Duncan’s travails are well-known in state politics: The former pro baseball player turned state legislator waged a long-shot bid for Georgia’s No. 2 job, stunned the establishment by winning, aligned himself with Gov. Brian Kemp and after the election emerged as one of the GOP’s most forceful Trump critics.
With no reelection bid — Duncan nixed a run for a second term in March — he’s been freer to work on his book and build a political organization to promote its ideas. A copy of “GOP 2.0” was obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution before its release.
The book contains a retelling of the Trump-driven drama last year in Georgia’s election from Duncan’s vantage. He describes a chilling but distinct change in the party’s tone during his short time in office he characterized as: “You’re either with us or against us.”
Duncan played a pivotal role in the 2020 narrative as one of the earliest and most prominent Republicans to counter pro-Trump lies about rampant voting fraud. He writes in detail of the backlash he and his family faced from the far right after he acknowledged Democrat Joe Biden’s victory on national TV.
As he often says in public, his critique of Trump is not an indictment of the former president’s policies. But he says that if Trump spent more time emphasizing his legislative and executive agenda, and not airing increasingly hostile attacks on the media and Democrats, he would have won another term.
Duncan calls on his supporters to be the “adults in the room” to move the party beyond its obsession with Trumpism. And he wants last year’s stinging Republican losses in Georgia — Democrats carried the state in November’s presidential vote and January’s U.S. Senate runoffs — to serve as a warning.
“Republicans cannot afford to alienate people who agree with us on nine of 12 issues. Today it seems we alienate people who agree with us on 11 of 12,” he wrote.
“We saw firsthand in Georgia where this mentality gets us. We learned what happens when the GOP places a person above party and policy: Democrats turn red states blue.”
‘On an island’
The book recounts the turmoil after the election, when Trump’s supporters pushed to invalidate the results in Georgia despite the lack of evidence of rampant voter irregularities. Duncan tracked how rank-and-file lawmakers were swayed by Trump’s “propaganda machine” to fall in line behind an unconstitutional effort.
And he writes in detail of the toll his stance took on his once-promising political fortunes, as he went from a potential candidate for higher office to a pariah to many conservatives.
“At best, fellow Republicans thought I’d lost my mind. At worst, they thought I’d become a traitor deserving of the traditional punishment,” he wrote. “I found myself on an island — one that was getting pounded by bombs and artillery. Still, I never — not even for a moment — regretted my decision.”
There was a barrage of threats, some more concerning than others. Investigators found a website with Duncan’s image, along with other GOP figures, centered in the scope of a target. Duncan wrote that law enforcement later told him the site was posted by Iranians “trying to destabilize the country.”
It traces, too, the battle over the state’s new election overhaul, and Duncan’s staunch opposition to an earlier, more restrictive version that would have severely limited mail-in voting. Duncan refused to preside over a Senate vote on the measure, nursing a Coke Zero in his office rather than wield his gavel.
“I felt sad for my party and state because this crazy path would ensure those conservative principles I love would gradually erode as Republicans continued this self-inflicted decline,” wrote Duncan, who said he was in a “bad emotional place” during the vote. He supported the later version that became law.
In the latter chapters, Duncan advocates a three-part approach that blends conservative policy, genuine empathy and a respectful tone — which he calls PET — as the path to help Republicans reclaim the White House and Congress.
“Friends, we are playing the long game but we have the perseverance for it,” Duncan wrote. “The coming months and years will see Republicans wake up, one by one. They’ll realize they’ve been misled, and we’ll welcome them into GOP 2.0. We are on the right side of history. And in the end, we will win.”
Here are some highlights of the book:
Of his decision to counter Trump’s false conspiracy theories:
“Did I stay silent and cower as a howling tempest of conspiracy ravaged everything in which I believed? Or did I stand up for truth in my state? ... Not one fiber in my being could line up behind the fraud-and-conspiracy storyline that quickly became the Republican Party’s response to losing a national election.”
On what if Georgia leaders had caved to Trump’s demands to reverse the election:
“Can you imagine how the millions of Georgians who voted for Joe Biden would have responded? The marches and protests would have made the 2020 racial justice protests look like picnics and July 4 parades. Counter-protesters would have counter-marched. ... Someone would have pushed too far. People would have been hurt and almost certainly killed. We would have opened Pandora’s Box. Georgia would have burned.”
Of the personal toll during one of his early TV appearances combating Trump:
“It turns out potentially throwing away one’s political career isn’t natural for a body — it has a self-defense mechanism. My breathing suddenly became quick and shallow as the clock showed the interview getting closer.”
On the Senate race to the right between Kelly Loeffler and Doug Collins:
“Loeffler and her opponent spent 2020 trying to outflank each other on the right. Much like the president, they both sacrificed the middle for the wing. The reasonable positions and tone that had earned Loeffler the seat had vanished by the fall. She fell in line with the president.”
On Major League Baseball’s decision to yank its All-Star game from metro Atlanta:
“In the end, the far left raised money off misinformation and outrage. The far right raised money off misinformation and outrage. Baseball and Georgia got crossways. And the good folks in the middle bore the brunt again.”
Of his close friendship with state Rep. Dewey McClain, a Democrat and former pro football player:
“To this day, Dewey remains even more surprised than I am that I became lieutenant governor. He comes to visit me in the Senate chamber when he can. He always reminds me of the line he repeated so often when we served in the House together: ‘What’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong.’ There’s nothing partisan about that.”