Commentary

Bookman: Trump’s moment of truth for Georgia GOP at Perry rally was a warning shot

October 7, 2021 1:00 am

Columnist Jay Bookman says when former President Donald Trump told a throng at a rally in Perry last month that he’d rather Stacey Abrams occupy the Georgia governor’s mansion than Republican incumbent Brian Kemp, he meant what he said. Sean Rayford/Getty Images

In a strange way, Donald Trump is the most honest politician I have ever witnessed.

He’s also the most dishonest, of course.  He’ll lie about almost anything, shamelessly, without regard to truth or even plausibility. But it’s funny: He does not lie, almost cannot lie, about his emotions, about his deepest wants and needs. Even when it would do him well to lie about such things, his primal instinct to yell “I want!” pushes him to blurt the truth.

The truth is, he really wanted Brad Raffensperger to find him 11,800 votes, and he told him so. He wanted the Ukrainian president to announce an investigation of Joe Biden. He wanted Mike Pence to subvert the Constitution. And he wants the voters of Georgia to send Brian Kemp packing.

So no, Trump was neither lying or exaggerating last month when he told a rally down in Perry that he hopes Democrat Stacey Abrams defeats incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp next year. “Having her, I think, might be better than having your existing governor, if you want to know what I think,” Trump told the crowd, later adding that if Abrams takes Kemp’s job, “It’s OK with me.”

That was a stupid thing to say. It damaged Trump, it damaged Kemp, it damaged the state Republican Party. But it was also the plain, honest truth: Trump truly doesn’t care about Georgia Republicans losing the governor’s mansion; in fact, he hopes they do. He also doesn’t care about splitting the party or what it does to GOP candidates up and down the ticket. What he cares about is personal vengeance. And on Election Night of 2022, if Kemp is defeated, that sly smirk of satisfaction, of revenge publicly exacted, will spread across Trump’s face and for a moment he will be whatever passes for happy in his disturbed mind.

Not surprisingly, a lot of Republicans were shocked and angered by Trump’s remarks, so shocked and angered that one or two even dared to say so, in public. But they should be prepared for even worse in the months to come. Trump clearly intends to be a major player in Georgia.  Of all the states he lost in 2020, he seems to have taken his loss in Georgia most personally. His ego just cannot conceive of the fact that he lost a state supposedly this red, this conservative, and he needs someone else to blame.

In addition, Trump has worked hard to recruit Herschel Walker to run for the U.S. Senate next year against Raphael Warnock. I have my doubts whether Walker will really carry through with the grueling campaign under a harsh media spotlight, and I don’t think those pushing his candidacy have Walker’s health or his best interests at heart. They are using him, not helping him.

However, if Walker really carries through with the campaign, then he becomes Trump’s surrogate, and Trump cannot allow his handpicked candidate to lose.  A defeat for Walker, particularly in the GOP primary, would be utterly humiliating for Trump, calling into question his death grip on the GOP electorate not just here but nationwide.

So between now and the May primary, the former president will probably be back in the state multiple times, and after his Perry performance, you have to believe that at every rally and every campaign stop, he will lash out in some way against Kemp and to a lesser degree Raffensperger, the two men who have become Trump’s scapegoats.

In a close race, continued attacks on Kemp would be more than enough to throw the election to Abrams. In a close race, using the 2022 state campaign to relitigate the 2020 presidential outcome would also benefit Democrats, just as it benefitted Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the January runoffs.

But honestly, Trump just doesn’t care.

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Jay Bookman
Jay Bookman

Jay Bookman covered Georgia and national politics for nearly 30 years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, earning numerous national, regional and state journalism awards. He has been awarded the National Headliner Award and the Walker Stone Award for outstanding editorial writing, and is the only two-time winner of the Pulliam Fellowship granted by the Society of Professional Journalists. He is also the author of "Caught in the Current," published by St. Martin's Press.

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