This week’s Courier Herald column:
Republicans finished their unsettled nominating business last Tuesday, selecting “outsider” David Perdue as their choice for U.S. Senate, Richard Woods for State School Superintendent, and a host of others for State House, Senate, and other local offices. While the candidates are now settled, a few questions remain about the party itself.
While most county, district, and state GOP bylaws prohibit official endorsements, it’s safe to say that Jack Kingston was the choice of those that make up the party establishment. That extends well beyond the pejorative use of the term used by Tea Party leaders and talk radio hosts. In fact, it extends to their doorstep.
The leaders of Georgia’s most prominent Tea Party organization and RedState.com Editor & WSB radio Host Erick Erickson sided with the same candidate as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the bulk of the Georgia GOP’s finance team.
Kingston also managed official endorsements and campaign efforts and appearances from Karen Handel and Congressman Phil Gingrey. Election day brought word that even Paul Broun considered Kingston “the Conservative choice”. (As a reminder, I – equally inconsequentially – also endorsed Jack.)
It seemed that everyone was behind Jack Kingston. Everyone – except a majority of the voters.
Perdue matched Kingston’s organization and fundraising prowess with a healthy personal investment and the aid of a SuperPAC which wasn’t bound by individual candidate fundraising limits. Rather than appealing individually to the people that like to show up at GOP events and scream “we are the grassroots!”, Perdue instead took to the airwaves with excellent commercials that tapped into the skepticism of “career politicians”. Kingston had the self-described grassroots. Perdue has the nomination.
Another potential set of issues for Republicans comes from the results of the State School Superintendent’s race. With one of the most stark contrasts between candidates in any race, Republicans decided to choose Richard Woods over Mike Buck by just over 700 votes out of almost 400,000 votes cast.
The results show Republicans as indifferent as they are divided. Roughly 85,000 more people voted for a Republican for U.S. Senate than bothered to choose between the two candidates for State School Superintendent. Perhaps the voters shouldn’t be blamed. Maybe the candidates should be blamed for not having the personal net worth to invest in a prolonged statewide advertising campaign.
Perhaps this is the expected evolution of Georgia’s GOP – one that can’t seem to be anti-establishment enough these days. What way better to be anti-establishment than to nominate as the party’s standard bearer the one who circumvented every organized part of the GOP establishment spectrum?
Well, the party could have chosen as their First Vice Chair a person who voted for Obama in 2008 then refused to support Mitt Romney when voting as a delegate to the RNC in 2012 nor vote for him at the ballot box later. That almost happened at the last Georgia GOP convention.
There are many within the active establishment of Georgia Republicans whose sole rallying cry is being “anti-establishment”. It’s a symptom of being a supermajority. Those that want power must gain it by taking it where they can. For the past 12 years, that’s been within the GOP.
And yet, while Georgia Republicans have spent the past several cycles solely focused on themselves, the Democratic party has gone from a laughingstock that couldn’t pay the utility bills at their party HQ to one that now has national Democrats seeing purple. Democrats are taking November in Georgia seriously. There remains an open question if Republicans even know how.
For all the talk of “unity” that we will see for the coming weeks, Republicans have the stark realization that everything they know how to use to influence an election was just used to nominate Jack Kingston – but didn’t. On the one issue that divides Republicans on education – Common Core – The voters were evenly split, with almost one in five not even interested in making a decision.
In short, the Republicans who have spent the last 12 years honing an inward focus don’t even know how to motivate themselves via their grassroots, party, and Tea Party infrastructure – combined. Money from an outsider can trump all of that, ignoring all GOP related activities as white noise.
Now comes a November general election the likes of which Republicans have not seen since we have been in a majority. There are top tier Democratic candidates with deep Georgia political pedigrees. There will be enough funding from out of state interest groups on both sides to make swing state Ohio jealous. And there will be independent voters hanging in the balance.
Independent voters. The ones that have been systematically driven away from GOP intraparty gatherings because they didn’t conform, or didn’t agree with those shouting “we are the base” the loudest. And now, suddenly, these are the votes that count.
Self-reflection is a wonderful thing. For the GOP, we’ll have to decide if less than 100 days from an election is the time to do that. We’ll likely figure out that maybe, just maybe, we’ve been influencing those that will decide this election this entire time. But, unfortunately, we may have been doing that wrong this whole time.