OPINION: Geoff Duncan’s GOP 2.0: “I’m trying to rebuild this thing”

Republican Geoff Duncan is running for lieutenant governor. BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL
Caption
Republican Geoff Duncan is running for lieutenant governor. BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL

Credit: Branden Camp

Credit: Branden Camp

While the heaviest honchos in GOP politics were preparing to go to Jekyll Island for the Georgia state party’s annual convention this weekend, Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan had other plans.

His son had a baseball tournament he’d go to instead. Also, Duncan wasn’t invited to the GOP convention.

It’s just the latest proof of the split between the party apparatus and lieutenant governor, who announced last month that he won’t seek reelection after six months of battles in which Duncan defended the integrity of 2020 elections in Georgia and former President Donald Trump torched him for doing it.

It’s a wild turn of events for Duncan, who was a fast-rising and relatively new face on the scene in 2018 when he defeated then-state Sen. David Shafer on his way to becoming the state’s second-ranking elected official.

Although Duncan had been in the state House for five years, Shafer, a longtime fixture in the state GOP, was the Goliath in the race.

Duncan won the battle and became lieutenant governor. But four years later, it’s Shafer, not Duncan, presiding over the convention as the chair of the party while Duncan plans his life beyond the Georgia GOP.

“I really haven’t spent any time thinking about it,” he says of the convention snub, although his office later released a statement that he was disappointed that he wasn’t invited.

“I just think that the Republican Party that I’m a part of is so much bigger than just one event. I’m trying to heal and rebuild this thing.”

This “thing” is the Republican party in America, roiled by the reign of former President Donald Trump, whose blow-torch approach to politics won over devoted followers, but alienated suburban voters, women, minorities, and even some conservative Republicans in the process.

One of those conservative Republicans is Duncan himself, who says the GOP needs a new path forward, one that he’s dubbed “GOP 2.0.”

“There’s a silent majority out there that’s wanting something different than what they’ve got today,” Duncan said.

The idea sprang from Duncan’s many appearances on national media in the wake of the November elections, when Donald Trump wrongly insisted that the election was rigged against him and Duncan felt compelled to say otherwise.

He also spoke out about how he’d lead differently.

“Somebody would say, ‘What’s your vision for how would you do this?’ And I kind of stumbled into, ‘Well it’s almost like a GOP 2.0.’ It’s a reset button.”

After that, he said people started reaching out to him at the office and over social media to talk about the changes they’d want to see in the party, too.

But calling Trump out in the media came at a price, including death threats called in to his wife’s cell phone.

It also angered GOP senators, some of whom were working with Trump to undermine the Georgia elections, who felt Duncan was taking a family feud outside of the family. Even worse, he frequently did it on CNN, one of the many outlets that Trump referred to as “an enemy of the people.”

“At first I wanted to make sure that we defended a fair and honest election, a legal election, I thought it was important,” he said. “I didn’t want there to be any sort of contagion around a conspiracy theory and certainly that’s exactly what happened.”

Even if his rift with the former president cost him with other Republican elected officials, Duncan said he’s convinced he would have won in 2022 if he had run again.

“I just didn’t feel like I could run for re-election and take on this national movement all at the same time,” he said. “And so it was really a bandwidth issue.”

GOP 2.0, Inc. is now incorporated in Georgia, with a staff that already includes an executive director. Next will come fundraising, communications, PR and eventually, he envisions, operations in all 50 states.

He’s also landed a book deal from Simon & Schuster to write “GOP 2.0: How the 2020 Election Can Lead to a Better Way Forward for America’s Conservative Party,” which will publish in September of 2021.

And once he leaves office in 18 months, he envisions GOP 2.0 will be his full-time job.

In a way, GOP 2.0 will also be Geoff Duncan 2.0.

“We’re going to have a grassroots movement that that catches fire in every corner of the country and that’s really what the purpose of this,” he said. “This is about creating a movement.”

Duncan sees “a very difficult” 2022 ahead for the GOP, “but by the time we get to 2024. I think America is gonna want to vote for an adult in the room.”

That means using “an inviting tone” and a party more committed to presenting conservative ideas and solving problems and less committed to taking pot shots at adversaries on Twitter.

Can GOP 2.0 co-exist with Donald Trump?

“I think that’s his choice, not ours,” he said. “My answer is absolutely, but he’s gonna have to make that decision.”

It’s hard to say whether there’s a market in the Republican party for what Duncan is selling. Republicans in the state I met on the campaign trail were devoted to Trump and loved him because of his bulldozer approach to the world, not despite it.

But the 2020 election also proves the GOP needs to do something new if Republicans want a different result the next time around.

The key to whether GOP 2.0 and Geoff Duncan 2.0 succeed in the future is whether there really is a silent majority waiting to be inspired by a kinder, gentler, throwback to the gentlemen’s Republican party of old — or if that silence is really the sound of nobody following along.