Trump and Abrams, Sitting in a Tree

This is a transcript from my radio show. You can subscribe to my premium newsletter here for only $7/month or $70/year.

President Donald Trump was in Perry, Georgia on Saturday, about 40 minutes south of my house. He all but endorsed Stacey Abrams for governor. Now, this is one of those times I think where Donald Trump supporters would say they take him seriously, not literally. They know he wants Brian Kemp beaten, but don't take him literally about wanting Stacey Abrams. What he said of Abrams is, "Having her, I think, might be better than having your existing governor. It might very well be better." He then said, "Stacey, would you like to take his place? It's okay with me." Those are Donald Trump's words, not mine.

Now, there are some implications here you need to know about. I realize I've got listeners out of Georgia now, but this relates to all of you, particularly because we're seeing this shape up in places like Arizona as well with President Trump. David Shafer, the chairman of the Republican Party in Georgia, was at the event. It was an event to highlight three candidates in primaries: my friend Jody Hice who's running for Secretary of State, Burt Jones who's running for Lieutenant Governor, and Herschel Walker who's running for the Senate. It is notable that the chairman of the Republican Party was there for two reasons. One, it was an event designed to bolster the primary candidacies of three people and the party chair is supposed to remain neutral in primaries. Two, the chairman of the party has not said anything about Donald Trump saying he would prefer Stacey Abrams to the incumbent Republican Governor Brian Kemp.

Where is the state party defending Brian Kemp? Why will the state party say nothing? Therein gets you one of the problems for the GOP in Georgia. The state party and the state Republicans have not for some time seen eye-to-eye. You have an effort now among Republicans to set up separate funds for them to be able to control their own campaigns because they have no faith in the state party and the chairman. They see Shafer as operating an agenda unique to himself and not one for the good of the party overall.

Now, you need to know I'll cut to the chase here to get to this point. The crowd was not receptive to the idea of Stacey Abrams. They get that Donald Trump does not like Brian Kemp. He also lashed out at Chris Carr, the popular Republican attorney general in Georgia, for not doing enough. What you need to know is that the Georgia Constitution prohibits the governor of the state from doing anything in an election. Had the governor called a special session, supporters of President Trump would say, "Well he could have called a special session and changed the rules," except there is well-settled Supreme Court precedent that if the rules were changed, they would not go into effect for a runoff. There are numerous Supreme Court cases in Georgia and nationally stating that if you have a special session of the legislature that changes election rules between an election and a runoff, those rules can't affect the runoff. So it wouldn't matter. It would have been a waste of taxpayer dollars. It would have failed. Do you really believe John Roberts would have allowed it really?

So there was nothing Kemp could have done, but that hasn't stopped Donald Trump from going after him. Now, I'm told reliably that both Sonny Perdue and David Perdue have told President Trump to lay off Brian Kemp. Republicans in Georgia do not want to help Stacey Abrams get a win. They do not want her to get elected. Abrams is already openly talking about wanting to run for President. You don't run for President as a nobody. Granted, most Democrats think she already won the governorship in Georgia, but she didn't. She needs something and she's going to run against Kemp in 2022. Trump is trying to find someone to run against Brian Kemp. It's really freaking notable that there is a candidate running against Brian Kemp. His name is Vernon Jones. He's a pro-abortion Democrat who flipped a switch earlier this year and suddenly became a pro-life Republican. Even Donald Trump, who says he would prefer Stacey Abrams to Brian Kemp, is refusing to endorse Vernon Jones. That tells you everything you need to know about the candidacy of Vernon Jones.

But then there's the Herschel Walker situation. Republicans, you should know, are starting to calm down about the Herschel Walker situation. Let me read you from Josh Kraushaar at National Journal why.

"The midterms are more than a year away, giving President Biden and Democrats plenty of time to recover from their summer doldrums, but with Biden's job approval down to the low-to-mid 40s, Democrats haven't fully grappled with the consequences of a true backlash election rather than simply the typical first-term setbacks of a party in power. Democrats often sound resigned to losing the House given the combination of their narrow majority, redistricting, and historic midterm patterns. That fatalism can be seen in their effort to jam as much government spending as possible into Biden's first year in office, anticipating this may be their last chance to do so. Democrats have been oblivious, however, to the true political cost of pushing through the $3.5 trillion legislation championed by progressives, lacking the imagination to anticipate the downside of pushing well beyond their political mandate. It's not just the House. It's the Senate, the Supreme Court, and the caliber of elected officials at stake.

