ATLANTA (AP) — The Republican convention in the state of Georgia kicks off Friday with Donald Trump still expected on Saturday, even as a right-wing party faction seeks to punish GOP officials it sees as ideological traitors to them. banning future primary elections.
Trump could harbor an air of revenge after announcing on Thursday that he had been indicted for mishandling classified documents, overshadowing party business and speakers including Republican presidential candidates Asa Hutchinson and Vivek Ramaswamy.
The proposal to ban candidates could be used to penalize elected Republican leaders, including Gov. Brian Kemp or Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who ran through Trump refusing the then president’s demands to reverse his defeat. in the 2020 elections. It could also be used against candidates who show insufficient purity on abortion or taxes.
Kemp, Raffensperger and a few other officials skip the two-day rally in Columbus.
The proposals could be snuffed out, with opponents saying primary voters should decide who is fit to be a Republican. While ideological purists try to relentlessly shift Republicans to the right, pragmatists say it’s a strategy to lose the Georgia battleground general election.
Jack Kingston, a former Georgia congressman who ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 2014, said it’s a “bubble” for any Republican to presume to set boundaries for the party.
“These things never work,” he said of the party’s attempts at purity. “And that’s just plain insane, because you can’t grow the party without having at least a few moderates who wouldn’t fit some people’s definition of a good Republican.”
Saturday will be Trump’s first visit to Georgia since March 2022, when he backed candidates challenging Kemp and other Republicans. Most of Trump’s picks have lost in their primaries. Whoever was nominated, Senate candidate Herschel Walker, was plagued by scandal and lost a runoff to Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock.
Trump said he will face a court appearance in Florida next week in the documents case as he continues to be investigated elsewhere, including in Georgia. Atlanta-based prosecutor Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is investigating whether Trump unlawfully interfered in the 2020 election and has suggested charging decisions will come in August.
But Trump’s legal troubles hide another Georgian legacy: the rift he drove between Kemp and the state party. Trump had endorsed Kemp in the Georgian’s successful run for governor in 2018, but their relationship was already souring when Kemp rejected Trump’s call to overturn President Joe Biden’s narrow victory.
Kemp, Republican Attorney General Chris Carr and others blamed incumbent State Party Chairman David Shafer, who faces his own legal danger after 2020, saying Shafer sided with Trump and has undermined Republican incumbents in 2022. They’re boycotting the convention.
Kemp is trying to project national influence to steer Republicans away from Trump, arguing that grievances and a retrograde focus on the 2020 election will push voters away. But the belief that someone stole the election from Trump in Georgia, despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, has led to a new wave of activists taking over Georgia’s party.
The decision to give a speaking slot to Kari Lake, Ariz., a staunch Trump supporter who continues to deny she lost her governor’s race last year, is symbolic of the unwavering support for campaigner assertiveness. stolen. Lake will appear in place of former Vice President Mike Pence, also a presidential candidate, who canceled a speech Friday at the convention.
Kemp has stopped being subtle in attacking Trump, even as polls show Trump as the leader in the 2024 nomination.
“Taking our country back from Joe Biden doesn’t start with congratulating North Korea’s murderous dictator,” Kemp tweeted on June 2, joining Republican presidential hopefuls in slamming Trump for praising North Korea’s Kim Jong Un for the country’s appointment to the board of directors of the World Health Organization.
Candidates for Shafer’s succession say they will try to mask Georgia’s divisions, betting the desire to defeat Biden in 2024 can serve as glue.
“The goal here is not to shoot people. The goal here is to get Republicans elected,” said Josh McKoon, a former state senator running for president.
But those seeking to uphold Republican ideals say the party must be more than a cheerleader.
“Why do we allow people to run under Republican banners that betray our principles? Alex Johnson, speaker of the right-wing Georgia Republican Assembly, asked Wednesday during an online talk show.
Johnson’s plan would allow the state convention to vote to bar individuals from the Republican primary ballot in future years. There is no proposed standard for what deserves a ban, although Johnson and his fellow GRA members say bans should be used against officials who flout the party platform.
“If they’re scared of being taken off the ballot as Republicans, they’ll do a lot better,” Johnson said.
Such a move would likely be challenged under Georgia law, which says parties cannot block primary candidates who follow “rules of procedure” and sign a party loyalty oath. Johnson and others argue that U.S. Supreme Court rulings guaranteeing freedom of political association outweigh any legal hurdles.
But Debbie Dooley, an activist who fought Kemp, said “it’s wrong for a handful of people to decide who can run as a Republican.”
“I think Republican voters in the Republican primary area should be the ones to determine who the GOP nominee is,” Dooley said.
If successful, the rule could erode Kemp and others’ ability to end the party. A recent state law allows Kemp and certain other officials to raise unlimited amounts of money and coordinate with campaigns, once key party functions. Kemp retained his political operation after his re-election and formed a federal political action committee to influence the congressional and presidential races.
Kingston said the party’s core identity — small government conservatism and a distaste for central authority — necessarily breeds such fights.
GOP icon Ronald Reagan challenged President Gerald Ford in a deadly primary in 1976. Georgia’s 1988 state convention dissolved amid fighting between supporters of Pat Robertson and George HW Bush . Tea Party-era delegates in 2011 booed Gov. Nathan Deal and rejected his choice for party leader the same way Kemp was booed at the 2021 convention in the 2020 election.
And then came Trump.
“We’ve all seen Trump win as the ultimate outsider in Washington,” Kingston said, “but we’ve had this anti-establishment part of the party for a long time.”
Able to laugh it off now, Kingston felt the stinging reality himself in his failed Senate bid. As a 22-year veteran of Congress, “I had a 100% rating from all conservative groups,” from abortion opponents to deficit hawks and anti-tax groups. But he lost a primary to then-corporate executive David Perdue “because I became ‘the guy from Washington’.”
“There’s just no compromise with some of these people,” Kingston said.