Opinion: Baffled by the 2022 GOP governor’s primary? Get in line

At a Nov. 4, 2018, rally in Macon, Brian Kemp (center), then the Georgia Republican gubernatorial candidate, walks with President Donald Trump (right) and U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga. Now, as Kemp runs for reelection, Perdue is posing a threat in the GOP primary with Trump's backing. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, file)
caption arrowCaption
At a Nov. 4, 2018, rally in Macon, Brian Kemp (center), then the Georgia Republican gubernatorial candidate, walks with President Donald Trump (right) and U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga. Now, as Kemp runs for reelection, Perdue is posing a threat in the GOP primary with Trump's backing. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, file)

Credit: John Bazemore

Credit: John Bazemore

Pity poor Vernon Jones, the erstwhile Democrat/perpetual candidate who carved out his lane in the wave of Trump deliria and hoped to ride that to a long-shot primary bid against Gov. Brian Kemp.

Jones had dutifully gone all Stop the Steal, (a) partnering with conspiracy monger Alex Jones at a rally outside the Georgia Capitol, (b) denouncing his Democratic roots in a speech at President Donald Trump’s Jan. 6 pre-insurrection get-together and (c) even crowd-surfing at a Macon rally as the closely packed Republicans got a real chance to “Feel the Vern.”

It was all an ingratiating effort by Jones to get the Big Guy’s endorsement, which is priceless currency in the MAGA world. But it was all for naught. Vernon Jones was simply a warmup act for the real show. David Perdue is now the headliner. And he’s just as shameless.

When we last saw Perdue, he was an incumbent U.S. senator getting beat by the Democratic boy wonder, Jon Ossoff, a never-elected 30-something who was riding another wave: collective weariness of Trump.

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Georgia Rep. Vernon Jones crowd-surfs during a President Donald Trump rally at Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. (AJC file photo / Alyssa Pointer)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Georgia Rep. Vernon Jones crowd-surfs during a President Donald Trump rally at Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020.  (AJC file photo / Alyssa Pointer)
caption arrowCaption
Georgia Rep. Vernon Jones crowd-surfs during a President Donald Trump rally at Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. (AJC file photo / Alyssa Pointer)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Perdue, the former job-outsourcing exec with a reptilian grin, was an awful candidate. Sure, he once donned a blue-jean jacket to show he was a regular working stiff or something like that. But he always seemed to campaign — and govern — like he couldn’t stand the company of other human beings. Or at least those who weren’t board-of-director types.

Now it’s time for another election and Perdue sees opportunity, just like he did when closing all those apparel plants decades ago to boost corporate profits. It’s nothing personal against Kemp, just like it wasn’t anything against all those underpaid women bent over sewing machines. He simply smells weakness. It’s a cold, steely-eyed calculation.

ExplorePolitically Georgia podcast: Perdue versus Kemp in GOP feud

It’s time for Perdue to reenter the alternate universe that revolves around Trump, the force that has kept a once-proud party hostage. Perdue this week announced he will run against Governor Shotgun. The campaign will be built upon the foundation that Kemp is a RINO who didn’t step up and help get Trump those 11,780 votes to steal Georgia. Mind you, it wouldn’t have been legal to toss out the state’s election results and give it to Trump. But the plan seems to be that if Trump runs again in 2024, he’ll have a more pliable exec in the governor’s chair here.

Kemp knows the power accompanying a Trump endorsement. Trump backed Kemp in the 2018 GOP primary runoff against then-Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, and Cagle’s candidacy ended up in a pine box. However, Cagle was already a mortally wounded candidate before Trump stepped in, having said duplicitous things to a failed gubernatorial candidate who was secretly recording him. Trump was simply the coup de grâce.

So, for Kemp, it’s a story of “live by Trump, die by Trump.”

The current Guv Lite, Geoff Duncan, who is not running again because he is not Trumpie enough and would get clobbered in a primary, went on TV after hearing of Perdue’s candidacy. “We don’t need the traveling circus of Donald Trump to stay here in Georgia,” Duncan said. I’d have used “clown car,” but that’s just me.

Duncan has written a book called “GOP 2.0: How the 2020 Election Can Lead to a Better Way Forward for America’s Conservative Party.” I’m thinking it’ll be “GOP 6.0″ before the MAGA toxin leeches from the Republican body.

ExploreDavid Perdue is running for Georgia governor. Now what?

I spoke with some Republicans who expressed consternation as to what is happening to the party. But those who are currently in office are averse to saying much publicly.

The worry with many Republicans is that Perdue and Kemp will tear each other up in the primary and Democrat Stacey Abrams will simply step over the battered survivor and into the governor’s office.

ExploreGeorgia Governor election news

Eric Tanenblatt has been around Georgia politics for 30 years, starting when Republicans were seen as pesky gnats to the Good Old Boy Southern Democratic machine. He was the chief of staff for Sonny Perdue (David’s cousin) when he was elected in 2002 as Georgia’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction.

Tanenblatt said he was “baffled” by a “Republican challenging a Republican in a primary, running against a governor who’s done a good job.” He was so baffled he used the term three times in our conversation.

He hopes they don’t make it “too personal,” but one cannot see any other outcome.

“After bloody primaries, parties heal their wounds,” Tanenblatt said, adding, “but we’ve never seen anything like this.”

ExplorePerdue’s run for Georgia governor will test Trump’s sway

Another unnamed Republican said it’s ironic that one Perdue brought the party to Georgia’s governorship, and another Perdue might take it out.

And former state Rep. Allen Peake, a dutifully conservative Republican, called this a “very selfish move on Perdue’s part.” He said the effort is more a matter of Trump getting revenge against Kemp than trying to further the interests of the party.

“There’s a lot of conservative Republicans who don’t like being pushed by Donald Trump,” Peake said.

But most of them are quietly hunkered down clutching their comfy blankets, not saying a word that might incite The Donald’s wrath.

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