Will Georgia be Trump's Waterloo (again)?

(AP Photo/John Bazemore)

“It is hard to overstate what an enormous repudiation of Donald Trump it would be for Brian Kemp to be re-elected,” Dan McLaughlin tweeted yesterday in response to this Fox News poll. The ultimate repudiation would be Liz Cheney winning her primary but no one thinks that’s likely in a state as red as Wyoming, where the Republican nominee wins the general election in a waltz. There’s no risk there of losing the seat by nominating a no-name challenger instead of a well-known incumbent to face the Democrats in November.


There is a risk of doing that in Georgia’s gubernatorial race. That state went blue in the last presidential election for the first time in ages and a formidable challenger, Stacey Abrams, looms in the general election. If you’re a Georgia Republican with no strong preference between Kemp and David Perdue on the merits, you might reasonably tilt towards Kemp on grounds that he won his last election — against Abrams — while Perdue lost to an underwhelming Democrat in Jon Ossoff. Kemp has also been careful to stay in the good graces of Trump fans by refusing to return fire no matter how often and how viciously Trump criticizes him for certifying Biden’s victory in 2020. By declining to attack their hero, he’s signaled to them that he respects their fondness for Trump even if Trump no longer respects him. That gives Kemp a fighting chance in Georgia while Cheney, who refuses to hide her contempt for Trump, has no chance at all.

Two things need to happen to make a serious primary challenge to Trump in 2024 viable. One is Ron DeSantis running up the score in his own reelection bid in Florida this fall. He’s the only candidate who stands a chance against Trump, and the more comparatively electable he looks, the stronger that chance will be. A DeSantis landslide in the gubernatorial race is essential. The other necessary condition is Trump whiffing with some of the primary challengers he’s backed against his Republican enemies this spring. If most of the pro-impeachment Republicans in the House hang on and especially if Kemp hangs on, the suspicion that Trump has lost his grip on the party will flower.


Which means, if you’re a DeSantis fan, you should greet this new data from Fox joyously:

Trump is more popular than either gubernatorial candidate, polling at 79/19 among Georgia Republicans. But, surprisingly, Kemp (68/28) remains slightly more popular than Perdue (65/27) despite all of the venom Trump has aimed at him. Kemp’s theory of the case is that so long as you govern as a conservative and let Trump beat you up without hitting back, enough MAGA fans will give you a pass on your heresies to keep you in contention in a primary. Trump’s theory of the case is that anyone whom he brutalizes as much as he’s brutalized Kemp will be a nonstarter among his fans.

Kemp’s theory is prevailing right now even though his particular heresy, signing off on the “rigged election” results in Georgia, is supposed to be a political capital offense in the Trumpified GOP. See why McLaughlin thinks these numbers are a big deal?

More from Fox:

Among the subgroup of those with a strongly favorable opinion of the former president, sentiments shift in Perdue’s favor: 39% to Kemp and 52% for Perdue. He trails far behind, however, among those who view Trump unfavorably: 70% Kemp vs. 15% Perdue

Among Republican primary voters who have a strongly favorable opinion of Trump, 87% plan to definitely vote in the May 24 primary and 65% are extremely interested in the election.

“There is more energy and interest in the election among voters who are favorable towards Trump, but that does not appear to be enough to propel Perdue to victory,” says Democrat Chris Anderson who conducts the Fox News poll with Republican Daron Shaw. “The problem for Perdue, and Trump, is that Kemp remains broadly popular. Trump is more popular, but he has not been able to leverage his standing to diminish Kemp’s.”


Kemp is keeping things competitive among hardcore MAGA fans in Georgia while earning a landslide among the one-fifth of the party that’s anti-Trump. That’ll be another key media narrative in the aftermath if Kemp pulls this off, that Trump has alienated a big enough minority of his own party in a key swing state to have spoiled Perdue’s chance in the gubernatorial race. Why triple down on someone like that as a presidential nominee in 2024 when you could have the popular guy across the border in Florida instead?

I suspect Trump thought that simply endorsing Perdue would be enough to tip the balance of the primary towards his candidate, sending MAGA voters stampeding from Kemp’s camp to Perdue’s. Instead he’s finding that he’ll have to work to drag Perdue over the finish line. Kemp just ordered an enormous ad buy to press his advantage, spending more than four times the amount of money that Perdue’s entire campaign had on hand as of the end of January. Even with the election more than two months away, Mar-a-Lago is scrambling to send top surrogates to Georgia to try to entice Republicans to support the challenger:


There’s plenty of time for Perdue to catch up. But that the 10-point lead Kemp enjoys has been consistent in polling lately despite the fact that Trump endorsed Perdue more than a month ago and Georgia Republicans are paying attention to the race. Maybe GOPers there prefer a successful governor to weak tea even if the tea comes stamped with the Trump label.

This isn’t the only primary where Trump’s guy is struggling either. In North Carolina, his handpicked challenger trails Pat McCrory by double digits in the race to be the Republican Senate nominee. And in Alabama of all places, staunch MAGA populist Mo Brooks has been struggling to gain traction against Katie Britt despite Trump having endorsed Brooks last April. Trump is so eager to avoid being humiliated in that race that he met with Britt recently and is now allegedly open to assisting her campaign despite his Brooks endorsement.

He won’t do that with Kemp, obviously. In Georgia, he’s all-in. Either he drags Perdue to victory or he blames Perdue for being a crappy candidate if he loses while screeching that Kemp must have cheated. Either way, good news for Team Abrams.

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