The Georgia GOP’s embrace of Trump hasn’t stopped internal feuding

Various hyperconservative groups within the state Republican Party have ‘declared war on each other,’ one county leader says, and ‘these people need to stop the circular firing squad.’
Sherri Brunkow poses for a photo at GOP Convention at the Columbus Georgia Convention & Trade Center shown on Saturday, June 10, 2023. Brunkow says she is a Trump supporter and this is her ninth time attending one of his events. (Natrice Miller/

Sherri Brunkow poses for a photo at GOP Convention at the Columbus Georgia Convention & Trade Center shown on Saturday, June 10, 2023. Brunkow says she is a Trump supporter and this is her ninth time attending one of his events. (Natrice Miller/

Five years ago, Donald Trump’s allies took the reins of the Georgia GOP and began pushing more mainstream Republicans to the sidelines, transforming the organization into a crucial pillar of support for the former president.

Since then, its former chairman ruffled feathers by playing favorites with Trump-backed challengers. Party leaders gave Trump a platform to promote his primary campaign in 2023 and, months later, urged Nikki Haley to abandon hers.

And the Georgia GOP has poured more than $1.8 million into the legal defense of Republican electors implicated in Fulton County’s election interference case as leaders plead for unity behind the former president ahead of another hard-fought campaign.

But as hundreds of Republican activists prepare to gather for the Georgia GOP’s annual convention in Columbus on Friday, the pro-Trump takeover of the party’s machinery has not quelled the unrest within the organization.

Ultraconservative activists are renewing an effort to prevent GOP “traitors” who aren’t Trump loyalists from running for local offices, determined to root the movement in deep-red rural counties where Democrats stand little chance of winning.

The party’s first vice chair, who spread lies about the “stolen” 2020 election, was ousted from his leadership post last week after a judge ruled he voted illegally nine times while serving probation for a felony check forgery conviction.

Gov. Brian Kemp, who plans to skip the state GOP convention this weekend, has focused on building his own political organization to elect officials in Georgia. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz / AJC

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Credit: Jason Getz / AJC

Gov. Brian Kemp and many of his allies are planning, once again, to skip a convention where he was booed in 2021 and instead focus on the fast-growing political organization he built to fill gaps left by the Georgia GOP.

And the activists who gather Friday to select delegates to the Republican National Convention will also cast votes on candidates for coveted party posts who have centered their campaigns on disproven election fraud conspiracies.

Georgia GOP Chair Josh McKoon, elected last year on a pledge to unite the fractious party, said there are signs of progress — including Trump skeptics within the party who nevertheless say they’re committed to defeating President Joe Biden in November.

And he singled out the vote last week to remove the vice chair, Brian Pritchard, as a sign the party is resolved to focus on electing Trump rather than rehashing his 2020 defeat, which was confirmed by numerous audits and recounts.

“I don’t think I would expect you, or anyone else, to take me seriously when I talk about election integrity and the importance of fairness in Georgia elections if we weren’t to take action,” he told the “Politically Georgia” podcast.

“We’ve taken care of the business in our house now,” McKoon added. “Now we can move forward and press forward to the general election.”

State GOP Chair Josh McKoon was elected to unite the party. He sees the infighting as a byproduct of passionate volunteers who want to make a difference and said there was “tremendous progress” in bringing  together the feuding branches of the party. (Natrice Miller/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

But to critics of the party’s march toward the right flank, the election denialism jeopardizes Republican prospects in a state that narrowly voted for Biden in 2020 and elected Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to the U.S. Senate in 2021 and 2022.

“Among many activists, their stance on 2020 has become every bit the litmus test that their positions on abortion or the Second Amendment once were,” said John Watson, a lobbyist and former state official who was the party’s chair from 2017 to 2019.

“Anyone wanting success in November ought to recognize we’re a hell of a lot closer to November 2024 than we are to 2020,” Watson added. “Let’s talk about what Joe Biden isn’t doing for this country rather than focusing on opinions about 2020.”

‘It’s not the same party’

Internal turmoil within the GOP is not new. In 1988, the party was so riven by infighting and shoving matches between factions devoted to George H.W. Bush and Pat Robertson that the national party was called in to sort out the mess.

More recently, mainstream Republican figures have frequently faced the wrath of party insiders. Then-U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss was booed and hissed in 2007 when he mentioned his support for an immigration overhaul.

When he was the state House speaker, David Ralston faced constant threats of rebukes. Nathan Deal was so fed up with the blowback he skipped conventions during his second term as governor, setting a pattern that Kemp has continued.

What’s different is that many establishment-friendly figures who once helped steer the party’s path have followed Kemp’s approach, leaving behind a core of more conservative activists. Yet the fissures have only festered.

Ed Henderson, a Rabun County GOP leader and member of a key state party committee, said he can’t discern much difference between various hyperconservative groups that have “declared war on each other.”

“Both sides embrace election denialism. Both sides claim to be the true supporters of Trump. Both sides embrace conspiracy theories,” Henderson said.