The difference between an average midterm setback and a Republican wave means control of the Senate and the ability to replace Stephen Breyer. The difference between Biden's approval hovering around 50 versus dipping to low 40s means politically capable Democratic moderates losing to Trumpist Republicans in unlikely places. A GOP landslide may even encourage Trump to run again in 2024. The early conventional wisdom was that while Republicans are favored to win the House, Democrats hold a decided advantage in the Senate. The biggest roadblock for Republicans has always been that several of their perspective nominees are Trump loyalists unlikely to be ready for political primetime. They include Herschel Walker in Georgia, Ted Budd in North Carolina, Sean Parnell in Pennsylvania, but in Republican waves, even weak candidates get pushed to the finish line because they're able to take advantage of a GOP-friendly political environment. Republicans would have favorable odds in any slightly red state on the map like North Carolina and Georgia. All of Herschel Walker's baggage won't matter as much if disaffected Georgia voters want to send a political message to the White House.

Democrats' outside opportunity in Ohio thanks to a solid recruit and a crop of hard right Republican candidates would dissipate. In GOP-trending Florida, Marco Rubio would lock down another term even though he's running against a top Democrat recruit, Val Demings, who's already raised millions. Meanwhile, blue-ish swing states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania would tilt toward Republicans, giving Democrats longer odds against Trump-aligned candidates. If the politically adept Conor Lamb wins the Democratic nomination, he'd be the early favorite to flip Pennsylvania blue, but if Biden can't reverse his political fortunes, all bets are off. Remember, Lamb won his reelection in a suburban Pittsburgh district by only two points against Sean Parnell and Parnell looks like he'll be the nominee for the GOP in Pennsylvania."

Republicans are concerned that Donald Trump's picks are people who say glowing things about Donald Trump but maybe aren't the best candidates for their state. They say that about Herschel Walker who moved away to Texas and only just moved back to run for the Senate in Georgia. He’s got a lot of baggage, but does it really matter? He's Herschel Walker. I saw an internal poll the other day that if the election were held today, 75% of Republicans would vote for Herschel Walker in a primary. He's being combated by Kelvin King who was a Black businessman who started Black Voters for Trump in Atlanta who didn't get Trump's endorsement, unfortunately. He's a great guy. He's being also primaried by Gary Black, the agriculture commissioner in Georgia who has a long track record and is actually going after Herschel in a friendly but very directly saying, "I'm not the guy you want on the football field and Herschel's not the guy you want creating jobs. He's great on a football field. I'm great at creating jobs." He's the Ag commissioner, loved by farmers in South Georgia.

Latham Saddler is another candidate who taught himself the Afghan language, joined the Seals, and hiked through Afghanistan helping the US military. He has a really compelling story. He's been on my radio show talking about Afghanistan. Those candidates aren't going to give Herschel Walker a pass. They may not get in the gutter with the baggage and consequently they may not win, but they're doing their best because they think they would be better in the general against Raphael Warnock who is a far-left progressive but strikes people as an affable, likable guy. They pay attention to him, not his record, and that's something Republicans have to remember. You got to pay attention to the people, not just the record.

We have Trump in Georgia going after Brian Kemp and also now Chris Carr, the attorney general. He's going after the current lieutenant governor who's not running again, Jeff Duncan, and the current Secretary of State of Georgia, Brad Raffensperger who is running. I'm not sure he can win reelection in the primary given the situation. You open the floodgate for people to come in and divide the party at a time that Georgia is drifting blue, it seems, and they need to hold everything together. The president seems to be making it about himself, not his agenda, and that's the thing that I think frustrates a lot of Republicans. Whether you look at President Trump in Arizona refusing to back the Attorney General or the current situation in Georgia, the President is backing candidates who have the President's back and those candidates may not be the candidates most likely to win in order to push the Trump’s agenda. President Trump, it seems, has decided to make this a race about having his back and being loyal to him and not necessarily to his agenda.

For example, in Wyoming, President Trump is backing a candidate against Liz Cheney. In 2016, the candidate that Donald Trump is backing worked overtime to try to sabotage his nomination at the Republican Convention. She actually tried to organize a coup at the Republican Convention in 2016 to stop Trump and now because she says great things to him in person, he's backing her. I do think part of this is the President gets bad advice from people who say nice things about him. He has set himself up to be someone who, if you say nice things to him in person, he tends to believe that you like him. Several of the candidates he has thrown his support to are people who worked overtime to sabotage him behind the scenes or at least in 2016. The President's okay if they badmouth him in private so long as they say nice things about him in public, but those people will not advance his agenda. So it seems to be about him, not what he stands for.

I don't know what this suggests about the odds of Trump running in 2024. What I do know is that if he picks candidates who cannot win in 2022, the Republican voters themselves will probably have a backlash against Trump for having cost them the Senate. So he, they, and everyone needs to be careful how they maneuver moving forward. It's just a very interesting dynamic. What is most interesting here in Georgia is that the state Republican Party has yet to issue a statement defending Brian Kemp, and second, has yet to come out and say that they're not taking sides in primaries. Most significantly, the Republican voters of Georgia don't seem to agree with the President on taking Stacey Abrams over Kemp. In fact, when President Trump said that, "Stacey, would you like to take his place? It's okay with me," a man next to the stage yelled back, "We don't want her, Mr. President." They don't seem to. Will President Trump get that message? Time will tell.