• Sat. Oct 29th, 2022

There’s no evidence of election fraud in Georgia. Even so, the party rank and file is fixated on it — even if it costs them in the midterms.

Apr 20, 2021

In Cobb County, the archetype of the GOPs suburban erosion, Republican activists over the weekend were still relitigating former President Donald Trumps baseless claims of widespread voter fraud while drafting resolutions to rebuke the states Republican governor, Brian Kemp, and other Republican officials for their unwillingness to overturn Trumps loss. The Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, has beenall but excommunicated
The once dominant Georgia GOP might be in meltdown in the suburbs, but the rank and file remains obsessed with Trump and the perceived wrongs of the last election.
As party activists vented at their county convention, the chair of the Cobb County Young Republicans, DeAnna Harris, stewed in the parking lot of her local party office.
Huge mistake, she said of the hostilities directed at Kemp and the reliving of 2020. Weve got to get out of this mindset. Its almost like insanity.
To traditionalist Republicans in Georgia, the infighting between fervent Trump supporters and the establishment wing of the party has become increasingly alarming as the midterm elections come into focus. The GOP is desperate to regain its footing in the suburbs after Trumps collapse there. But it was moderate Republicans and independent voters, not Trump loyalists, who abandoned Trump in November, and the partys fixation on the former president may only alienate them further, with potentially disastrous consequences for 2022 and beyond.
Party officials remain optimistic that since the midterms historically favor the out-of-power party, state Republicans should be poised to have a very good year, said Randy Evans, a Georgia lawyer who served as Trumps ambassador to Luxembourg.
Yet there are plenty of reasons to question whether historic trends will swing in their direction.
Im convinced that if infighting escalates, we could easily blow it, as well, Evans said. Weve got to figure out how to come together, really. And its an easy thing to say but a very difficult thing to actually do in this environment The consultants and the insiders will undoubtedly attempt to shift the focus toward a message that we can all agree, like were not Biden-Harris, and so lets just focus on that. But I think some of these divisions are so deep that I dont know that thats enough.
Making gains in the midterms is hard, he said, if youre shooting at each other inside the tent.
Even before Trumplost the nations suburbs
to Joe Biden, Republicans were facing a crisis in suburbia, the result of shifting demographics and voting habits around Americas largest cities. In Atlantas diversifying suburbs, what had once been a gradual metamorphosis was put on steroids by Donald Trump, said John Watson, a former Georgia Republican Party chair.
Mitt Romney hadcarried Cobb County by nearly 13 percentage points
in 2012. Four years later, Trumplost the county to Hillary Clinton by about 2 points
, and four years after that, he wasclobbered by more than 14
percentage points. Over the span of eight years, it marked a 27-point swing against the Republican nominee.
The predicament for Republicans is that while many suburban voters, especially women, recoiled from Trump, he dramatically expanded the party elsewhere, pulling more working-class whites into the GOP andmaking inroads with Latinos
. Now, for Republican Party organizers, the question hanging over the midterm elections is how to hold on to Trumps base while recovering the moderate voters he lost to now-President Biden in November.
In Cobb County, the partys election of a new county chair on Saturday offered a glimpse of the difficult path forward. A three-way race for an open seat, the contest featured one woman, of Puerto Rican descent, who invoked the image problem confronting the overwhelmingly white convention attendees in a county wherepeople of color now make up nearly half
of the population. Another candidate presented herself as an analytics expert. The third, Salleigh Grubbs, ran on a Cobb First, America First platform.
One supporter referred to Grubbs, a businesswoman, as the female version of Donald Trump.
The result wasnt even close Grubbs won in a landslide.
Shaking his head at the back of the room when the outcome became apparent, Shelley Wynter, a conservative talk show host in Atlanta, said, Its going to hurt the party. We dont need a bomb thrower. We need diplomats and ambassadors.
He said, Its hard to go into east Cobb County and talk to suburban voters with a MAGA hat on.
In Georgia and elsewhere, there have been some positive signs for the GOP in the suburbs. Despite Trumps loss, Republicans performed welldown-ballot in November
, both nationally andin Georgia
. Scores of traditionally Republican voters split their tickets, elevating Biden while propelling Republicans to victories in congressional and state legislative races.
Its a mistake to assume that suburban voters are somehow locked into the Democratic column, said Whit Ayres, the longtime Republican pollster. They are very much up for grabs not just in Georgia, but around the country.
Still, Ayers said, the focus of party activists on exacting a measure of payback on the partys own statewide elected officials is doing the exact opposite of whats necessary to revive the Republican Party in the suburbs.
Picking a fight with your own partys governor and lieutenant governor and secretary of state, he said, doesnt strike me as the wisest of political moves.
Following the weekend conventions, theAtlanta Journal-Constitution reported
that most local Republican parties declined to rebuke Kemp, with expressions of anger largely coming from rural, heavily conservative swaths of the state. In Gwinnett County another populous, once-Republican Atlanta suburb resolutions to censure Kemp and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and to encourage Raffensperger to resign were rejected
. But in Cobb County, resolutions rebuking Kemp and other officials were merely put off because of a time limitation, officials said. They are expected to be taken up by county party officials at a later meeting.
The anger with respect to the fraudulent vote is extreme, and I think many voters do not think our elected officials did the job, said Leroy Emkin, a member of the Cobb County Republican Partys resolutions committee.
The party, he said, has an obligation to put its politicians on notice regardless of the political ramifications.
It is a matter of truth, of the Constitution, he said.
Emkin is not in the minority. Most Republicans here believe that the last election wasnot free and fair
. And its in part due to frustration over the outcome of that election, coupled with the reality of a Democratic-controlled Washington, that Georgia Republicans credited large crowds at their events this past weekend. The gathering in Cobb County, which drew several hundred delegates, was more than double the size of some previous years, said Jason Shepherd, the party chair before Grubbs was elected.
It was the same at county party meetings across the state. Jason Thompson, a Republican national committeeman from Georgia, said the GOP is energized more than ever.
Not everyone agrees on everything, he said. But I can assure you that what we do agree upon is that what President Biden is pushing and the Democrats in Congress is just beyond the pale.
Republicans now have a common foil in Washington. And in Georgia, Republicans have rallied recently around thestates controversial new voting law
and against the opposition to it from Democrats and corporate America. Among the resolutions Cobb County Republicans are likely to pass is one targeting Coca-Cola and Delta, two locally headquartered companies that condemned the law.
Watson said that there has been no greater coalescing moment among Republicans than the fight that has transpired since SB 202, the Georgia voting law.
It has absolutely been a galvanizing force that has bonded anew the governors relationship with the most hard-core Republicans, he said. Is it ubiquitous and unanimous? No. But thats impossible.
By the time the midterm elections arrive, Republicans will almost certainly have other grievances to bond over, as well as policies of Biden and the Democratic-controlled Congress that they view as far out of step with mainstream voters. And the GOPs own divisions are likely to fade to at least some degree once the primaries are done and before the general election.
The Republicans dont have to defend their agenda in 2022 because the Democrats are in control of everything, said Jay Williams, a Georgia-based Republican strategist. Republicans just need to play defense and let Democrats eat themselves, and thats what theyre doing.
But the GOP in Georgia is not yet done cannibalizing itself. Outside the party convention in Cobb County, David Gault, a local precinct chair, said that people just need to really calm down and, I think, perhaps we just need to mind our own store right now. The party, he said, should be all about the future.
The response from the base came from inside the convention hall, where a delegate carried a poster outlining complaints about voter fraud, Kemp and Raffensperger, among others.
NO, it said in red ink. We Will NOT Move On!