“For those of us more mainstream Republicans hanging around, this feuding among the far-right elements of the party is somewhat amusing,” he said. “But as much as I am enjoying the fight, these people need to stop the circular firing squad.”

“Every election cycle we console ourselves that we only lost a few legislative seats,” Henderson said. “But at the rate we’re going, Georgia’s going to be a blue state within the next 10 years unless we turn the tide.”

To others, though, the state party is starting to catch up with the core of once-fringe partisans who help drive the state’s conservative agenda.

Kandiss Taylor was barred from speaking at local Republican meetings in the past. Now, she's the chair of the 1st District GOP. Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray for the AJC

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Credit: Ben Gray for the AJC

Kandiss Taylor, who ran for governor in 2022 on a “Jesus, Guns and Babies” platform, remembers driving hours to attend a local meeting only to be blocked by organizers from speaking. Last year, she was elected to lead the 1st District GOP.

She sees a “beautiful balance of wisdom and passion” in combining the rabble-rousing newcomers with the old-school holdouts who now form the party’s core.

“The Georgia GOP has totally changed. It’s not the same party — it’s not a tea party with worship of career politicians,” said Taylor, who wouldn’t concede she lost the 2022 primary after getting 3.4% of the vote. “The Georgia GOP is full of grassroots patriots who are ready to fight for their freedom.”

‘Stand up and fight’

To many, the shift crystallized at last year’s state convention when a host of election deniers beat out other Trump loyalists for party posts, then picked fights with fellow Republicans. Among them was Pritchard, an online radio host.

After a judge ruled Pritchard violated state election laws, exposing the party to cries of hypocrisy, activists voted overwhelmingly to strip him of his post. Pritchard has made clear he won’t go quietly, telling supporters to “stay tuned” at the convention.

Another undercurrent involves perennial attempts by activists to purge ballots of Republicans they see as insufficiently conservative by giving party leaders — and not voters — the final say over who can run on the GOP ticket.

Even many MAGA loyalists reject that idea. But supporters are trying to embed their “accountability” movement in a few smaller counties, triggering a legal showdown in Catoosa County after the local GOP tried to block four candidates from qualifying as Republicans.

The party’s decision to underwrite the legal tab for former Georgia GOP Chair David Shafer and two other Republican electors charged in Fulton County’s racketeering case is also an ongoing source of tension, leading some to question priorities.

“I keep asking myself: When are we going to start spending money defeating Democrats in November?” Henderson asked.

Another internal fight involves Ginger Howard and Jason Thompson, two veteran Republican leaders seeking to retain their posts as members of Georgia’s delegation to the Republican National Committee.

Ginger Howard, a big supporter of Donald Trump in 2020 and a co-founder of the far-right Georgia Republican Assembly, is facing a challenge for her seat on the Republican National Committee from Amy Kremer, who helped organize the rally in Washington that preceded the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. (Hyosub Shin /

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

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Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Neither could be called a moderate. Howard was one of Trump’s most prominent supporters in 2020 and a longtime GOP activist. Thompson is a co-founder of the far-right Georgia Republican Assembly.

But each faces challengers who accuse them of not fighting hard enough to reverse Trump’s defeat in Georgia and focus their campaigns on election fraud conspiracies.

Howard’s chief opponent is Amy Kremer, a co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots who obtained the permit for the rally outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, that preceded a deadly riot.

She wears that background as a badge of honor — pointing out that she didn’t encourage rally participants to mob the Capitol. She tells audiences that the government has been “weaponized” against Trump devotees.

“It’s not enough to just espouse conservative values anymore,” Kremer told a recent conservative gathering. “We have to stand up and fight — and the RNC hasn’t done it.”

Thompson, meanwhile, is in a three-way race with David Cross, an election conspiracist who recently won a Georgia GOP leadership post; and Jason Frazier, who has challenged nearly 10,000 voter registrations under Georgia’s 2021 election law.

David Cross, an election conspiracist who recently won a state GOP leadership post, is running for a seat on the Republican National Committee. (Hyosub Shin /


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At local meetings, Thompson sounds incredulous at attempts to frame him as a squishy Republican, noting that he helped lead the charge to depose former RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel.

“I have a lifetime of conservative activism,” he told one gathering. “You know me.”

McKoon sees the infighting as a byproduct of passionate volunteers who want to make a difference and said there was “tremendous progress” in reuniting the feuding branches of the party.

Among the speakers on the convention’s agenda, he noted, is Insurance Commissioner John King, who defeated a Trump-backed primary challenger in 2022 and is working to reintroduce himself to the party’s activist base.

“We have people from all different parts of the Republican Party that will be coming together this weekend,” McKoon said. “But the thing that brings us all together is an understanding that we have to get this country back on the right track.”

Others worry that the messy discord risks dragging down other Republicans. Spiro Amburn, a veteran GOP strategist, said the fractious factions within the party are only “redefining fringe and creating division instead of offering productive dialogue.”

“And once you’ve won that fight,” Amburn said, “what have you really won?”

An attendee is seen at last year Georgia GOP convention in Columbus. Republicans will return to the west Georgia city this weekend for this year's convention. (Arvin Temkar/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS