Far-right faction pushes to oust ‘traitors’ from Georgia GOP

Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

A far-right faction that has gained clout in the Georgia GOP wants to give the state party new powers to block candidates from qualifying to run as Republicans if they’re deemed to be insufficiently conservative or a “traitor” to the party.

The rule change is being championed by leaders of the Georgia Republican Assembly, a conservative faction that has vilified Gov. Brian Kemp, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and other Republicans who rejected Donald Trump’s demands to illegally overturn his election defeat.

Under the proposed rule change, the Georgia GOP convention could vote to prevent a political candidate from qualifying to run as a Republican in the next election, giving the state party’s 1,500 or so delegates authority to pick favorites in top races.

“If the candidate has shown himself to be a traitor to the principles of the party, then the party can vote to exclude him from qualifying at the next election,” Nathaniel Darnell, a GRA leader, said during a recent address to the state Constitution Party.

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

The activist group has made clear that Kemp, Raffensperger and other Republican officials are a target of their anger. GRA officials frequently blast GOP leaders in speeches and newsletters, and Darnell said the governor and his allies have shown “disdain” to the grassroots.

“The primary for both parties has been corrupted by big money interests, which has harmed the Republican brand,” said the GRA’s president, Alex Johnson, who maintains an overhaul would give “voters an unmediated way to hold their elected officials accountable.”

The proposed rule faces significant obstacles. The state GOP’s rules committee must vet the policy change before it can be voted on by the state GOP convention in June. Even if it clears those hurdles — a prospect that party insiders view as unlikely — it would face immediate legal challenges from the first candidate rejected under the new rules.

“So much for respecting the will of the voters,” Kemp adviser Cody Hall said. “This is a terrible idea that is likely unconstitutional — which isn’t surprising given the source.”

Still, GOP officials take the proposal seriously. And its momentum underscores the Georgia GOP’s focus on far-right policies and pro-Trump conspiracy theories that have sidelined more mainstream activists.

Kemp, who was heckled at the state party’s 2021 convention, plans to skip this year’s gathering and is developing a parallel organization through a committee that can raise unlimited funds. Other statewide Republican officials are also boycotting the June convention.

Credit: Nathan Posner

Credit: Nathan Posner

And the party’s outgoing chair, David Shafer, is the target of potential criminal prosecution for his role in the fake elector scheme in December 2020, when he helped organize a secretive ceremony for a pro-Trump slate after Georgia officials validated Joe Biden’s narrow victory.

At least half of the false GOP electors recently struck immunity deals with Fulton County prosecutors who are investigating whether Trump and his allies violated state laws, heightening the scrutiny on Shafer and other fake electors who were not part of the deal.

From fringe to a force

Once a fringe organization with little power in state Republican circles, the GRA has recently gained influence. The faction won a string of victories at recent county-level and districtwide meetings and has endorsed a slate of contenders in June elections for top party posts.

A key GRA loyalist is Kandiss Taylor, who campaigned on a slogan of “Jesus, Guns and Babies” in her failed primary challenge last year against Kemp, earning scorn and derision for her attacks on fellow Republicans as Communist collaborators who were part of a “Luciferian Cabal.”

Activists last month elected Taylor, who has yet to concede her 2022 primary defeat, to chair the Savannah-based 1st District GOP. She has called for a purge of every Republican elected official in Georgia and promised “big things” are in store since winning the post.

Credit: Ben Gray for the AJC

Credit: Ben Gray for the AJC

GRA activists have long dreamed of changes to rid the party of more moderate candidates but have lacked influence at the highest reaches of the party infrastructure. With those recent victories at local meetings, the faction’s leaders say their moment has arrived.

“We’re excited about this possibility. We want to strike while the iron is hot,” said Darnell, the head of Cobb County’s GRA chapter. “And we feel like for the first time, the makeup of the GOP delegates includes enough accountability-minded people that this has a significant chance of passing in the convention.”

Johnson, the GRA president, has also exhorted his supporters to embrace the idea — and said he was prepared to defend it in court. He pointed to a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court ruling and the Wyoming GOP’s vote to oust former U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney as encouraging precedents.

“This rule, if adopted,” Johnson wrote in a recent newsletter, “would compel the Atlanta Establishment to no longer ignore the people back home who do most of the campaigning for them in election season.”

Staff writer Mark Niesse contributed to this article.