Trump: If Kemp beats Perdue in the Georgia primary, the election must be rigged

AP Photo/John Bazemore

Are we sure he was joking when he endorsed Stacey Abrams over Kemp at a rally in Georgia in September?

Because this is what you’d expect him to say if he sincerely prefers to see Abrams as governor.

Which he does, no? Trump has never prioritized the good of the GOP over his own personal grudges. Obviously he’d prefer to see David Perdue as the next governor, but if he’s forced to choose between Abrams and Kemp it’d be out of character for him to decide that a Republican who crossed him — and then embarrassed him by beating his candidate in the gubernatorial primary — should receive his endorsement for the sake of uniting the party and keeping Georgia red.

The thought of beating Democrats at the polls isn’t what gets him out of bed in the morning. The thought of taking revenge on his enemies does. Trump’s political views are best described not as Republican or as right-wing but as Always Trump. And Kemp offended the Always Trump movement more than Abrams has by refusing to overturn his state’s results for Trump last fall.

Trump knows why Perdue lost his Senate runoff and it wasn’t because of Kemp:

The nastier the Kemp/Perdue primary gets, the more difficult it’ll be for the party to reunite behind the nominee against a formidable opponent like Abrams. Probably the single most disruptive and deleterious thing Trump could do to undermine that reunion would be to push the idea that if Kemp wins then he must have cheated to do so. That’ll delegitimize Kemp’s victory in the eyes of some Trumpers and convince others that Georgia’s elections are too tainted to warrant their involvement. They’ll protest by staying home in the general election. Result: Abrams wins.

And that’ll suit Trump fine given how much political capital he’s about to invest in this race. If he can’t carry Perdue to the governor’s office then the next best outcome for him is to have Kemp lose due to a boycott by MAGA, as that’ll send the message to the GOP establishment that they can’t win without him. The rest of the party might have enough juice to help Kemp get past a Trump-backed primary challenger but if they don’t have enough juice to actually get him elected then Republicans are still hostages to Trump and MAGA.

Besides, apart from strategic considerations, Trump will need to believe — and to convince others — that a Kemp victory was fraudulent purely as a salve for the bruise it’ll leave on his ego if it happens. Watching a man whom he blames for his own defeat last year get the best of his own candidate in an election in Georgia would be almost as intolerable to him as losing to Biden was.

If the early shots at Perdue from Kemp’s camp are any indication, this election will be bareknuckle and create an immense amount of bitterness on the right that’ll need to be neutralized before November 2022 despite Trump doing his best from the sidelines to further embitter it.

In a statement on Sunday, Kemp campaign communications director Cody Hall said, “Perdue’s only reason for running is to soothe his own bruised ego.”

“The man who lost Republicans the United States Senate and brought the last year of skyrocketing inflation, open borders, runaway government spending, and woke cancel culture upon the American people now wants to lose the Georgia governor’s office to the national face of the radical left movement,” Hall said. “Governor Kemp has a proven track record of fighting the radical left to put hardworking Georgians first, while Perdue is best known for ducking debates, padding his stock portfolio during a pandemic, and losing winnable races.”

“It may be difficult for David Perdue to see this over the gates of his coastal estate, but Joe Biden’s dangerous agenda is hitting hardworking Georgians in the wallet and endangering their livelihoods — and we all have David Perdue to thank for it,” said Hall in another statement. Kemp reportedly views Perdue’s decision to challenge him as a personal betrayal after Perdue assured him privately this year that he wouldn’t run against him. Things may get nasty between them, especially since Kemp is practically forbidden from attacking Perdue’s patron, Trump. (Neither of Hall’s shots at Perdue mention you-know-who.) From Kemp’s standpoint, there’s no use in beating Perdue in a primary if in the process he alienates so many Trumpers that he’s unelectable in the general. That means not attacking the leader of the party no matter how harsh the attacks from Trump get.

By the way, why didn’t Trump endorse Perdue in the statement above? That’s a curious omission. Is it because there’s another Trump loyalist, Democrat turned MAGA fan Vernon Jones, who’s running in the same race? If so, Trump had better suck it up and give Jones a nudge to get out soon. The last thing Perdue needs is to have his populist cred undermined by a more authentic populist:

Jones probably won’t be a factor, but to the extent he can divide the MAGA vote with Perdue, he’s doing Kemp an enormous favor.

I’ll leave you with Geoff Duncan, Georgia’s lieutenant governor, taking shots at Perdue and Trump during an interview this morning. Duncan was an outspoken critic of Trump’s “stop the steal” effort. He’s not running for reelection, believing (rightly) that it’d be hopeless.