OPINION: Georgia Republicans can’t quit, won’t quit Donald Trump

US President Donald Trump holds up his fist as he leaves the stage at the end of a rally to support Republican Senate candidates at Valdosta Regional Airport in Valdosta, Georgia on December 5, 2020.   (ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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US President Donald Trump holds up his fist as he leaves the stage at the end of a rally to support Republican Senate candidates at Valdosta Regional Airport in Valdosta, Georgia on December 5, 2020. (ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Donald Trump’s supporters don’t need your input or your links to CNN fact-checks. They don’t need you to convince them they’re wrong or save them from themselves.

They’re not the rubes you think they are and, despite the media stereotypes, they’re not all pickup-driving, Trump-rally goers. They just want their country back. And they want to talk about Hunter Biden’s laptop.

That’s the general feedback I get from the AJC readers who are also Trump supporters and yes, and there are many. They’re just here for the sports, they usually tell me, but they read my column enough to know we often disagree, especially about the 2020 election.

I think some in the media sometimes act like understanding why anyone would support Trump is like trying to crack the code to a bank vault or find the Rosetta Stone. He’s been indicted four times, is at the center of too many scandals to count, and failed, in Georgia at least, to win the last three election cycles. How could a person vote for that?

For Trump supporters, it’s not that complicated. They have their reasons.

The latest AJC poll of likely Republican voters in Georgia gave us insight into what those reasons are. Trump is the runaway favorite for the GOP primary here, with 57% saying they plan to vote for him next March. The next closest candidate, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, is trailing so far back he’s practically in a different race at 15%.

The third-place candidate, “Undecided,” is statistically tied with DeSantis. And the rest of the otherwise highly qualified Republicans — former Vice President Mike Pence, South Carolina’s U.S. Sen. Tim Scott and former South Gov. Nikki Haley, and the others, including tech millionaire Vivek Ramaswamy, are at or below 4% — in a poll with a 3.4 percentage point margin of error.

What if the giant field was narrowed to a one-on-one fight, people sometimes ask, wouldn’t that make a difference? Nope. The poll shows Trump would trounce DeSantis by roughly 30 points in a head-to-head match-up.

The loyalty to Trump — in the poll and real life — is impossible to miss. Of the former president’s supporters, two-thirds said they’re only considering voting for Trump. Not anyone else, even after Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ indictment earlier this month.

Why are Trump’s people so loyal, what is keeping them with him, even after the mug shot seen around the world?

I reached out to some of my Trump-supporting readers to find out. Many email me from time to time to take issue with something they’ve read. They’re not party operatives or inside Mar-A-Lago, but they’re Georgia voters who are with Trump all the way.

Dr. John Harden, a retired former Army colonel from Atlanta, said national security is his number one issue after a career full of overseas deployments. He considers Trump to be “the best president for national security in my lifetime.”

“I realize he’s a loose cannon and pisses everybody off,” he said. “I used to say Jimmy Carter was the worst by far until Biden came on the scene.”

“With international thugs like China and Russia, you have to be very mean in war,” he said. Trump is “mean enough.”

Like a whopping 84% of Republicans in the AJC poll, Harden also said he thinks politics played a role in Willis’ indictment of Trump, which he calls “that debacle in Fulton County.”

As much as Democrats saw “Donald Trump the criminal” in his Fulton County mugshot, most Republicans saw a man wrongly accused, or at least getting worse than he deserves. In Trump’s words, they saw someone being “persecuted, not prosecuted.”

Another reader, who asked to go only by his first name Randall, feels that way.

“I will state unequivocally that the Democrats are pushing this issue so they don’t have to run against Trump, because they know they will lose the election based on what they have done so far,” he said.

Randall said he would also vote for Tim Scott, but supports Trump first because he believes Trump, as the slogan goes, put America first, particularly when it comes to immigration policy and the southern border.

“As a strong conservative voter I want people to know that doesn’t make me a racist or a woman hater or someone who is against immigrants coming to our country,” he said.

The most defining characteristic of my conversations with Trump readers was their angst about the future of the country, which was also the highest result in the poll. Ninety-four percent of likely GOP voters said the country is headed down the wrong track. They’re looking for someone who can beat Biden and, no matter who they want to vote for, 70% said Trump would probably or definitely be the strongest candidate against Biden in November.

Dean Watson thinks Trump has the best chance to win in 2024 because he believes Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

“I don’t think Democrats ever proved it didn’t happen,” said Dean Watson. “Where’s the proof?”

On that point, Watson is in good company — 61% of respondents in the AJC poll still believe the 2020 elections were the subject of widespread fraud, while just 31% believe the election was fair. If you think Trump won the last time around, why wouldn’t you vote for him next time, too?

While polls can tell us a lot about voter attitudes, they can’t tell us what the future holds. They can’t tell us what Trump will do next, how his crowded court calendar will affect the elections, or how the Democratic ticket will hold up as Election Day gets closer.

But from this week’s AJC poll and our reader’s feedback, we can reliably say that Georgia Republicans, against all odds, are not about to quit Donald Trump.

A previous version of this column stated that Harden served in the Navy. He served in the Army. With apologies this has been corrected.

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