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Former President Donald Trump went all-in on the effort to defeat Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and other state officials who have refuted his "Big Lie" that he actually won the state in the 2020 election. But on Tuesday, Georgia Republicans went all-in on Kemp and other officials Trump strove to unseat. Kemp crushed Trump's handpicked challenger and stolen-election proponent David Perdue, and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) unexpectedly got enough votes to win without a runoff election.
Kemp "has been atop Trump's revenge list since he refused to call a special legislative session to overturn the state's election results and promote the then-president's false claims of systemic fraud," Greg Bluestein writes at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In declining to punish Kemp, Raffensperger, and other 2020 reality-embracers on Trump's behalf, did Georgia Republicans also reject Trump's stolen-election lie?
Yes, the 'Big Lie' had a rough Tuesday
"No state has been at the center of Donald Trump's obsession with overturning his 2020 election defeat so much as Georgia," Bluestein writes. And it's hard to see the failure of Trump's "mushrooming vendetta against Kemp" as anything other than a rebuke of "his false claim that the election was 'rigged and stolen.'" He dragged Perdue and Raffensperger challenger Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) into the race, and they centered their challenges on Trump's false narrative. Furthermore, Bluestein added, "several down-ticket candidates endorsed by Trump because they clung to his lies about widespread election fraud sputtered against statewide incumbents closely tied to the governor."
Unsurprisingly, "for Donald Trump the biggest, most important issue in this year's election is — Donald Trump," and specifically his 2020 grievances, Elaine Kamarck writes at the Brookings Institution. But Tuesday just provided more evidence that the Big Lie isn't a big deal for many other Republicans. Research on all Republicans running in 2020 found that nearly three-quarters of them "had nothing to say about the issue foremost in Trump's mind," she adds. "Attention to the Big Lie was much more prevalent among those Trump endorsed. But even there, enthusiasm for the Big Lie was muted"
The lie lives on
"Regardless of Trump's involvement in their races, virtually all of the Republican candidates — even Kemp — ran on 'election integrity,'" a "phrase that has emerged as a code for the former president's baseless grievances about the 2020 election," The Associated Press reports.
Also, "Tuesday marked the first Georgia election under a new voting law adopted by the Republican-backed state legislature in response to Trump's grievances," AP notes. "The changes made it harder to vote by mail, which was popular among Democrats in 2020 amid the pandemic; introduced new voter identification requirements that critics warned might disenfranchise Black voters; and expanded early voting in rural areas that typically vote Republican."
We shouldn't read too much into one election night
All politics is local, the saying goes, and Kemp crushed Perdue the old fashioned way, by using his power as governor to reward allies, sideline rivals, dazzle the GOP base by signing hot-button conservative legislation, and making sure GOP donors shied away from Perdue, The New York Times reports. All Perdue had was Trump's endorsement.
"Perdue thought that Trump was a magic wand," said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, one of Perdue's highest-profile Georgia supporters. "In retrospect, it's hard to understand David's campaign, and it's certainly not the campaign those of us who were for him expected."
Kemp and Raffensperger also "might have benefited from Democratic voters who decided to vote in the Republican primary so they could prevent Hice and other Trump supporters from being elected," the Journal-Constitution reports. "Georgia is an open primary state," and "about 7 percent of voters in this year's Republican primary previously cast ballots in the Democratic primary in 2020."
This was a rejection of Trump more than his election conspiracies
Pundits and strategists will certainly "begin mining Georgia's primary results for clues about whether the Republican Party can move forward from Trump — and whether the former president's false election fraud claims could outlast his own political clout," NPR News reports. But anecdotally at least, "even some Republicans who believe the false claims about widespread fraud in 2020 say that they were not swayed by Trump's endorsement in the governor's race."
Trump's obsession with 2020 is "a bit of a turn off at this point," former Trump voter Robert Duffy told NPR in Alpharetta, Georgia. "Why are we looking back at this point? I think it's deterring our efforts in the Republican Party to move forward."
"Trump's endorsement is less important than it was three months ago, and it will be even less important three months from now," Georgia conservative commentator Martha Zoller tells the Journal-Constitution. "People are more concerned with their ability to buy fuel and groceries than looking back to the 2020 election."
"Georgia underscores one of Trump's big problems if/when he runs again," tweeted Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) when he was House speaker. "He, of course, won't be able to let go of the 2020 nonsense, and nobody wants to hear his whining about it anymore."
With Kemp and Raffensperger's victories, "Trump lost two high-profile 'revenge' races in Georgia," the Brookings Institution's Kamarck writes. And "if Trump isn't a big winner in the heavily conservative and Republican states that have held primaries so far — where will he win?"