Ah, so that's why Kelly Loeffler called Mitt Romney a RINO yesterday

Figuratively speaking, I mean. Technically she accused him of appeasing Democrats, but that’s a perfectly acceptable synonym in Roget’s for “candy-ass RINO.”

This was my read yesterday on what her angle was in jabbing at him:

Loeffler needs cheap populist cred even more than McSally does, as there’s no question that McSally will be the nominee of her party in Arizona this year. There *is* some doubt whether Loeffler will finish in the top two in Georgia’s jungle primary if [Doug] Collins or some other well-known MAGA Republican in the state jumped into the race. The Trumpier she acts, the less room there is for Collins in the primary and the more likely it is that Trump will endorse her, clearing the field. Scroll through her Twitter feed and you’ll find it’s brimming with posts harshly criticizing impeachment, which is no coincidence. She has to prove to righties that she’ll be an unwavering servant to the president. She’s working hard to do that, up to and including dinging Trump’s least favorite Republican senator with “own the libs”-type jabs.

I didn’t realize at the time how right I was. News broke last night that Collins is preparing to challenge her, and that he may have an ace up his sleeve in doing so:

Collins has the benefit of being one of Trump’s staunchest allies on Capitol Hill. As the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, Collins played a leading role defending Trump from impeachment in the House. Collins was also tapped by Trump to serve as an impeachment surrogate during the Senate trial, allowing him to continue mounting a vigorous — and public — defense of the president.

Trump and his allies had pressed [Georgia Gov. Brian] Kemp to appoint Collins, who they felt would be a reliable ally in the Senate. A handful of right-of-center groups had also come out against Loeffler, expressing concern that she lacked conservative credentials. And during a meeting at the White House late last year, Trump noted that Loeffler was not an original backer of his 2016 campaign and raised concerns that she had never held elected office before.

The president wants a Trumpier, more servile Senate and that’s what Collins would deliver. We wouldn’t be talking today about the growing prospect of John Bolton being called to testify if the GOP caucus were composed of 53 Doug Collinses. Loeffler by comparison is more of a cipher, a business-class Republican who donated big money to, uh, Mitt Romney in 2012 and only belatedly became a Trump backer four years later. The reason she was appointed over Collins, though, is precisely because she lacks his Trump baggage. Kemp thought that a successful businesswoman would appeal more to suburbanites, who nearly cost Kemp the gubernatorial race in 2018 against Stacey Abrams. In his judgment, Loeffler can expand the party while Collins can’t.

But there’s a caveat. So long as Collins is a threat to Loeffler, she has to at least pretend to be a hardcore Trumper. Gotta protect that right flank as best she can and hope that obsequious shows of loyalty like yesterday’s tweet will convince the president and his Georgia fan base that she’s an acceptable alternative to Collins.

She has two major advantages over him. One is her wealth, which will allow her to self-fund. She’s said before that she’s willing to spend $20 million of her own money to win the special election this fall. The other is the fact that Georgia has a “jungle primary” system like California’s. In a jungle primary, there’s no party primary. Instead all of the candidates running in either party end up on the same ballot on Election Day in November. If anyone gets over 50 percent, they’re the winner. If no one gets over 50 percent, the top two vote-getters — regardless of party — advance to a runoff in January. Loeffler and Kemp were hoping that the field would clear for her on the Republican side, giving her a legit shot at clearing the 50 percent bar. Even if Collins decided to jump in, though, odds would be fair that the combination of Loeffler’s incumbency, her huge campaign spending, and Kemp’s stalwart support would place her in the top two with the Democratic frontrunner. Then she could advance to the runoff without needing to worry about Collins and rely on the fact that Georgia Democrats tend to perform poorly in runoffs to assure her victory.

Or so it seemed. Remember what I said about Collins having an ace up his sleeve?

A panel of Georgia representatives voted Monday in favor of creating a partisan primary in the state’s upcoming U.S. Senate election, introducing a new challenge to Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s candidacy despite Gov. Brian Kemp’s veto threat.

The coalition of Republicans and Democrats on an elections subcommittee voted 8-2 to approve the fast-moving legislation before this year’s elections. The bill could receive a committee vote Tuesday as it races toward the full House…

“You don’t change the rules at halftime to benefit one team over another,” said Candice Broce, Kemp’s spokeswoman. “People are sick and tired of it. The governor will veto any bill that attempts to undermine the rule of law for perceived political gain.”

Collins was a member of Georgia’s state legislature for years and still has friends in the leadership on the House side there. His buddies are pushing a bill to scrap the jungle primary and replace it with a traditional party primary in which Collins and Loeffler would go mano a mano just four months from now, a contest which he’d probably be favored to win. She’s still basically unknown in the state and the accelerated schedule wouldn’t give her much time to introduce herself, even if she’s writing big ad checks. Trumpers would turn out for Collins whereas there’s no “Loeffler constituency” in the party as of yet, apart from what Kemp might be able to cobble together for her in the next 90 days. She’d stand a real chance of losing, which would be embarrassing for Kemp and potentially risky to the GOP if Kemp’s fears about Collins’s weakness in the general election are well founded.

Luckily for Kemp, he can always veto the new bill if it makes its way through both the Georgia House and Senate. Unluckily for him, executive vetoes in Georgia are subject to legislative override just like they are in Washington. The bar is high — two-thirds of both chambers — but the fact that Democrats joined with Republicans in yesterday’s committee vote to advance the primary bill suggests that Collins has a chance of seeing that party primary happen after all. Why would Dems join with the GOP on this, you ask? According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, it’s partly because their record in runoffs is so dismal. They’d rather settle this on Election Day in November, when Democratic turnout is at its zenith. They’re also probably anxious about the possibility that if they stick with the jungle primary format and a bunch of Democratic candidates enter the race, there’s at least a chance that the Democratic vote will splinter and Loeffler and Collins will be the top two finishers. In that scenario the Dems won’t have any candidate in the runoff.

So maybe a bipartisan effort in the legislature is going to nuke Loeffler and Kemp on this. Hence Loeffler’s Romney tweet yesterday: She’s suddenly desperate to earn whatever cheap goodwill she can with MAGA Nation knowing that she might face a showdown with Collins in front of a Republican electorate. There’s even a chance, I suppose, that if she’s extra sycophantic towards Trump and can enlist McConnell to put in a good word for her with the president, she can get Trump to nudge Collins not to run after all. Or at least get the president to remain neutral between them.

But even if Kemp’s veto holds, Collins’s entry guarantees that a Republican won’t take 50 percent in the jungle primary. There’ll be a runoff, likely with one Republican and one Democrat. And there’s apt to be lots of hard feelings on the Republican side after Collins inevitably attacks Loeffler during the campaign as a phony populist, a Romney donor in Trumpist clothing. Imagine how much more intense those hard feelings will be if Trump and Kemp end up on different sides in the race. (Which seems possible. Trump doubtless resents Kemp’s lack of “loyalty” in appointing Loeffler despite Trump’s preference for Collins and would like to teach him a lesson.) What does that do to Republican turnout in the runoff?

In lieu of an exit question, go read Erick Erickson, a Georgia resident and Kemp ally, on the race. Title: “Doug Collins is Making a Huge Mistake.”

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Jazz Shaw 12:01 PM | April 15, 2024