himself is an insider — a millionaire from Athens and a longtime pol with two terms as secretary of state, and time in the Senate before that. So, instead of being viewed as Just Another Politician, which he largely is, Kemp went the mucho macho outsider route and ended up in the July 24 runoff.
The North Star of Kemp’s campaign — no, his patron saint — is Trump, who early on bragged he could blow away someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and retain his supporters.
So, I fully expect Kemp to announce he could stand on Broad Street in front of the University of Georgia arch and let someone have it.
Hey, it worked for The Donald.
Heath Garrett, a GOP consultant who has worked for such mainstays as U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, said pollsters asked GOP voters for their top issue: Lower taxes? Education reform? Smaller government?
No, no and nope. “Standing with Donald Trump” was No. 1 with 50 percent of those polled.
Not surprisingly, both candidates are running ads calling themselves “Trump Conservatives,” even though Casey originally backed Jeb Bush and Kemp was caught lollygagging at a John Kasich rally. Turns out neither had the foresight to mug with candidate Trump when he was here. If they had, those photos would be plastered all over TV.
Nevertheless, they must go all Trumpian.
But there’s a problem — Cagle can’t “out crazy” Kemp. He’s not good at it. His DNA is in policy and legislation and piling up campaign donations. Gov. Nathan Deal, who is popular but is the ultimate insider, just endorsed him.
Cagle first got himself in trouble by whispering to Tippins on tape how he played some smart, but stinky, politics last spring. That was when he passed some “bad legislation” to keep another opponent, former state Sen. Hunter Hill, from receiving some big donations. Team Casey thought fellow insider Kemp would be easier to beat than Hill.
Unfortunately for Casey, nobody sneaky has sidled up to Kemp with a hidden recorder. So Cagle must continually pucker up and await the next secret recording release as the polls show his one-time lead has dwindled to a statistical dead heat.
This week, another recording was released. On it, Cagle told Tippins his plan like he was letting him in on a scheme to knock over a liquor store.
“I literally have a goal — a personal goal. I want to cut poverty in half,” said Cagle, continuing, “I mean, you’ve heard my story of where I came from. That’s not (expletive). That’s real, OK? Every ounce of that is real. I attended eight elementary schools by the time I reached the sixth grade. I really should not be where I am.
“My focus is down there. It’s not those up there, and that’s what pisses me off about Republicans and people like Hunter,” he said.
At that point, the tape cut off. He must have said something uncontroversial or not stupid, otherwise we would have heard it.
A worker from Hunter Hill’s campaign (now buds with Kemp’s camp) released the tape, saying Cagle was channeling LBJ and his War on Poverty. Of course, terms such as “welfare” and “failed liberal experiment” were tossed in for good measure.
Cagle’s team tsk-tsked back, “Brian Kemp wants our jails full, our welfare rolls packed with people who should be working, and kids going to bed hungry at night. That’s simply pathetic.”
Garrett, the consultant guy, said Cagle should run with it.
“If Casey is smart, they ought to own it,” Garrett said. “He can talk about his background. If you’re a disaffected Republican voter, you feel the economy has left you behind.”
Garrett said older women and suburban voters who are more moderate like to see some empathy in candidates.
So Cagle might do well to run ads showing he has compassion for those on the margins.
But he better wave a gun while doing it.