Over the past few months, Duncan has repeatedly urged fellow Republicans to leave Trump in the rearview mirror. He’s called proposed rollbacks to voting rights “solutions in search of a problem,” and he refused to preside over a Senate vote on election restrictions.
He’s also more aggressively promoted his vision of a big-tent brand of Republican politics, taking steps to set up an independent group that recently launched a website claiming a “better way forward.”
But the message has alienated fellow Republicans who say it misreads Trump’s enduring popularity among the party’s core activists. State Sen. Burt Jones, a Jackson Republican who was stripped of a chairmanship by Duncan in January, said he and his colleagues were confounded by the lieutenant governor’s approach.
“The caucus is saying one thing, and he’s going on AJC or CNN and saying the opposite,” Jones said. “The optics just aren’t good.”
A former professional baseball player, Duncan was a three-term member of the Georgia House from Forsyth County when he announced a 2018 run for the seat left open when then-Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle ran for governor. Duncan narrowly defeated David Shafer in a GOP runoff, then bested Democrat Sarah Riggs Amico in November.
He quickly positioned himself as an ally to Gov. Brian Kemp and was one of the first high-profile officials to endorse U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler. But he alienated many in his own party by repeatedly swiping at Trump for his false claims of widespread voter irregularities.
Chip Lake, a former top aide to Duncan, said the lieutenant governor had a rare “it” factor that could have made him a transformational politician. But he said his onetime boss struggled to balance the dueling tensions between his competitive nature and his stubborn tendencies.
“You can’t be so stubborn that it puts you in a position where you can’t win,” said Lake, who had a public falling out with Duncan. “If that happens, you become a one-term lieutenant governor.“
Even before Duncan made his plans clear, Republicans were openly jockeying for position. Among the possible contenders are Jones and fellow state Sens. Steve Gooch and Butch Miller. GOP activist Jeanne Seaver is also running. And Democratic state Rep. Erick Allen announced his campaign for the seat last week.
Duncan is only one of several top GOP officials under pressure from pro-Trump forces. The former president endorsed U.S. Rep. Jody Hice’s bid to unseat Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who defied Trump’s call to “find” enough votes to overturn election results in Georgia.