As mysteries go, this may not be as compelling as some — say, for instance, how Hillary Clinton’s new political “thriller” of a novel will perpetuate her multi-year grievance tour. Karen will have more on that later, but David Perdue’s sudden swerve into retirement is indeed a bit perplexing. Perdue only narrowly lost his run-off re-election bid to Jon Ossoff, and then only because of a campaign by his own putative allies that ended up suppressing juuuuust enough of his vote to make a difference.
One week ago, Perdue filed preparatory paperwork to run against Raphael Warnock for the other Georgia seat in the US Senate. So what changed his mind? Perdue chalks it up to “personal” issues:
Former Republican Sen. David Perdue will not run for Senate in 2022, he said in a statement Tuesday, ruling out another campaign in Georgia less than two months after losing a runoff election for a second term.
The decision comes just a week after Perdue filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission and said publicly that he was considering another campaign in 2022. Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, who won a special election against former GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler in January, is on the ballot again next year for a full term.
“This is a personal decision, not a political one,” Perdue said in the statement announcing that he would not run. “I am confident that whoever wins the Republican primary next year will defeat the Democrat candidate in the General election for this seat, and I will do everything I can to make that happen.”
What changed personally in the past week — or even in the past eight weeks? Perdue fought a bruising battle in the runoff, of course, but that didn’t stop him from filing paperwork last week for another battle against Warnock. It should be a bit easier to run against Warnock anyway, especially given the oppo research that the GOP managed to dig up this time. If it hadn’t been for Donald Trump and his allies — Lin Wood and Sidney Powell in particular — turning the runoffs into a referendum about Brian Kemp and Brad Raffensperger, Kelly Loeffler should have edged Warnock out, and Perdue likely would have done even better against Ossoff.
The problem is that Perdue apparently realized that he’d have to fight that same battle again if he ran. The New York Times reports on Perdue’s tete-a-tete with Donald Trump a few days ago, and their sources suggest Perdue soured on the idea once he heard Trump’s plans for the race:
But the announcement came just days after Mr. Perdue made what is becoming a ritualistic trip for Republicans — to former President Donald J. Trump’s private club in Florida, for dinner and a lengthy round of golf last Friday. That raised questions among some Republicans about what Mr. Trump had said to him during their time together.
The meeting did not go well, people briefed on it said. Mr. Trump was focused on retribution, particularly against Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, and Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, a Republican whom Mr. Trump views as having betrayed him.
Two Republicans, one in Atlanta and another in Washington, separately said that Mr. Trump spent much of his conversation with Mr. Perdue making clear his determination to unseat Georgia’s governor next year. Trying to navigate a feud between the former president and his state’s sitting governor for the next two years was deeply unappealing to Mr. Perdue, according to a Georgia Republican who knows the former senator.
Ironically, Perdue might have been better off by skipping the ring-kissing exercise in the first place. Roll Call reports that his presence in the primary might have crowded out any realistic contenders for the nomination against Warnock. Perdue then might have had a lot more leverage in distancing himself from Trump’s agenda. If Perdue snubbed Trump, though, Trump might have leaned on Loeffler to challenge him for the nomination to her old seat, or maybe even tried to convince Marjorie Taylor Greene to move up after a single term in the House.
In other words, this had to look like a lose-lose situation to Perdue, who adopted the War Games strategy: The only way to win is not to play. That leaves NRSC chair Rick Scott in a tough position for 2022, especially with its potential to transfer the Taylor Greene headache to the upper chamber:
Rick Scott, chairman of NRSC, told me he spoke with Perdue this AM about his decision to pass on Senate run. “I’m pretty disappointed.”
“He told me it was personal,” Scott said.
Asked about his thoughts on a possible Marjorie Taylor Greene run, he said: “I have not heard that”
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) February 23, 2021
Scott’s disappointment is understandable. Rather than having a candidate that could avoid a contested primary and allow the GOP to focus on Warnock, the vacuum left behind by Perdue’s withdrawal all but guarantees a contentious internecine fight. It may not even split by the obvious national division between traditional conservatives and Trumpian populists either, but by varying degrees among the latter group:
Perdue was expected to clear the GOP field to take on Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock if he decided to run. A handful of Georgia GOP strategists on Monday said if Perdue passed, the other top two possible Republican candidates were Loeffler and Collins, who faced off against each other last year.
“Because David, Kelly and Doug were all U.S. Senate candidates last cycle, I think those are the names that people are looking at, and rightfully so,” Chip Lake, a GOP strategist in Georgia who worked with Collins, said Monday, prior to Perdue’s Tuesday morning announcement that he would not run for Senate.
Both Collins and Loeffler come from the populist wing, with Collins more solidly in that camp. And it could get even worse for Scott:
Lake noted that if Perdue, Loeffler and Collins all pass on running for Senate, many more Republicans in the state could look at jumping into the race.
“If none of those three decide to run then it could allow a second tier dynamic of candidates that could make it a very competitive and very deep primary,” Lake said.
That’s when the Taylor Greene singularity might come upon Scott. However, it seems a bit more likely that Trump might press Collins to go after Kemp and push Loeffler to go after Warnock — and Scott might try the same strategy. Kemp is Trump’s big target, and Loeffler was compliant enough with Trump in the post-election madness to get his approval now … assuming she also doesn’t find “personal” reasons to escape the next madhouse.