Opinion: Cagle explains our goober-natorial primary

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.

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 snippet of audio tape secretly recorded in May, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle says pretty much the same thing about how best to appeal to the Republican Party base.

“The issues you talk about are the issues I care about as well, right?” Cagle reassures a fellow Republican, his voice falling to a whisper, as if he dare not say these things out loud. “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.”

Cagle has campaigned accordingly. For example, it’s no accident that in the last weeks of the runoff, he’s bringing in Oliver North, president of the National Rifle Association, as his big gun.

The snippet is the latest leaked from Cagle’s May conversation with a former GOP foe. It was released by the campaign of Cagle’s runoff opponent, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, and within hours Kemp drove the point home with a tweet.

“Like Hillary Clinton, Cagle thinks the electorate is a basket of deplorables who lack the intelligence and attention span to comprehend all of the high-level policy proposals that he’s saving for the General Election,” Kemp wrote.

The problem is, Kemp shares Cagle’s low 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.

“I’m Brian Kemp,” he says to introduce himself in his latest ad. “You’ve heard about all my guns, my chain saw and my truck.” And indeed, he’s sitting on the bed of a pickup, with a shotgun over his shoulder and a chain saw behind him, as if these were the tools that will make him a good governor.

Zell Miller, the late governor and senator, used to go crazy over media depictions of Southerners as nothing more than rednecks and hillbillies. A few years back, when CBS proposed to resurrect its old “Beverly Hillbillies” franchise, Zell did what Zell did best, which is to rant.

“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 public education and the state’s universities so we can compete for well-paying jobs, or about saving the rural hospitals that keep local communities viable. It’s not about investing in transit options or other foundations of a 21st century economy.

Take it from a man who knows: 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.