Three out of four ain’t bad.
Jokes aside, I continue not to understand the ferocious opposition to this appointment in some quarters. I get it on a basic level: Republican women *in the aggregate* lean a bit more moderate than Republican men, and there’s no telling how far a completely unknown political quantity like Kelly Loeffler might lean. It reminds me a bit of the backlash to Bush nominating Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court in 2005. Why the hell would you roll the dice on someone who might prove unpredictable when you could choose a reliable conservative like Sam Alito — or, in this case, Doug Collins?
But SCOTUS nominations aren’t the same as Senate appointments, for one big reason. Loeffler will need to answer to the electorate to keep her job. And she’ll need to do it repeatedly over the next several years in her reddish-purple home state. Not only will she have to win a “jungle primary” next November to finish the final two years of Johnny Isakson’s term, she’ll have to run again in 2022 to win a full six-year term of her own. And she’ll do that with two powerful right-wing constituencies momentarily against her, the pro-life movement that’s suspicious of her role on the board of a hospital that employs some doctors who perform abortions elsewhere and the MAGA fanatics who think Trump’s will should be done by every Republican in country, even those who don’t work for him. Trump wanted Collins in this seat; the governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, wanted Loeffler. Some Trump sycophants will never forgive him for it:
Governor Kemp announces the funeral time & location for his political career. https://t.co/7aQHe53Cx0
— Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) December 3, 2019
Bottom line: In order to be viable electorally in 2020 and 2022, Loeffler will need to prove herself to both groups. That means being a very loyal soldier on issues that matter to those two constituencies. She wasted no time signaling that loyalty in her remarks today.
“I haven’t spent my life trying to get to Washington. But here’s what folks are going to find out about me: I’m a lifelong conservative. Pro-Second Amendment. Pro-military. Pro-wall. And pro-Trump,” she will say. “I make no apologies for my conservative values, and will proudly support President Trump’s conservative judges.”…
In her remarks, Loeffler tries to temper the critiques. She will say she believes the “abortion-on-demand agenda is immoral” and that she would vote for legislation introduced by U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy…
“Contrary to what you see in the media, not every strong woman in America is a liberal,” she will say. “Many of us are conservatives, and proud of it.”
She will say she’s “angered” by the impeachment proceedings dominating Washington and that she believes they are a “sideshow and a distraction.” And she’ll cast Democrats as part of a “socialist gang” led by U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Loeffler will spend the next three years (assuming she wins next fall) being a good conservative on every issue where she needs to be, i.e. cultural matters and protecting Trump at all costs, and looking to pick her spots on economic issues to show center-right voters back home that she’s a bit more moderate on pocketbook issues than dogmatic Republicans are. That’s why Kemp chose her, after all, because he thought she might appeal to suburban voters, especially women, who have been voting Democratic lately. Georgia’s too purple at this point to kiss those voters off. Kemp’s calculated gamble is that the state party would do better in Georgia circa 2020 with someone from outside politics who seems like a (very, very, very wealthy) suburbanite herself than with someone like Collins who seems straight out of MAGA-era congressional Republican central casting.
If that gamble proves to have been unwise, with Loeffler less of a good soldier than he expects, Kemp’s career will be over as quickly as hers is. If, on the other hand, Loeffler proves popular enough to win consistently in a battleground state, he’ll be seen as a shrewd and independent operator, maybe a guy with a national future.
Mitch McConnell is always worried about the bottom line of electability and he seems to like the way Kemp is thinking:
“It seems to me like the governor of Georgia made a terrific appointment,” McConnell said. “She will be an incumbent Republican senator. We will all be behind her. Sen. [Todd] Young has already made it clear the NRSC is going to be behind her. I’m going to be behind her, and I’m confident that someone we’re working with every day will enjoy total support from the Republican conference.”
Loeffler doesn’t need to have any money behind her, which is one of the virtues of her appointment. Politico is reporting today that she plans to drop no less than $20 million of her own cash to win next year’s special election, an amount that might convince Collins — and his patron Trump — not to bother challenging her. If Loeffler runs without Republican opposition, she has a shot at winning the 50.1 percent she’d need on Election Day in Georgia’s “jungle primary” to win the seat outright and avoid a runoff. If she has to run against Collins or some other Republican, she’ll have no hope of 50.1 and would instead need to win a runoff, presumably against a Democrat, with her own base divided between her and her first-round Republican opponent(s). McConnell’s going to lean hard on Trump to support her in the name of averting that scenario.
Loeffler’s new home-state Senate colleague, David Perdue, welcomed her on Twitter today:
While Senator Isakson leaves behind big shoes to fill, I look forward to working with Kelly Loeffler, my new partner in the U.S. Senate, to continue that positive change for Georgia and our country. (2/2)
— David Perdue (@sendavidperdue) December 4, 2019
So did prominent members of the Republican establishment:
Looking forward to welcoming Kelly Loeffler to the Senate. She has big shoes to fill, but her experience will serve the people and state of Georgia well. Congratulations, Kelly.
— Senator Mitt Romney (@SenatorRomney) December 4, 2019
Loeffler was a major donor to Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012. Collins also congratulated her in comments before this morning’s impeachment hearing. Erick Erickson, a Kemp ally, has written several posts over the past few days begging skeptical righties to trust Kemp’s judgment and give Loeffler a chance, with … not much success. Today he snapped:
The cult of personality is goofy. The spectacle of people yelling at Georgia Governor Brian Kemp to get Doug Collins into the Senate is profoundly disturbing. While socially conservative groups have serious concerns, those concerns got drowned out by those who perceive Trump wants Collins so they bark and bounce demanding Collins.
I suspect social conservative concerns would have been treated more carefully had they not been drowned out and conflated with the Collins for Senate nonsense by Trump humping clowns like Matt Gaetz.
Watching some of the former tea party activists in Georgia who no longer care about the national debt and who cared deeply about standing behind Brian Kemp until he dared to think for himself is just embarrassing. These people have no shame.
What the hell do the Republicans even stand for anymore other than President Trump?
Cult of personality? Where’s he getting that idea?
Here’s Loeffler addressing the media after Kemp made the appointment official. She’s very tall so the mic doesn’t pick her up well; adjust your sound settings accordingly. She’s also not a dynamic speaker at first blush, raising the question of whether her *alleged* gains among suburbanites will be offset by losses among base voters who can’t get excited to turn out for her. Lucky for her, I guess, that she’s on the ballot with Trump next fall, with Georgia MAGA fans sure to turn out for him. Exit question: What if she doesn’t take 50.1 percent on Election Day? Trump won’t be on the ballot with her when she has to stand in the runoff several weeks later.