This week’s Courier Herald column:
It’s not about Donald Trump.
Let me repeat that less the opening not be clear enough. The 2022 mid-term elections, both the primary and the general, are not about Donald Trump.
My friends in the news media, stuck on their own narrative since 2016, have already concluded this is wrong. After all, this contradicts a narrative that would require actual reporting to cover what is really going on inside campaigns and with voters.
My friends on the left immediately decided this was another piece by a right-wing ideologue and Trump apologist, despite my never having voted for him – even when he was the only person on the 2020 Georgia primary ballot. While I’ve never prescribed myself to the “Never-Trump” movement, I remain a vocal critic.
For now, this column remains in the purview of Republican primary voters who may be intrigued and willing to hear me out. This leaves out my friends on the right who insist I’m a left wing communist or RINO, whichever they feel is the bigger insult on that day.
In defense of the thesis statement, I’ll refer you to polling commissioned by the non-partisan group Secure Democracy USA and conducted by American Viewpoint Inc in early March. Like most other polls that have looked at Republican primary voters in Georgia, Governor Brian Kemp has a commanding lead over the field with 51% of the vote.
Donald Trump’s chosen candidate, former Senator David Perdue, is second with a significant but insufficient 35%. Eight percent of those surveyed remain undecided.
What seems of interest in this poll, however, is that participants were asked their opinions of Donald Trump and the 2020 elections. Avenging the 2020 “stolen” election seems to be the former President’s sole criteria for choosing candidates and remaining relevant at the moment. It’s what he has referred to in two separate Georgia rallies where he has bashed Governor Kemp and even indicated that he might prefer Stacey Abrams as Governor.
Of those polled, 65% believe that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump. 88% of those polled view the former President favorably, with 64% indicating they are in the enthusiastic “very favorable” group. This isn’t a poll composed of my favorite RINO friends.
Furthermore, the sample of those polled aren’t old-line establishment Georgia GOP types. 50% of those surveyed didn’t vote in the 2016 primary, and 63% didn’t vote in the 2018 primaries. 89%, however, did vote in the 2020 GOP primary election. This indicates the sample is likely capturing both those who came into the Republican party because of President Trump, as well as those recently relocating to Georgia.
So in a sample where almost nine out of ten voters view the former President favorably, and almost two thirds believe Trump’s rallying cry that the 2020 election was stolen from him, voters aren’t flocking to his chosen candidate for Governor. This is where resumes of individual candidates matter.
Three out of four voters in this same survey view Governor Kemp as trustworthy. 76% approve of his job as Governor. This is a critical point when President Trump continues to attack Governor Kemp’s credibility and competence. Kemp is well known to Georgians and has been battle tested by leading through a pandemic.
As for the recently enacted law to update Georgia’s voting procedures that Trump decried as “far too weak” yet still caused a backlash and boycotts from the left, 71% approve of the measure. 63% believe that after enacting the law, “politicians should leave our elections alone and focus on other pressing issues.”
Democrats using pre-2016 thinking believe that the divisions within the Georgia GOP are the ticket to their path to victory in November. The more they can keep the focus on Donald Trump, the less they have to foucs on Joe Biden and dysfunctional Democratic majorities in Congress.
Even with the current divisive primary, polls show both Kemp and Perdue leading Stacey Abrams in a November matchup. The Hill/Emerson College found Kemp leading Abrams 51/44, while Perdue with a slimmer lead at 49/44. Those deeply committed to a primary fight are not likely to be indicating they’ll vote for the other Republican in these numbers, so Republicans still have some room to expand that lead.
One final data point that should be considered. Despite believing the 2020 elections were stolen and with many Republicans thus having chosen to sit out the Senate runoffs, 18 months of the election having consequences has motivated GOP voters. 75% are highly or extremely enthusiastic about voting, with only 5% saying they are not enthusiastic at all.
The message here for Republicans is that candidates will need more than Trump’s support to win a GOP primary. The message for Democrats is that the current divisiveness of the Georgia GOP likely won’t be an issue when November rolls around.