At a rally in Georgia, Donald Trump said that having Stacey Abrams as governor of that state “might well be better” than having Republican incumbent Brian Kemp in that position. (See the end of this post for the full context.) For Trump, Kemp’s refusal to go all-in on unsubstantiated claims of outcome-determinative election fraud counts for more in deciding who should govern Georgia than Abrams’ beyond-the-pale leftism.
As always, Donald Trump is about Trump first, second, and third. The nature and quality of governance places out of the money.
The question of who should be Georgia’s governor isn’t merely academic. As Dan McLaughlin points out, Kemp and Abrams might well be the candidates for governor next year.
The last time they faced off, Kemp won by a razor-thin margin. Trump’s suggestion that Kemp is as bad as Abrams might well get her over the finish line in a rematch.
Trump-inspired disillusionment with voting among Georgia Republicans was probably the decisive factor in turning control of the U.S. Senate over to Democrats. Having Stacey Abrams as Georgia’s governor wouldn’t be as disastrous for the nation, but it would be a massive setback for Georgia.
Trump doesn’t care.
Trump’s defenders will claim he was joking. McLaughlin explains the problems with this defense:
[W]hile Trump was indeed speaking in the jocular tone common at his rallies, there are a couple of problems with just dismissing this as harmless comedy. One, as a rule, you should not tell people in politics how to vote unless you are willing to have them believe you.
Two, the extended and bitter nature of Trump’s rant against Kemp — a lengthier version of things he has been saying for months — leaves no doubt whatsoever that he means to tell people that Kemp is bad and should be defeated.
Keep in mind, too, that Trump never disparaged the two Georgia candidates of the Senate in 2020 and never spoke well of the two Dems. Yet, his suggestion that ballots cast for the Republicans might not be counted and his overall tone about the 2020 election were enough to depress turnout in some key GOP strongholds. Trump doesn’t have to endorse Abrams to tilt the playing field in her favor.
Back to McLaughlin:
Three, you have to wonder what Trump’s defenders think a “joke” is. At the risk of explaining the obvious, if Trump said at a rally that Biden was 400 years old, that would be a joke in the tradition of political jokes — it tells a political truth (Biden is really old) in terms that are literally false (Biden is not actually 400 years old), but it’s not a lie, it’s a humorous exaggeration. The audience knows it’s an exaggeration, so they laugh at the joke, but they also get the point.
Is the humorous exaggeration here Trump actually endorsing Stacey Abrams? Sure. But the political truth the joke communicates is that Trump wants Brian Kemp to lose to Stacey Abrams, and he wants it so badly that he is willing to tell an audience of Georgia Republicans, “Stacey, would you like to take his place? It’s okay with me.”
The obvious intent and likely effect of this, as Kemp tries to turn the page on 2020 and focus on next year’s re-election campaign, is to harden the willingness of Trump’s most passionate followers to withhold their votes from Kemp, and perhaps, in some cases, vote for Abrams out of raw spite.
The table is set for the GOP to have a big year in 2022. A loss in the Georgia gubernatorial race wouldn’t disrupt that outcome, though another loss in a Georgia Senate race might.
But Trump seems to expect Republican candidates all over the country to endorse his weak claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him. That expectation might make life very difficult for GOP hopefuls beyond the state of Georgia.
And for what? Trump’s whining isn’t going to change the 2020 outcome. Yes, he has a personal and egotistical stake in preserving his dubious claim that he won the last election. The notion that he lost, and lost to Joe Biden, is incompatible with his mystique, as he sees it.
Conservatives have no such stake. In that important sense, our interests do not align with Trump’s.