OPINION: Can yesterday’s GOP help Chris Carr win in 2022?

From left, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, Gov. Nathan Deal and U.S. Rep. Saxby Chambliss chat before a news conference on Monday Feb 13, 2012 officially celebrating the launch of Southwest airline's operations at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
From left, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, Gov. Nathan Deal and U.S. Rep. Saxby Chambliss chat before a news conference on Monday Feb 13, 2012 officially celebrating the launch of Southwest airline's operations at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Attorney General Chris Carr held a fundraiser Monday night for his re-election campaign. The early evening invitation attracted lots of men in navy blue blazers and ladies in lovely dresses. The conversation was genial. The manners impeccable. The topics respectable.

Whose Republican Party was this? And which era’s?

Less than a month ago, Carr was getting booed on stage at the state Republican convention on Jekyll Island. The rowdy activists were (and still are) furious that Carr and other elected Republican leaders didn’t do more to help former President Donald Trump in his bid to overturn the 2020 Georgia election that he lost.

Goaded into primary races by Trump, GOP challengers are now running against Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in 2022 primaries.

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan is out of the 2022 equation entirely, leaving to reimagine the future of the GOP with his “GOP 2.0” creation, while the races for U.S. Senate, Lieutenant Governor, and down-ticket across the state races are expected to feature heated internal party fights with pro-Trump Republicans , too.

Carr, however, has managed to avoid a primary. So instead of heading to a gun range or an overcrowded jail or some other message-driven backdrop to fire a campaign launch event, Carr was being toasted by two of his three political mentors, Gov. Nathan Deal and former Sen. Saxby Chambliss. Sen. Johnny Isakson, whom Carr served as Chief of Staff, was unable to attend.

The evening almost felt like it had been unearthed from a time capsule from 2014, before Donald Trump hit the scene and started calling Democrats, and even many Georgia Republicans, “losers,” “lowlifes,” “fools” and “clowns.”

Chambliss thanked all of the donors for being there and “for coming out tonight to support good government.” He predicted that Deal will go down in history as one of the best governors Georgia has ever had and praised Carr for his focus on crimes around the state like sex trafficking.

“To fail to send Chris Carr back for another four years would be a travesty,” Chambliss said, before accidentally predicting, “We’re gonna have a big win in November 2020.”

Like Chambliss, Deal and Isakson all rose to power during the party’s ascent in Georgia and were out of politics before the 2020 elections, when the party was defined, and then bossed around by, Trump.

Could any of the three win a statewide election in Trump’s new Georgia in 2022? Can Carr?

Unlike the grassroots activists at the state convention, no speaker at the Carr event ever mentioned Trump. Or Critical Race Theory. Or “radical liberal socialists.”

Despite the location at the Battery at Truist Park, where the Braves play their ball games, there was also no mention of Major League Baseball or the All-Star game that the league pulled in protest of Senate Bill 202, the state’s new election law.

Instead, Carr talked mostly about his commitment as AG to “protecting lives and protecting livelihoods.” He also spoke of his affection for his old boss, Isakson, who gave Carr his first job in politics as a campaign intern in the mid-90s and eventually picked him as his Senate chief of staff.

“I really got a chance to see someone who cares, someone who truly gave of himself and loves public service,” Carr said.

He also praised Isakson for “all that he did for public education and for veterans,” and called the two senators and Deal “just good human beings.”

Carr’s low-key earnestness matches that of Isakson, who came up in what now seems like the old days of the Georgia GOP, when Chambers of Commerce and country club types flocked to the party during the realignment of the two parties in the state.

But his 2022 candidacy embodies the single greatest tension in Georgia politics in the future — not the looming fight between Republicans and Democrats, which is a given, but the turf war between the old guard Republicans, who successfully won over every branch of the state’s political apparatus in the last 15 years, and the Trump crowd, who seem determined to lose it.

Somehow, Carr and every statewide Republican on the 2022 ticket will need support from both camps to win in November, especially as the state’s voters continue to grow younger and more diverse and Democrats continue to largely win them over.

If anyone knows about a political party changing its DNA, it’s Nathan Deal. The two-term Republican governor had been a longtime conservative Democrat when he was elected to Congress in 1992. But he switched parties in 1995 after Republicans won control of Congress for the first time in 40 years.

“Saxby and I and most of you have lived through a great transition in political realignments across this country, both at the local level and the national level,” Deal said. “I got (to Washington) the first day that Bill Clinton came into office and it didn’t take me long to figure out something just didn’t fit the right way.”

With a story about branding cattle (at least I think it was about branding cattle), Deal counseled the crowd not to leave the herd to follow someone who’s just making noise and is likely to start a stampede in the wrong direction.

“The party needs you and the party needs you to support its candidates like Chris Carr, and it needs it now in order to survive what is going on in the political world.,” he said.

Carr warned his supporters, “2022 is going to be difficult.” And he said he’s already the top target for Democrats looking to unseat Republican attorneys general, which is true.

But he didn’t mention the elephants in the room, namely Donald Trump and the Republicans who adore him, who will make 2022 just as precarious for the blue blazer Republicans in Georgia as the Democrats will.