Donald Trump, set for return to Georgia, remains a force in its politics

Then-President Donald Trump speaks during a rally in December in Valdosta. The former president will return to the state Saturday for a rally in Perry that will also feature a slate of candidates he has endorsed in next year's elections. (Hyosub Shin /



Then-President Donald Trump speaks during a rally in December in Valdosta. The former president will return to the state Saturday for a rally in Perry that will also feature a slate of candidates he has endorsed in next year's elections. (Hyosub Shin /

When Donald Trump arrives in Georgia this weekend, it will be more of an all-day spectacle than a simple campaign rally. And it’s all designed to show that the former president’s grip on the Georgia GOP remains as firm as ever.

Long before Trump arrives Saturday at the state fairgrounds in Perry, organizers will broadcast the University of Georgia football game to early arrivers while donors who shell out $1,500 a ticket will hang with powerful politicians at a reception in the comfort of an air-conditioned tent.

When the speeches begin, a Trump-endorsed slate of candidates headlined by U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker will take the stage. And after Trump ends his remarks, fireworks are planned to entertain the gathered thousands.

In short, it’s a show of force from a former president singularly resolved to remain a kingmaker in state GOP politics.

Since Trump narrowly lost Georgia in November, becoming the first Republican presidential candidate who failed to carry the state since 1992, he’s devoted enormous energy toward overturning the state’s election results.

He’s pressured Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to invalidate Joe Biden’s victory, badgered Gov. Brian Kemp to call an emergency special session to nullify the results and cheered on an internal Republican war over his defeat.

And while he’s gone on an extended score-settling tour since Biden took power, he’s kept a particularly close eye on Georgia. Of the roughly 40 candidates he’s endorsed in about two dozen states, three have involved Georgia candidates. He’s publicly disavowed four other Georgia GOP politicians.

Much of the vitriol has come in the form of dozens of mass emails that have knocked Kemp’s policies, attacked Raffensperger, promoted lies about widespread election fraud or trumpeted candidates who have embraced his false narrative.

Most recently, he sent Raffensperger a letter pushing him to take the impossible step of “decertifying” the election. State election officials have said there’s no indication of fraud after three ballot counts and multiple investigations and court challenges.

“The fact is that President Trump did not carry Georgia,” Raffensperger said in response.

‘He’s terrible’

Trump’s fixation on Georgia has deepened the fault lines for Republicans trying to recover from his loss and the U.S. Senate runoff sweeps by Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock that followed.

The former president is backing Walker even though he lived in Texas until August and has a history of violent behavior that raises question about his electability.

Like Walker, the other two statewide candidates Trump has endorsed have also vouched for his attempts to overturn the state’s election. U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, a candidate for secretary of state, tried to block Electoral College certification. State Sen. Burt Jones, his pick for lieutenant governor, has appeared at “Trump Won” rallies.

Trump’s most acerbic pushback, though, is reserved for Kemp. After a 2018 endorsement that fueled Kemp’s runaway victory in a GOP runoff, Trump turned on Kemp in 2020, calling him a “moron” who should resign for refusing to summon legislators to the Capitol to overturn the results in November’s election.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, right, and former President Donald Trump were once close allies, especially after Trump endorsed Kemp in the 2018 GOP runoff for governor. But Trump has turned on Kemp ever since the governor refused to help overturn the results of the election Trump lost in November. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

Though he hasn’t endorsed any of Kemp’s long-shot challengers, the former president continues to rail against the governor he once embraced, including in a radio interview Thursday. He told host John Fredericks that he views Kemp “almost like he’s a Democrat in disguise.”

“Kemp is a disaster. He’s a disaster. He did everything he could to make sure we lost the election. He was terrible,” Trump said, adding: “He’s not going to be able to win the general election anyway because the base isn’t going to show up.”

‘Dissension’ in the ranks

The governor’s allies are trying to shift the focus to Stacey Abrams as the sort of common adversary they hope can unite the feuding Republican factions. Abrams is embarking on a national tour as she prepares for what senior Democrats expect to be a 2022 rematch against Kemp.

“While we are excited to welcome President Trump to Georgia, his visit serves as a sad reminder of the threat Stacey Abrams poses to our state and our country,” said Jeremy Brand of Stop Stacey, an anti-Abrams group that Kemp loyalists launched earlier this year.

All the while, Trump’s lies about election fraud have seeped into the inner workings of the Georgia GOP.

Candidates for local, state and federal office repeat falsehoods about a “stolen” election, and denial of the election results has become a badge of honor for some contenders. More mainstream Republicans have been replaced at county and state GOP organizations by Trump backers.

At a rally Wednesday with Donald Trump Jr. in Marietta, Jones said many of his fellow Republicans have turned their backs on the party’s constituency by refusing to take more drastic action to support Trump.

“I’m seeing a movement in this state. People are engaged and ready to push back,” Jones told a crowd of about 200 people. “And, in a lot of cases, people are angry. They want an investigation of the 2020 election. Just a simple investigation.”

The party’s 2020 hangover has other Republicans fretting. Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who wrote a book advocating for a new post-Trump vision, said “relitigating the losing political battles of the past is about as an effective strategy as Joe Biden’s Afghanistan surrender to the Taliban.”

“Biden has quickly driven America into the ditch, and Republicans should be holding his feet to the fire and focus on winning next year’s election instead of bellyaching about last year’s contest that we unfortunately, but legally, lost,” Duncan said.

The prospect of ongoing division across the aisle has only stoked Democratic hopes of flipping more seats next year, helped by disillusioned Trump supporters who stayed home in the runoffs.

“Democrats are salivating about the potential of an Ossoff-Warnock 2.0 — another sweep,” said Howard Franklin, a Democratic operative. “And that’s because of the dissension that Donald Trump brings everywhere he goes.”