Report: David Perdue might primary Trump nemesis Brian Kemp in Georgia governor's race

(AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Why the hell would David Perdue want to be the next governor of this state knowing what the current governor of the state has gone through, bearing in mind that Trump is likely to run for president again?

If Trump loses Georgia a second time, Perdue’s options in 2024 will be to either overturn the results of his state’s election, touching off a constitutional crisis, or uphold them and be berated and threatened for the rest of his life.

He’s 71 years old, has already been a United States senator, and is worth millions of dollars. Should he (a) enjoy a luxe retirement or (b) insert himself back into the Trump vortex, which can only end in tears?

Tough call. For him, I mean. Not for any rational person.

Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue is seriously considering mounting a Republican primary challenge against Gov. Brian Kemp, according to a number of GOP activists and operatives, which would set up a divisive showdown between two of Georgia’s biggest political figures in the 2022 election.

In recent weeks, Perdue has called donors and other allies to float the idea, according to eight people who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential matters. Several of them said he’s “conflicted” about a run, while others say he’s leaning toward a challenge…

“There are many Georgia Republican voters looking for another candidate for governor. And this will give those wavering Kemp supporters an out,” said Brian Pritchard, a conservative activist and commentator in North Georgia…

One Perdue ally familiar with his thinking said [Stacey] Abrams is a motivating factor in his decision. That person said Perdue would only run if he felt Kemp was so politically damaged that he couldn’t defeat Abrams in November.

To my surprise, despite being the prime target of Trump’s “stop the steal” demagoguery, Kemp isn’t following the lead of Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan by declining to run for reelection. He raised a bunch of money for his next campaign in the last quarter and is reportedly telling friends that he’ll stand in the primary even if a Trump-backed opponent as formidable as Perdue rises to challenge him. Whether that’s due to pride or ego or the sincere and correct moral conviction that he did nothing wrong in 2020 and shouldn’t act like he has, I don’t know. But aside from Liz Cheney, there may be no Republican whom Trump is more eager to oust. He believes Kemp owes his office to his endorsement in 2018, which may be true and which probably makes Kemp’s insistence on certifying Biden’s victory that much more treacherous in Trump’s mind. (Doug Ducey, another Republican governor who defied Trump last fall, already held his office when Trump entered politics.) And Kemp ignored Trump’s wishes that Doug Collins be appointed to fill Johnny Isakson’s vacant Senate seat, choosing Kelly Loeffler instead.

Like Cheney, he’s guilty of serial “disloyalty” and so an example must be made of him. Trump’s problem is that no top-tier MAGA-friendly challengers have stepped up to do it. Collins passed. Herschel Walker could have done it but he’s challenging Raphael Warnock for Senate instead. Democrat turned Trump superfan Vernon Jones jumped into the primary several months ago but Trump conspicuously hasn’t endorsed him so far, probably because he recognizes (rightly) that Perdue would be a far more credible opponent for Kemp.

In fact, Trump and his team have been working on getting Perdue into the race for months. In August they started polling a hypothetical “Perdue vs. Kemp” race in hopes of luring the ex-senator into running:

According to the poll of 500 likely Republican primary voters, which was conducted Aug. 11-12 by Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio, only 24 percent “strongly approved” of Kemp, a fraction of the 74 percent figure Trump registered among the same group. It found that 27 percent disapproved of Kemp, compared to just 5 percent for Trump. Overall, 93 percent approved of Trump, compared to 69 percent for Kemp.

In a hypothetical primary matchup, Kemp would lead Perdue and a number of other challengers — but he’d be shy of the majority of the vote needed to avoid a runoff with Perdue. But the poll also tested a prospective scenario in which Trump endorsed Perdue in a primary against Kemp and found the former senator would flip the script, pulling ahead of the governor, 41 percent to 26 percent, giving Perdue the upper hand going into a runoff against the incumbent.

At his rally in Perry, Georgia, last month, Trump touted a Perdue primary challenge from the podium: “Are you going to run for Governor, David Perdue? Are you going to run for Governor? Where is David Perdue? Stand up, David. David Perdue, are you running for Governor, David? Did I hear he’s running for Governor? Thank you, David. He’s a great guy and he loves this state, and he’s done a fantastic job.” That was the same rally at which Trump half-jokingly declared that Stacey Abrams would be preferable to Kemp as governor.

I don’t know why he’s so interested in Perdue then. Sounds like he’s already got his candidate.

Speaking of Abrams, Erick Erickson tweeted a few days ago that the hot rumor in Georgia politics is that she’ll shock Democrats by deciding not to run for governor in 2022 after all. Everyone had been expecting her to be the party’s nominee by acclamation, but the more favorable the midterm environment looks for Republicans the bigger the risk to Abrams. If she falls short a second time in a gubernatorial bid her political star will lose some of its luster. Some Dems will conclude that she’s a fantastic organizer, capable of getting more electable Dems like Jon Ossoff and Warnock to the next level, but not a strong swing-state candidate herself. Instead, Erickson claimed, it’s possible that Abrams will recruit a progressive candidate for governor in Georgia and focus her energy on running for president in 2024 or 2028 instead.

But maybe that calculus changes if Perdue gets in. The one thing that could complicate a Republican-friendly national climate for the GOP next year is a bitter primary in which two candidates who’ve held statewide office slug it out with Trump hooting from the sidelines. Even if Perdue prevails thanks to Trump’s support, there may be enough moderate Republicans in Georgia unhappy at seeing Kemp punished for having behaved ethically during the election that they won’t turn out in the general election. Or, if Kemp prevails, there may be enough “stop the steal” populists unhappy at seeing him renominated over Perdue that they’ll sit out the general election. A divided, weakened GOP will be a seductive target for Abrams. She might not be able to resist trying to turn all of Georgia’s statewide offices blue.