On Wednesday, Gov. Brian Kemp tapped business executive Kelly Loeffler to fill the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Johnny Isakson in defiance of President Donald Trump. Trump and his surrogates made it crystal clear that they wanted Kemp to choose Trump’s second-favorite Georgia sycophant, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins (R-Gainesville), for the seat, but Kemp stood firm, and he was right to do so. It was a smart, bold move, but it will not accomplish what the governor hopes it will.
Kudos to the governor for making two astute political calculations and reacting to reality, something Republicans in the age of Trump have been reluctant to do.
No. 1: suburban women have been sprinting away from the Republican party like it’s a dumpster on fire, because ... well ... currently, the Republican party is a dumpster fire.
It’s no great revelation to point out that the Georgia GOP has a suburban women problem, and Kemp sees Kelly Loeffler as a way to stop the bloodletting. In his 2018 bid to become governor, then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp – despite all of his voter roll purges, “exact match” voter registration shenanigans and voting machine irregularities (has anyone found the 100,000 missing votes from the lieutenant governor race yet?) – squeaked out a 50,000-vote victory over Stacey Abrams. Kemp lost in eight of the state’s 10 most-populous counties and lost independent women voters by almost 20 points.
No. 2: having seen Trump campaign hard for two gubernatorial losers in deep-red Kentucky and Louisiana recently, Kemp sees electoral value in telling Trump to go pound sand in a state that will be Prince-ly purple in 2020.
Kemp can pay lip service to Trump in press releases, but he knows that when the rubber meets the Georgia asphalt, Trump is political poison here, so Kemp has more to gain and less to lose by standing up to Trump.
Now for the bad news. It won’t work.
I’m sure that Ms. Loeffler is a wonderful Bitcoin mogul and WNBA franchise owner, but she has zero public service experience. She is another Gordon Sondland swamp-thing using her immense wealth to buy political influence and a seat at the table. Not a good look at this point in time.
For the credit I give Kemp for defying Trump and making an effort to address a gaping wound in his party with suburban women, that effort is way too little, way too late, which makes the pick of Loeffler look desperate and cynical. The state has changed too quickly, and that horse has left the barn.
Using Forsyth County’s 7th Congressional District as a prime example, our current congressman, Rob Woodall, chose to retire rather than face certain defeat in 2020. Before his whisker-thin, 400-vote win over Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux in 2018, the five-term congressman had rarely ever faced a Democratic challenger at all, and when he did, he won by double digits.
No more. The National Republican Congressional Committee has all but abandoned the 7th district in search of more winnable races.
No one questions Brian Kemp’s conservative bona fides, which makes the furor over Kelly Loeffler from the Trump TV propaganda machine so laughable. Kemp is not giving Johnny Isakson’s seat to Elizabeth Warren. I’m sure Loeffler is just as Trumpian as Kemp, which is why the pick is so cynical. Women are not deserting the GOP because the party doesn’t have female Trumps on Capitol Hill. They are deserting the GOP because the Trump party enacts policies and positions that are insulting, degrading, offensive and oppressive to women.
Kemp cannot, on one hand, attempt to legislate away a woman’s right to control her own body and stand with a president who tears families apart, puts children in cages, dismisses victims of sexual assault and have affairs with porn stars (and pays them to keep quiet) but on the other hand throw out a Kelly Loeffler to say, “I’m perfectly OK with all of this and happy with my place in the Trump patriarchy, ladies! Why aren’t you?” For a party that loves to whine about identity politics at every turn, it doesn’t get any more pandering than that.
So, nice try, governor. It was a valiant effort, but Georgia’s suburban women are not going to fall for it.
Steve Smith is a husband, father, artist and progressive. Steve serves on the executive board of The Forsyth County Democratic Committee. Follow him on Twitter @FoCoSteve.