David Perdue: Yes, I'm primarying my old friend Brian Kemp for governor of Georgia

I didn’t understand why Perdue would want to run when I wrote about this in October and I don’t understand it today, as he makes his candidacy official. “Instead of being his own man, he’ll just be a tool through which Trump nurses a grudge,” writes Erick Erickson of Perdue, aptly. There’s no policy reason to prefer Perdue to Kemp; the campaign between them necessarily will be a referendum on Trump’s attempt to overturn the election and Kemp’s refusal to go along.

The best-case scenario for Perdue is that he runs on a dishonorable lie, becomes governor and utterly beholden to Trump, and is called on to help his master stage a coup by overturning the results in his home state in 2024 if Trump loses Georgia. Perdue is in his 70s and worth many millions of dollars. What sort of political deviant would want to play that role for Trump — at the expense of an old friend — instead of backing Kemp while enjoying a luxurious retirement?

What happened in David Perdue’s life to make “Trump stooge” his ultimate ambition?

According to Perdue, he’s acting out of … selflessness. Now that Stacey Abrams is in the race, he has no choice but to try to save Georgia by defeating Kemp, who supposedly can’t win the general election. If Perdue is worried about a divided GOP being unable to beat Abrams, it’s curious that his solution was to deepen those divisions by presenting the governor with a formidable primary.

Notice how he leads with insinuations about election rigging, not policy differences, signaling what the campaign is actually about. His argument essentially is that Kemp put out a fire that Trump was trying to set and for that he must be punished. “The economy is roaring in Georgia. Jobs are great. Taxes are low,” said one Kemp advisor to Politico. “So what’s Perdue’s reason to run? That he’s Trump’s lap dog? That dog don’t hunt. Lap dogs don’t hunt.” Still, Perdue can’t quite bring himself in the clip to assert that Trump won Georgia, which I assume is his weaselly attempt to keep a bit of distance from “stop the steal” in order to not alienate swing voters. Good luck with that after he’s asked about it by reporters eight thousand times on the trail.

Amazingly, he also blames Kemp for Democrats’ victories in the Georgia Senate runoffs, which is a lie twice over. It was Trump, not Kemp, who convinced some Republicans there that their state’s elections were too corrupt to bother participating in. And it was Perdue, not Kemp, who did badly in his first debate with Jon Ossoff, eventually skipping the second one to avoid a repeat performance. Perdue paved the way for Biden’s agenda by losing to Ossoff, said a Kemp spokesman, not the governor.

Erickson argues that Perdue is playing into Abrams’s hands. There’s a chance that Kemp will win this primary but end up hobbled by the race in the general election:

Several prominent Democrats and Republicans think Abrams’ announcement at the end of last week pushed Perdue to get in now. It is what Abrams wanted. She has just successfully moved pieces on the chessboard.

Perdue getting in before the Georgia General Assembly meets in January means the Georgia GOP will tribally divide thereby delivering an impotent legislative session that deprives the GOP of any significant pre-election accomplishments. The Perdue supporters in the legislature won’t want to give Kemp anything to run on.

Not only will “Perdue versus Kemp” pit Georgia Republicans against each other, it’ll pit national Republicans against each other. The Republican Governors Association, led by Doug Ducey — another guy who wouldn’t rig an election for last year’s sore loser — is backing GOP incumbents, Kemp included.

At the Republican Governors Association meeting last month in Phoenix, officials said they were bracing for Perdue to challenge Kemp. They pledged to help the Georgia incumbent, as well as Idaho Gov. Brad Little, another GOP incumbent against whom Trump has endorsed his primary challenger, Janice McGeachin…

“We’ve never been in a situation where our incumbent governors have faced primaries. Even at the height of the tea party primaries, where the House and Senate guys were being primaried, governors really never had that experience because you only run for reelection one time,” said an RGA strategist, who asked for anonymity to speak candidly. “Obviously, we’ve got different situations this year. And so we’re going to be — where appropriate, where necessary — financially supporting our incumbent governors in the primaries. That’s something we’re new to.”

The grain of truth in Perdue’s announcement video is that he *might* be better positioned to unite the party as its nominee for governor than Kemp is. It’s a cinch that some hardcore Trumpists will boycott the general election if Kemp wins the primary. It’s not as clear that Kemp loyalists will be so offended by Perdue’s Trump-backed attempt to oust him that they’ll boycott if Perdue wins the nomination. Either way, though, the specter of Abrams winning the state will create tremendous pressure on Republicans to unify before next November. Running Kemp against a generic Democrat might be risky for the GOP in that it would make anti-Kemp populists more comfortable sitting out the race. They won’t be as comfortable staying home if it’s Abrams who stands to benefit.

Which is lucky for Trump. I repeat what I said last week, that he has a lot on the line in Georgia next year. There are no less than three races where things could go badly for him. Perdue might lose to Kemp; Perdue might beat Kemp but lose to Abrams; and Herschel Walker might lose to Raphael Warnock. Trump will bear significant blame for any of those outcomes and having his candidates go down will call his strength in Georgia into question. Losing to Biden in 2020 might be dismissed as a fluke but if his candidates can’t beat Kemp, Abrams, and Warnock it’ll be taken as further evidence that he’s not the strongest hand Republicans can play in purple states when choosing a presidential nominee in 2024.