Opinion: On the Republicans who stayed away from a Donald Trump Jr. rally

The Cobb County rally headlined by Donald Trump Jr. on Monday was packed well beyond the current pandemic restrictions. But both the governor and the attorney general were on hand, and so immunity from enforcement was never in doubt.

Masked and unmasked — but mostly unmasked, hundreds crowded an indoor skeet range in Kennesaw, converted for the occasion, to enjoy 30 minutes of machine-gun patter unleashed by the president’s son and namesake.

Satisfaction hinged on the acceptance of a single article of faith: That every word falling from Trump Jr.'s lips was God’s truth — and anything that contradicted him was the fiendish work of left-wingers and the media under their command. And so most guests arrived excited and left happy.

But the detached observer in me couldn’t leave the early evening event without thinking that I had just witnessed a political party enter the twilight of its four-decade reign over a very important slice of suburban Atlanta.

It is easier to show than to say.

The master of ceremonies was Attorney General Chris Carr, who talked law enforcement. “We have a president who does not need a poll or a focus group or CNN or the New York Times to tell us the difference between peaceful protests and riots,” he said.

Georgia GOP chair David Shafer followed. "The angriest people in America have taken control of the Democratic party, he said — perhaps projecting just a wee bit.

Then came state Rep. Vernon Jones, a Black Democrat who may see in President Donald Trump the strongman that Jones thought himself years ago, when he was CEO of DeKalb County. “Donald Trump is the last real man standing between chaos and community,” Jones said.

Gov. Brian Kemp was there to introduce Trump Jr., but he also had some advice about the upcoming election that struck home. “This is about who your DA is. Don’t forget to vote Republican all the way down the ballot,” he told the crowd.

Kemp and Carr aren’t up for re-election until 2022. Jones is giving up his seat in the state Legislature — and probably would have lost it in the June primary anyway.

But Cobb County District Attorney Joyette Holmes, whom Kemp appointed to the position last year, was not at the rally. Nor was the Cobb solicitor general, nor any Republican member of the county commission. Or, so far as I could tell, any GOP state lawmaker from Cobb.

Not even Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren, a major Trump fan locked in a tough re-election fight, was on hand. (A top deputy who was there explained that Warren had a meeting conflict.)

In the audience, I spied only two Republicans who will be on the Nov. 3 ballot. One was U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk of Cassville, whose 11th District includes portions of Atlanta and Cobb County — but remains reliably Republican. The other was Marjorie Taylor Greene, the QAnon theorist who is unopposed in north Georgia’s 14th District and so is on her way to Congress.

“There were also no officers of the Cobb GOP there,” local party chairman Jason Shepherd told me Tuesday. He himself was teaching a political science class at nearby Kennesaw State University and decided not to rearrange his schedule.

“I didn’t receive a specific invitation — just the blast email, I don’t know if the campaign reached out to the local elected officials or not, or if the state party did. There doesn’t seem to be that kind of emphasis. It’s strictly the president’s campaign and that’s it,” Shepherd said.

It is possible that some calendars were mismarked. The Trump Jr. rally was originally scheduled for the previous Monday, but that was canceled when the White House became a coronavirus hot spot.

And Shepherd said logistical factors might have intervened as well. “Unless you are a candidate who’s going to get some earned media from being there that may work to your advantage, in these last three weeks, it’s more advantageous to actually be working directly on your campaign,” the county chairman said. “You’re not going to get those hours back.”

In 2018, a day of local canvassing was lost when President Trump flew into Macon for GOP gubernatorial nominee Brian Kemp — and volunteers flocked to see the celebrity president, Shepherd said.

But it is also true that politicians don’t often give up an opportunity to mix with 500 or so true believers. Unless the true-believer vote isn’t what they need to win on Nov. 3.

Conceivably, many Republican candidates in Cobb, desperate for support from suburban women voters, didn’t need to be seen with Donald Trump Jr., who’s schtick somewhat resembles that of the late insult comedian Don Rickles — but less funny. (U.S. Sen. David Perdue had no problem being seen in a gentler session with Ivanka Trump the next day in nearby Acworth.)

For Trump Jr., the eldest sibling, women were often a target on Monday, whether U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., or former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Or Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris, whom Trump Jr. called “the most robotic, unlikeable human being we’ve ever had in politics.”

Experts, whether in foreign policy or epidemiology, were dismissed out of hand. And as he has at other venues, Trump Jr. insinuated a link between Democrats and pedophilia — perhaps a sotto voce shout-out to QAnon believers in his audience.

“I think one thing we can all agree on is, we can all be, like, anti-pedophile,” the president’s son said. “I thought this would be a 100% issue. Turns out I was wrong.”

A note of missing context: Only three years ago, a former chairman of the Cobb County GOP pleaded guilty to child molestation and is now serving out a life sentence. Perhaps no one conveyed this sensitive information to the speaker — memory being in such short supply these days.

The point is that, regardless of the reason, the aim of the Trump Jr. rally and the fortunes of the Cobb GOP were largely separate on Monday.

It was an overt sign that the former is unlikely to act as a tailwind for the latter. And that puts continued Republican control of Cobb County on a razor’s edge.

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