Lessons From A Georgia GOP Primary

This week’s Courier Herald column:

A funny thing happened on the way to voting “them all out” last Tuesday. After the votes were all counted, not a single Republican incumbent congressman or state legislator was voted out of office. Only two were pushed into runoffs statewide, and even then by a handful of votes in each case.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Those of us who write political opinion and news pieces were sure the “anti-establishment” furor was going to result in the defeat of a number of GOP incumbents. We are the same people that failed to take Donald Trump seriously nor fully understand his takeover of the national GOP. Many of us, still lacking the full understanding of what the heck is up with GOP voters, extrapolated the angry mood of the electorate that selected Trump into a certainty that these same voters would storm the gates of the GOP establishment and remove current elected officials en masse.

And here we are, with those same angry voters and the same GOP incumbents. The easy explanation from the political class is to say there was a “disconnect”. That’s a nice rhetorical way of saying that those of us paying attention understand what’s going on better than the voters. That is rarely the case.

It’s more likely that many of us who didn’t understand why voters were selecting Trump still don’t get it, at least at some level. We could pretend that voters squelched their anger after the SEC primary, or that they’re mad at everyone but their own state representative, senator, or congressman. It may be better to dig deeper and give the voter credit for not only being able to recognize causes of their frustration, but evaluate whether the solutions offered to the problems they seem to understand better than us were proper remedies.

Republican rhetoric has grown increasingly hostile toward government and “the establishment” for years. Many Republicans, especially those that loudly proclaim themselves “the base” and the silent majority, have shown little tolerance for governing. They have internalized the Ronald Reagan line “…government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem” as if it is a complete truism. Many conservatives have carried on with the belief that Ronald Regan wanted a complete shutdown of the federal government, and scoff at any reminders that the Great Communicator partnered with Speaker Tip O’Neill to become the Great Compromiser.

This core of the GOP has grown accustom to shouting down anyone that dares defend government, tries to make it work more efficiently, or in any way utilizes the current system to improve the lives of everyday Americans. They believe a total shutdown of the US Government was not only morally correct, but desired by the electorate. They deem anyone who disagrees with this approach to be less than conservative, and casually throw around epithets such as “RINO” toward them.

This core, fueled by talk radio, Fox News, and right leaning internet publications, have reaffirmed that their brand of “just say no” conservatism was what GOP voters demanded. Except, that’s not what Donald Trump has offered “the base”.

Trump’s positions – such as they can be nailed down – are far from those who would contain and limit the powers of the federal government. Quite the contrary. Trump wants to use the muscle provided by various government entities to “make America great again”. His message isn’t that the Federal Government has too much power. Rather, he believes we just haven’t been using that power “to win”.

If you listen to the rhetoric of Trump, you will scarcely find him offering a solution of “do nothing” to any problem, real or perceived. Which brings us back to Georgia’s primaries.

The insular GOP “base” displayed their usual disdain for Georgia’s governing majority throughout the primary process. There were threats to remove key members of the legislature for successfully passing laws that dealt with improving delivery of government services mandated by the Constitutions of the country and state.

The alternative offered almost exclusively in contested primaries were candidates that offered empty platitudes rather than tough choices and workable solutions. Those that ran against some of Congress’ most conservative members had a platform that would have ensured they had zero clout or influence in Washington.

Voters rejected the “do nothing” candidates across the board. Candidates that found constructive solutions to Georgia’s problems – even those that championed expanding mass transit – won sound re-election victories.

There is only a disconnect here if you believe those making all the noise are in fact the (non)silent majority. If, however, you believe that a majority of Republican voters want to see actual solutions to real problems, then Tuesday’s results are quite logical and understandable in the year that has given us Trump.

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The Dixie Cheetomonger
The Dixie Cheetomonger

If the state and presidential primaries were at the same time, do you think the result would be the same? Especially if the state primary was moved up.

John Konop
John Konop

A very good question, a little food for thought:

1) 20 percent voter participation is a large sample.

2) Smaller turn out works to the advantage of the most motivated voters, so we should of saw more upsets

I do agree combining elections is not only fiscally more efficient it would drive turn-out. The biggest issue, I see is how voters do not understand, how much local office holders effect their life way more, than federal offices.

The Dixie Cheetomonger
The Dixie Cheetomonger

While I agree that it would make sense for the angriest voters to be more motivated, but it can be hard to maintain that enthusiasm. I can’t think of any Trump-like candidates that we’re running that would get people excited.

So you’re back to the party establishment, the people who vote all the time anyways.

The Eiger
The Eiger

Texas had their primary on the same day as the presidential primary. Not a single member of congress lost their primary and there was quite a few very competitive races. Some one actually tried to run to the right of Louie Gomert.

I cannot speak to the local races though.

The Dixie Cheetomonger
The Dixie Cheetomonger

That is very interesting. Especially having Cruz as Trump doing well.

Raleigh
Raleigh

Voter apathy may be the main reason. In Cherokee only about 18% of the eligible voters cast ballots and maybe much less in other areas. Presidential primaries tend to always attract more of the eligible voters. I always try to point out that the closer a politician is to your pocket book (the more local they are) the more impact they will have on your life. I do think it is a bit of a stretch to think because some politicians who won will translate into an endorsement of public transportation even if the Atlanta news paper said it was.

