“It bothers me to see people under the Republican party banner setting aside an expansive vision for what I consider to be a message of anger and division,” he wrote. “I see this new GOP as a shrinking party — a party with diminishing electoral prospects, and that concerns me greatly.”
Race certainly had much to do with Jones’ appearance during the first night of the Republican National Convention. “We are free people with free minds. I am part of a large and growing segment of the Black community who are independent thinkers,” Jones said. “And we believe that Donald Trump is the president that America needs.”
But race is not what separates Jones and Brockway. The role and function of a political party does.
A few days before his nationally televised moment, Jones explained his attraction to Trump to a breakfast crowd of DeKalb County Republicans, who in years past had loved to hate him.
“Donald J. Trump is a man’s man. He’s strong. When he tells you he’s going to do something, he’s going to do it,” Jones said. “And he’s a nationalist. He’s going to put his country first.”
Jones says he has no intention of actually becoming a Republican. He follows the man, not the party.
A strong-man approach to government prizes personal loyalty above all else. Trump and his circle demand that now. Jones demanded it back in the day, and still does. Jones’ term as a state lawmaker ends next January. He isn’t running for re-election, and chances are he would have been defeated in last June’s primary had he tried.
But Jones made his biggest mark on metro Atlanta politics as the first African American to serve as DeKalb County’s chief executive officer. It is a county government position unlike any other in Georgia — an elected executive that is independent of the county commission. It is an office that has more in common with the strong mayoral system seen in the city of Atlanta — though DeKalb has a significantly larger population.
From 2001 to 2009, Jones was the strong man of DeKalb County. It is a position that requires self-regulation, a trait that wasn’t always on Jones’ list of priorities. His temper was — and remains — fierce. Decades before Trump, he was at war with the media — which he blames for his Democratic runoff defeat for U.S. Senate in 2008. He shares Trump’s sense of victimhood.
“I’ve been the most investigated local official in the state of Georgia, probably in history,” Jones said in an interview with CBS 46 before his Monday speech. “But every single time — what? There was not a single shred of evidence that I did anything wrong.”
As much as Jones may admire Trump — that’s how worried Buzz Brockway is about the cult of personality now driving the GOP. “I’ve never been one for that,” Brockway told me. “It’s gone from [Ronald] Reagan saying a 70% friend is not a 30% enemy, to you’re either 100% with us or your 100% against us. There’s no middle ground.”
Brockway grew up reading the National Review. He served as a campaign foot soldier before his election to the state House in 2010 — and served eight years. He’s now vice president of public policy for the Georgia Center for Opportunity, a center-right think tank.
State Representative Buzz Brockway speaks during the Georgia Secretary of State debate at Lassiter High School in Marietta, Georgia, on Monday, April 9, 2018. (REANN HUBER/REANN.HUBER@AJC.COM)
I had been following Brockway’s Facebook posts for several weeks. He has warned against the Republican embrace of QAnon candidates. “Vote for people who want to restore institutions, not use political institutions to get on cable news or build a social media following,” he told his friends earlier this month.
Brockway has even condemned Trump advisor Steve Bannon, who was charged last week with diverting money from a build-the-wall fund, as a huckster and fraud.
“I do think Trump hit on some things that Republicans have ignored,” Brockway said — such as the plight of blue-collar workers in small-town America. “I’m not one calling for the GOP to go back to how it used to be. We need modern solutions for modern times. You can’t discard everything Trump has done.”
But he does want to see a Republican party driven by something other than absolute loyalty to a single individual. “We used to be the party of ideas — and we should be again,” Brockway said.
That is hard to do when ideas live or die based on daily Tweets from the White House.
Brockway thinks the future of the GOP lies in leaders like U.S. Sens. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Marco Rubio of Florida, or even Tom Cotton of Arkansas. That conversation begins Nov. 4, regardless of whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden is the victor.
In the meantime, you are unlikely to hear much from Brockway. In that Facebook post from last weekend, you see, he committed an apostasy.
“I don’t…believe America is finished if Biden wins. 2016 was not a ‘Flight 93’ election and neither is 2020,” Brockway said — faulting Democrats for apocalyptic talk as well as his fellow Republicans. “This is dangerous thinking in my opinion.”
But in the current climate, some things simply can’t be said. On the Republican side, such an opinion is a rebuke to President Trump’s claim that only he stands between economic recovery and the carnage that Biden and Democrats would bring. And so Buzz Brockway will go silent — while Vernon Jones surely will not.