Republican David Perdue said he “misunderstood” the Donald Trump supporters who chanted about imprisoning Gov. Brian Kemp when he smiled and flashed them a thumbs-up sign at the former president’s rally.
The former U.S. senator said Tuesday he thought the Trump demonstrators who erupted into cheers were not chanting “lock him up” after he vowed to investigate the 2020 election if he defeats Kemp in the May 24 Republican primary.
“I really thought they were saying ‘lock them up,’” he said after addressing a GOP gathering in Fayette County.
“It was what I had said very pointedly in my speech, was the people responsible for this malfeasance should be investigated and are brought to justice. That’s what I said. I misunderstood what they were saying. So I’m holding the governor accountable.”
His campaign earlier amplified a tweet from the Saturday rally documenting the “lock him up” chant. Kemp spokesman Cody Hall characterized it as the latest in a string of blunders that included calling a state budget that includes tax refunds and teacher pay hikes “disgusting.”
“Now, he’s tripping over himself to walk back yet another embarrassing gaffe,” said Hall. “Perdue’s clown car campaign just went from sad to downright dangerous.”
It was part of a Perdue effort to more tightly embrace Trump’s lies about election fraud in Georgia to try to gain ground against Kemp, who is leading in the polls.
Perdue last week falsely claimed for the first time that he didn’t lose to U.S. Jon Ossoff in the 2021 runoffs. And he doubled down on that lie at the Trump rally, claiming that he and Trump were both victims of “stolen” elections.
But he drew the most attention for something that wasn’t scripted. When he promised to ensure that “those people responsible for that fraud in 2020 go to jail” if elected governor, loud chants of “lock him up!” erupted from Trump supporters.
Perdue responded to the demands to imprison Kemp, his former political ally turned primary rival, by encouraging the crowd to continue the chants.
It was perhaps the most vivid example of how pro-Trump Republicans are escalating election fraud conspiracy theories to rally conservatives ahead of the primaries, though it wasn’t the only one.
The election wasn’t stolen. Three separate tallies upheld Biden’s narrow victory, an audit of absentee ballot signaturesin Cobb County found no cases of fraud, court challenges by Trump allies were squashed, and bipartisan officials — including Trump’s attorney general — have said the election was fair.
But the pro-Trump slate’s deepening focus on 2020 mirrors the former president’s obsession with overturning his humbling defeat, which made him the first GOP presidential candidate to lose the state since 1992.