Saltycracker
Saltycracker

” If, however, you believe that a majority of Republican voters want to see actual solutions to real problems”

Optimism I want to believe. It will take a visionary at the Federal level to use their power to sort out what the Feds can accomplish best and what is best left to states (many bigger than most in the U.N.)

Republicans, I’d hope see a major realignment toward a league of states with common core interests, not a federal government with a financial billy stick and run by those far removed in pay and vision from the average citizen.

Benevolus
Benevolus

Don’t say “common core”!!

bethebalance
bethebalance

the article presents an interesting angle. as an additional element to add to the hypothetical analysis, the presidential seat was also “open”. if president romney was running for re-election, odds are very high that donald trump would not have been so successful. he probably wouldn’t have even ran bc of the power of incumbency. and i also see no “disconnect” either; rather, a struggle in most voters between a desire to change, and a desire not to change. and perhaps all voters are “conservative” in the sense that the default position is no change. to vote for change, a candidate… Read more »

Saltycracker
Saltycracker

Actual solutions – transportation – policybest.org flat put their finger on the pulse when explaining where Georgia stands on real funding and the diversions of tax monies. The “we already paid” bunch is in the same groove with the “we diverted the money” bunch. They both want to use what we collected toward the $500 million in maintenance and see where we are and what we need to do. 170 is in place, we are growing at an incredible place in some areas and doing the same old same, nothing, on roads. An update from policybest would be nice as… Read more »

Nathan
Nathan

I guess I’m one of the seemingly few in the Republican Party who understands that governing is a lot harder than we realize. We get distracted by red meat issues that get magnified into “yuuuuge” problems that have to be dealt with immediately (see the 2016 session of the Georgia General Assembly). A lot of times it’s a distraction from the real problems our state is facing, like transportation and education. The Transportation Bill was a tough decision for our Party, but, even after the new excise tax took effect, I didn’t see much (if any) change in the price… Read more »

Jean
Jean

Nathan said: “The Transportation Bill was a tough decision for our Party, but, even after the new excise tax took effect, I didn’t see much (if any) change in the price of gas here in northwest Georgia. ” The trick is that the state took the money the counties/cities were getting so the total tax stayed mostly the same. What I haven’t seen is the impact on local government – have they restored the sales tax or is the increased property tax digest (in general anyway) covering their loss from sales tax? (The state eliminated 4% state sales tax plus… Read more »

gt7348b
gt7348b

I do know the City of Roswell has not raised millage rates.

Raleigh
Raleigh

Sorry John and Salty. Impact fees have had no effect on growth in Cherokee. The reason Holly Springs is a hot bed of growth has everything to do a business friendly environment without jumping through bureaucratic hoops to get your development approved. As Jon said all those fees are just one more tax. If you really want to know why growth exploded in Cherokee go back to the administration of Emily Lemke. The tax policies of her administration cause caused many larger landowners to bail out, sell out , and leave. That’s when the fate of Cherokee was set and… Read more »

John Konop
John Konop

In all due respect, impact fees are a one time charge to cover the cost of expansion , not a property tax. It is only charged to new people creating the needs of infrastructure expansion and or upgrades.

Raleigh
Raleigh

In all due respect John impact fees are a tax, period.

Will Durant
Will Durant

Developers do pass on the impact fees or tax if you will. So what? If you don’t want to see the existing landowners adversely affected by growth with tax increases then who better to tax than those causing the greenfield developments? Higher growth = higher taxes. Period. Gwinnett boomed for years along with developers paying no one but the commissioners. Not only do we have regular property tax increases but have had SPLOSTs and ESPLOSTs practically in perpetuity since the state has allowed them. At least get some of it on the front end. Nobody cuts and runs faster than… Read more »

Will Durant
Will Durant

Oh and there is a difference in the semantics on calling it a fee or a tax. We don’t get to deduct the stormwater runoff “fees” from our income tax but what the hell, that batch of commissioners got to claim they didn’t raise “taxes”.

xdog
xdog

Incumbents win. We remember Kantor and Daschle going down and forget that 98+ percent of congressional incumbents keep winning elections until they get bored or find themselves in a scandal. The same is true at the state level. The advantages of incumbency are so great that challengers are always a long shot. Locally is no different. Here in Oconee we’re dealing with a variety of water and sewer problems, and the board of commissioners has been much less than forthcoming on how we got where we are and how we can expect to get to a better place and what… Read more »

Will Durant
Will Durant

With the exception of some piker running against an entrenched sheriff we had no other contested races locally or for congress in the Republican primary. In North Gwinnett the Republican Primary is the real election so that means no incumbent had to even get out of the house this go round. Kind of hard to vote them out that way. I’m going to be writing in Willie Nelson as a protest against Renee Unterman in the Fall. Just abstaining doesn’t feel good enough this time.

jherbert3
jherbert3

Nobody runs really. Everyone today just wanted to whine because Trump is winning. This article has some valid points, but still mentions bits and pieces of the story to firm a narrative. Whatever narrative that may be, up to you. Not to mention that Georgia recently did have somewhat of a Trump with Perdue. Although he’s in a political family he was still an outsider and was in business for 40 years.