Analysis: GOP senators dumping Trump? Not in Georgia

U.S. Sen. Kelley Loeffler, R-Ga., greets a supporter at a President Donald Trump's reelection rally at Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon on Friday, October 16, 2020. Georgia's other U.S. senator, David Perdue, also attended the rally. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
U.S. Sen. Kelley Loeffler, R-Ga., greets a supporter at a President Donald Trump's reelection rally at Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon on Friday, October 16, 2020. Georgia's other U.S. senator, David Perdue, also attended the rally. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

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

Perdue, Loeffler embracing the president

If you scanned the national headlines in the hours before President Donald Trump visited Georgia on Friday, you might have thought that Republican senators were jumping ship faster than passengers on the Titanic.

“Fearing a bloodbath, Republican senators begin to edge away from Trump,” the New York Times wrote Friday night. “Republicans increasingly seek distance from Trump," said the Hill a few hours earlier. "As Trump’s fortunes sink, Republicans distance themselves,” the L.A. Times wrote last week.

But if Republicans in the Senate have all agreed that backing the president is a losing proposition, somebody forgot to let the Georgia delegation in on it, because not only have Georgia’s GOP senators not distanced themselves from Trump, it would be hard for them to get any closer to the president.

For Sen. David Perdue on Friday night in Macon, that meant telling the crowd of thousands his belief that Trump was sent by God in 2016 to become the president of the United States. “This guy is providential. He didn’t happen by accident,” Perdue said. “How in the world in our political system could Donald J. Trump come on the scene in 2016 do what he did? Tell me. God’s watching.”

For Sen. Kelly Loeffler, it has meant cutting an ad touting her “100% Trump voting record,” and repeating that stat consistently on the campaign trail. Loeffler attended the rally, but did not speak, although she did get a very favorable mention from the president when he recognized her from the podium.

After noting that Loeffler’s husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, “is a very successful guy. That’s a good thing. He loves his wife,” Trump added that Loeffler was, “100% with me” on the impeachment. “Great job Kelly. Great job."

The split between Georgia’s senators and some of their GOP colleagues, even those in red states, is stark. In a tele-townhall with constituents recently, Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse predicted a “blue tsunami” on Election Day because of the way Republicans have embraced the president’s actions. “It’s going to be, ‘What the heck were any of us thinking, that selling a TV-obsessed, narcissistic individual to the American people was a good idea?’”

When Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado was asked in a recent debate if he is proud of his support for the president, he hesitated. “We have to do work each and every day. I am proud of the work we have done together.”

Likewise, Sen. Martha McSally in Arizona hedged her answer when asked if she’s proud of supporting Trump. “I’m proud that I’m fighting for Arizona on things like cutting your taxes," she said.

Compare that to Loeffler and Perdue, who have not only supported the president, in many ways, they seem to be becoming the president. On Thursday, Loeffler joined forces with QAnon candidate and GOP 14th congressional district nominee Marjorie Taylor Greene to accept Greene’s endorsement for Senate. “No one in Georgia cares about this QAnon business,” Loeffler said, defending Greene at a joint event in north Georgia. On Friday night, Trump singled Greene out for high praise. “You really are unbelievable,” he said.

For Perdue, who ran as a friendly, common-sense, grown up in 2014 who could “change the childish behavior” in Washington, embracing the president has meant embracing some of his tactics, too. Instead of simply listing the many ways he disagrees with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on policy issues, Perdue joked about Harris' name, to the delight of the crowd Friday night. “Kamala? Kamala? Kamala-mala-mala? I don’t know. Whatever," he said of Harris.

Harris and Perdue have served together in the U.S. Senate since 2017, including as members of the Senate Budget Committee. His campaign spokesman John Burke said the Republican “simply mispronounced Senator Harris' name and he didn’t mean anything by it.”

The electoral logic of sticking close to Trump is obvious in Loeffler’s case, considering the fact that she is essentially running a Republican primary against Rep. Doug Collins inside the special election defending her Senate seat this November. Winning requires pulling Republican support away from Collins, including every Trump Republican possible.

But for Perdue, the wisdom of an unbroken embrace of Trump is less clear, especially when polling shows Perdue statistically tied with his Democratic challenger, Jon Ossoff. and the president’s approval rating in Georgia sliding. Sticking so completely with Trump seems like pulling up a chair and getting comfortable next to the captain of the Titanic and relaxing to enjoy the view.

Is there something Perdue and Loeffler know that Sasse, Garner, McSally, and even Majority Leader Mitch McConnell-- all Republicans up for election this year-- don’t know that would explain running into the fire that seems to be the president’s campaign right now while so many GOP senators are heading for the hills?

When Perdue made fun of Kamala Harris’ name, it has to be said that the crowd of thousands in Macon loved it. And when the president called out to Loeffler moments before also giving Marjorie Taylor Greene a shout out, it was more of the same. And the president did win Georgia in 2016 by 5 points.

Whether the cheers at a freewheeling Trump rally, along with chants of “CNN sucks!” and “Lock them up!” (about the Biden family) translate to votes on the ballot -- we’ll only know for sure on Election Day.

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