I absolutely hate to take the side of the NeverTrumper gang, ever, but on this business of the former president’s statement taking the position that maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if Stacey Abrams had won over Brian Kemp in Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial election, I’m with them.
Trump and Kemp don’t get along. We get it. But honestly, a stupid gaffe like that isn’t leadership. It’s immaturity. It should never have been said, not even as a joke. We should be past stupid moves like this, because by now we should know that open internal fighting within the Republican Party, and petulant pissing inside the tent like this, does collateral damage in large amounts.
We’ve seen it in Louisiana on a more or less continuous basis. It happened, and it was destructive as hell, in both of the last two elections.
In 2015, David Vitter was the obvious Republican standard-bearer. He had all the money, he was a demonstrated winner of statewide elections and he had the most concrete plan for conservative reform. The Democrats had been run out of all the statewide offices by that year, with Bill Cassidy having bounced Mary Landrieu out of the Senate in 2014, and while Louisiana’s Republican governor Bobby Jindal had become unpopular GOP policy was not the cause; the people of the state turned against Jindal because he was off making speeches in Iowa and New Hampshire in a hapless and wasteful long-shot presidential campaign.
But what happened to Vitter is that Jay Dardenne and Scott Angelle, the latter a proxy for Jindal and his stupid, senseless feud with Vitter (for which Vitter was also at fault, to be fair), set upon Vitter like birds of prey and tore him down over questions of personal ethics which the voters had already litigated in the 2010 Senate election. None of it made the slightest difference to the lives of the people in Louisiana, but it gave a bipartisan flavor to those old allegations about hookers.
The funny thing was both Dardenne and Angelle have been long-rumored to have personal foibles of a related sort, and it was frankly amazing to see them go on the attack with their own flanks exposed. But when the urge for political power is that strong people will stop at nothing, it seems.
We all know the effect of this internecine, highly-personal, political warfare. Vitter, Dardenne and Angelle chewed each other up and John Bel Edwards skated into a runoff with a badly-wounded Vitter and became a Democrat governor of a Republican state on the basis of an utter lie – that Edwards was a centrist who went to West Point and that conservative voters had nothing to fear from him.
Edwards’ first term was a failure of leadership so pronounced that some 100,000 people fled Louisiana in net outmigration over those four years. He pumped the state’s budget through the sky while torching its private-sector economy, corruption became rampant and none of Louisiana’s core structural governmental problems were addressed. All he did was blame everything on Jindal.
Most people figured Edwards was dead in the water. And when all he could get was 47 percent of the vote in the 2019 gubernatorial primary, it was clear he was eminently beatable.
But he wasn’t beaten. Why? Because Eddie Rispone and Ralph Abraham were essentially tied for the Republican spot in the runoff, and Rispone’s camp thought it would be a good idea to do a murder-suicide play in the final days of the primary. Rispone spent the better part of a million dollars on attacks ads trashing Abraham, and with Abraham out of money that was enough to sink his campaign beneath the waves.
When he did that, Rispone cut his own throat, because Abraham’s voters saw his attacks as dirty pool and decided they weren’t that excited about voting for Rispone. GOP turnout was soft, and Edwards, whose camp had called Rispone every name in the book and made accusations so over-the-top as to beggar belief, managed to pull just enough Republican voters to go with a massive black turnout to win by 40,000 votes.
Those were two election cycles the Democrats had absolutely no business winning. They won based purely on stupid, selfish political infighting by people who should have known better.
If you’re a politician, you had better damn well understand that it isn’t about you. If it is, that’s a reason why you don’t deserve political power. Leave your ego in your pants, because we don’t care about your problems.
And while the GOP desperately needs to be turned inside out and the weak-kneed losers who have frittered away Reagan’s legacy with stupid political deals and non-stop betrayals of their voters shunted off to the back bench, all of that should be vetted within the space of a party primary.
In Trump’s defense, it’s way early in Georgia. Assumedly there will be a primary challenger to Brian Kemp in Georgia, and if Trump wants to support that challenger it’s fair if he does.
But let’s remember that Trump has already done a lot of damage in Georgia. Through what could very easily have been vote fraud, not only did Trump lose that state in the 2020 elections but a pair of leftist Democrats forced Senate race runoffs against lackluster GOP incumbents and won both in January because Trump ran his mouth about vote fraud and how Republican votes didn’t matter.
Because of that it’s possible the Democrats might add $5 trillion to the federal debt this week while installing a socialist regime it might take a violent revolution to throw off. That’s what the difference between 50 Republican senators and 51, even for only two years, might make.
And for all the good he did in office, Donald Trump will own it if the Democrats manage to pass the nation-killing legislation they’re trying to.
So no, Donald Trump doesn’t get to say any old thing he pleases down in Georgia. If he wants to criticize Kemp, that’s fine – Kemp has proven to be a weakling and a bungler. But the people of Georgia are better off with a weak Brian Kemp than a looter and wrecker like Stacey Abrams in charge of that state. Stacey Abrams is worse than John Bel Edwards by an order of magnitude, and the damage she could do in four years would take a decade to repair.
Trump needs to understand that what we need from him is leadership, not bomb-throwing. He’s the leader of the Republican Party now. What that means is punching down against Brian Kemp cheapens both of them. Trump should have been on that stage telling Kemp the things he needs to do to earn the support of his voters and then predicting that Kemp will do those things to become worthy of re-election. That’s constructive. Even joking about Stacey Abrams being an improvement is not. It’s destructive, and it can’t happen again or else it’s going to be time to move on.
Either way, we see this as a teachable moment for why we need a revivalist movement on the Right to move beyond conservatism. Build a movement and a leader committed to its agenda will emerge, and that leader doesn’t have to be Trump if he’s not able to give us better than this gaffe in Georgia.