Bookman: Collins and Loeffler now compete to show fealty to Trump

Our columnist Jay Bookman says U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, unlike new U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, already has a long track record of shameless, irrational support for Trump. Alex Wong/Getty Images

As part of the purchase price for her U.S. Senate seat, Kelly Loeffler committed to spending $20 million of her own money to help keep it in Republican hands. But of course, money is just money. When you’re as rich as Loeffler, there’s always more coming your way.

However, the costliest part of the bargain made by Loeffler can’t be measured in dollars and cents. To get and hold her seat, Loeffler also had to agree to surrender any semblance of political independence and integrity. She had to be willing to pledge her total loyalty to Donald J. Trump, regardless of circumstance, regardless of what he has done in the past, regardless of what he might say or do in the future. And once you’re willing to make that kind of commitment to the likes of Trump, you never stop paying and you never recover the cost.

Nonetheless, Loeffler has proved herself willing. Back in 2012, she and her husband donated more than $1.5 million to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, and they spoke of Romney as a good friend. Yet this week, after Romney suggested that he might vote to call witnesses in Trump’s impeachment trial, Loeffler hung her “friend” out to dry in a tweet:

“After 2 weeks, it’s clear that Democrats have no case for impeachment. Sadly, my colleague @SenatorRomney wants to appease the left by calling witnesses who will slander the @realDonaldTrump during their 15 minutes of fame. The circus is over. It’s time to move on!”

New Georgia U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler Loeffler must defend her seat in the election this fall. Earlier in January she made an appearance at the Wild Hog Supper in Atlanta, an annual reunion for Georgia lawmakers returning for the legislative session. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

There’s something sad and broken about that tweet. Loeffler could easily have taken another direction. She could have just expressed her opposition to calling John Bolton and other eyewitnesses, reiterated her backing for Trump, and then left it at that. But in her courtship of Trump and his followers, that wouldn’t be good enough. To prove her loyalty, she had to throw her former friend under the bus, by name, in public, by accusing Romney of wanting “to appease the left.”

And of course, it hasn’t worked as well as she probably hoped. Loeffler must defend her seat in the election this fall, and her desperate attempt to sidle up to Trump has also been an attempt to keep a fellow Republican, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, out of the race. In his announcement Wednesday, Collins made clear what his approach will be:

“We’re in for the Georgia Senate race. I’ve still got a lot of work left to do to help this president. We’re getting ready for a good time down here to keep defending this president and working for the people of Georgia.”

Unlike Loeffler, Collins already has a long track record of shameless, heedless, even irrational support for Trump, so shameless that Trump himself has noticed and smiled upon him. And why do I say irrational? Here’s the most recent example:

On Sunday, Collins went on Fox News, defending Trump by claiming that “there was no firsthand witnesses that actually said the president did anything wrong.” A few hours later, news broke that Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, had written in an upcoming book that Trump personally instructed him not to release military aid to Ukraine until Ukraine coughed up “dirt” on Joe Biden.

There it was, the missing link: firsthand, eyewitness testimony of a quid pro quo.

So on Monday, Collins went on Fox again, this time to discuss Bolton. “The question really becomes this: Is it new information? Not really,” Collins said. In 24 hours, he went from claiming “no firsthand witnesses” to “firsthand witnesses are nothing new.”

Loeffler was appointed to her Senate seat by Gov. Brian Kemp in hopes that she might soften the party’s harsh image, particularly among suburban women voters angered and outraged by Trump. Those hopes are pretty much dashed now. Loeffler has money and incumbency; Collins has the GOP base and first call on Trump’s loyalties, fickle though they are. Over the next nine months, each will be leveraging those advantages, seeking to prove to the Trump base that they can be counted upon to support Great Leader no matter what.

And everybody outside that base will be shaking their heads in disbelief.