Discover more from The Bulwark
Is Georgia the New Ohio?
We’re talking politics, not college football. Signs suggest shaky support for Trump among the Georgia GOP. Is the Peach State a new bellwether?
LAST WEEK, GEORGIA GOVERNOR BRIAN KEMP gave a news conference in which he took multiple apparent shots at the frontrunner for his own party’s presidential nomination. It was just the latest sign that the political winds among Georgia’s Republicans may not be blowing Donald Trump’s way.
In addition to Kemp’s strong statements, three additional weather vanes are pointing in the same direction.
Despite Trump pressuring Georgia’s Republican legislators to oust or defund Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, Republican Georgia House Speaker Jon Burns last week “poured cold water on the idea,” according to Newsweek. Burns said that such an action “flaunts the idea of separation of power, if not outright violates it.”
Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones, while no fan of Willis, is in the same camp, saying that defunding Willis “is not practical.”
Meanwhile, the resistance to Trump by the party leaders may well reflect the grassroots of the state GOP wavering over the former president, as suggested by a recent poll.
None of this may make a difference to Trump’s nomination. But taken together, these indicators may spell trouble in a key battleground state for the general election in November 2024.
LET’S START WITH Kemp’s growing willingness to separate himself from Trump. The former president had attacked Kemp on social media over his resistance to Trump: “Governor Kemp of Georgia is fighting hard against the impeachment” of Fani Willis:
Even so, Kemp doubled down last Thursday. While “my concerns with the Fulton County district attorney’s handling of this case . . . have been well documented,” he said, he refused to back Trump’s request that he call a special legislative session to impeach Willis:
A special session . . . would ignore current Georgia law and directly interfere with the proceedings of a separate but equal branch of government. . . .
Let me be clear: We have a law in the state of Georgia that clearly outlines the legal steps that can be taken if constituents believe their local prosecutors are violating their oath by engaging in unethical or illegal behavior. Up to this point, I have not seen any evidence that DA Willis’s actions, or lack thereof, warrant action by the Prosecuting Attorney Oversight Commission. . . . A special session of the General Assembly to end run around this law is not feasible and may ultimately prove to be unconstitutional. . . .
We’re going to follow the law and the Constitution—regardless of who it helps or harms politically.
Kemp also refused to support alternative efforts to punish Willis, such as cutting state funding to her office.
To be sure, the governor has at times tried to have it both ways. In May, he signed the law he mentioned above, which created a commission with the power to remove local districts attorneys, potentially including Willis.
For now, however, it’s indisputable that Kemp is lowering the temperature when doing so is crucial. Moreover, he took the opportunity to aim his rhetoric at Trump, if not by name then by point-blank implication.
“In Georgia, we will not be engaging in political theater that only inflames the emotions of the moment,” Kemp said. “We will do what is right. We will uphold our oath.”
He added, “Over the last few years, some inside and outside of this building may have forgotten that [we follow the law]. But I can assure you that I have not.”
Kemp also referred to Georgia state legislator Colton Moore, who has spearheaded the campaign to go after Willis. Moore has talked about having to “draw my rifle” as the alternative if Willis’s funding is not cut off.
But as for Kemp, in case anyone had any doubts about who else he had in mind at his press conference, he seeded it with a special reference. As the Atlanta Constitution-Journal put it, the governor started his press conference with “a reminder of the fraught days after the 2020 election. . . . He said he sees echoes of those volatile times now.”
He might as well have asked, Y’all catch my drift?
IN A LATE JUNE MORNING CONSULT POLL, 60 percent of the surveyed Georgians reported having a favorable view of Kemp, which is enviable in today’s climate. A more recent poll, conducted for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in mid-August by the University of Georgia’s Survey Research Center, reported that Georgians who “somewhat” or “strongly” approve of Kemp’s job performance totaled a sky-high 80 percent.
The best way to keep up with the Bulwark authors and subjects you care about? By signing up for a free or paid subscription:
Other questions in that poll signal trouble ahead for Trump. Half of Georgia Republicans think that the criminal charges against the GOP frontrunner are serious. At first blush, that might not surprise you—after all, there should be little surprising about a healthy proportion of a state’s citizens considering it serious when a grand jury has indicted someone for heading a racketeering enterprise aimed at overturning the state’s election.
But in today’s brainwashed MAGA party in historically red states, for 50 percent of Republicans to hold that view seems monumental.
Further, the poll reported that 55 percent of respondents with an opinion on the subject of Trump’s recorded January 2, 2020 call to Brad Raffensperger—the call in which Trump asked the Georgia secretary of state to “find” him the 11,780 votes needed to turn Trump from loser to winner in the state—reject Trump’s characterization of the call as “perfect,” and instead think it was “inappropriate.”
Most ominously for Trump, 37 percent of Republican respondents said that all things being equal, they would not vote for Trump if he is convicted before the election. Even if we recognize that “all things” are never equal, that response from a large proportion of the Republican base is a very bad sign for Trump in a battleground state’s general election.
Trump’s federal trial on charges of trying to overturn the 2020 election is now scheduled to begin on March 4. While that date could move toward November, all signs from federal district court Judge Tanya Chutkan are that she wants a speedy trial, not one that waits until after the election.
Experts consider Special Counsel Jack Smith’s evidence against Trump strong. Juries in Washington, D.C. are known to be fair, applying the proof beyond a reasonable doubt standard rigorously, but not hesitating to convict when prosecutors have the requisite proof.
Hence, a conviction before the election appears to be a serious prospect. In that case, the University of Georgia poll could well be the harbinger of another Trump defeat in Georgia.
That outcome would be significant nationally. According to a June 2023 forecast from the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, Georgia is one of only four swing states that will truly matter in 2024.
For much of the last half century, it was to Ohio that political analysts looked for clues as to how a national election would go, much as Maine had been in an earlier era, leading to the (now-outdated) motto “As goes Maine, so goes the nation.”
Today, Georgia appears to have become one of the very few bellwether states. And from the polling data we have, Trump may soon find himself praying against this future watchword of the 2024 pundit class: “As goes Georgia, so goes the nation.”