The size of the GOP incumbents’ victories in the Georgia primary results reflects a forward-looking Republican electorate that has moved beyond the 2020 elections and the disastrous loss of two Senate seats.
It was a turning-point election both for Republicans, who want to reverse those results, and Democrats, who have their work cut out for them if they hope to hold the Senate seat and gain the governorship.
But for former President Donald Trump, who has spent the past 18 months chasing an election victory that slipped through his hands, the Georgia primary election has been all about winning the state that was at the epicenter of his 2020 election defeat and cost Republicans the majority in the Senate.
While Trump remains a popular figure with many Republicans, for Georgia voters, this wasn’t an election about revenge or punishment. It was all about looking toward the future, not relitigating contentious past elections. With the country hammered by record inflation, Georgia Republicans have moved on, and Tuesday’s vote is the proof.
The size of the vote against the Trump-endorsed candidates makes it clear this was an intraparty fight that didn’t need to happen. Georgia alone didn’t cost Trump his reelection bid, but of all the heated contests this primary season, defeating the three top GOP state officials in Georgia has clearly been Trump’s priority. For more than a year, the former president has aimed his frustration and harsh rhetoric at Gov. Brian Kemp, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Attorney General Chris Carr, who he apparently blames for his loss in Georgia and the failure of his efforts to overturn the November results in the state.
He called Kemp “a disaster,” going so far as to suggest that Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams might be a better choice, telling a rally last September that if she wants to be governor, “It’s OK with me.”
Raffensperger, who refused to “find” the 11,780 votes Trump demanded in a post-election phone call, got rough treatment by the former president as well. In the same Save America rally, Trump described Raffensperger as a “RINO” (Republican in name only), as well as “incompetent and strange,” saying, “There’s something wrong with this guy.”
Because Carr decided after the November election against joining other Republican AGs trying to “stop the steal” through litigation, Trump hit him with a familiar attack, calling him a “disaster every step of the way.” “He wasn’t looking for election integrity,” Trump charged, “but rather an easy way out.”
But Tuesday night, Kemp, Raffensperger and Carr not only won their primaries, they won them handily, with all three officials avoiding primary runoffs.
Kemp beat former Sen. David Perdue by 73.7 percent to 21.8 percent, despite Trump’s strong endorsement of Perdue. Raffensperger won his race against Rep. Jody Hice by 52.3 percent to 33.4 percent. And Carr, like Kemp, swept to a huge victory, with 73.8 percent of the vote, over Trump’s choice, John Gordon.
Trump never understood that he lost Georgia not because of election fraud but because he underperformed. If he had simply matched the House GOP vote in Georgia, he would have won the state. House Republicans managed to “find” the “missing” 11,780 votes Trump needed to win and then some, beating Democratic House candidates collectively by more than 97,307 votes.
Sadly, Perdue just missed avoiding a runoff in November, beating Jon Ossoff by 88,098 votes, but finishing at 49.7 percent, just under the 50 percent cutoff. In fact, Perdue actually got more votes (2,462,617) than Trump did in the state in the general election (2,461,854).
But when Trump decided to make the Senate special elections all about his election loss in November, not the importance of winning these crucial Senate seats, Perdue made the wrong choice. He opted to get on Trump’s “stop the steal” bandwagon, apparently buying into the notion that Trump’s base vote was the key to victory.
Almost no one expected Democrats would win both Senate seats in January 2021. But Trump’s decision to pressure Kemp to call a special session of the legislature to stop the Electoral College certification process was an unfortunate tactical mistake. The president focused heavily on this in his speeches and statements during the special elections as he questioned the integrity of the election process itself. This turned the specials into a referendum on Trump and his view that the election had been stolen rather than on the qualifications and policies of the candidates.
As a result, Perdue got 90 percent of the vote he had received in the November election, while Ossoff got 96 percent of his vote. That turned Perdue’s advantage in the general election into a negative margin of 54,944 votes. Had he been able to match his performance in November, he would have been in the Senate today and Republicans would have a majority.
The ability of Kemp and other Republicans to achieve voting reform legislation in Georgia, despite withering criticism from liberal groups, Hollywood and corporate media, was just one more element in the political dynamics leading up to Tuesday’s primaries. Given the size of the turnout, Republicans’ claims that the legislation would enhance the electoral process seems to have been validated.
We saw a similar voter reaction in Virginia last year when then-candidate Glenn Youngkin focused his campaign on ideas for a better future, avoiding being drawn into Trump’s continuing battle relitigating the past. Youngkin did a remarkable job building a majority coalition. He was able to win by 2 percent, where Biden had won by 10 percent in 2020, despite the party and ideological makeup of the electorate staying virtually the same in both elections.
The voters in Georgia on Tuesday made the same choice in rejecting many of Trump’s endorsed candidates.
If there is any takeaway from the Georgia primaries, it is that people are tired of arguing about the past and an election that’s in the rear-view mirror. They’ve got bigger problems in front of them — inflation, the economy, education, crime, and, this week, the horror of a school shooting.
The seriousness of the times requires a focus on the future, and that was the message Georgia Republicans sent on Tuesday.
David Winston is the president of The Winston Group and a longtime adviser to congressional Republicans. He previously served as the director of planning for Speaker Newt Gingrich. He advises Fortune 100 companies, foundations, and nonprofit organizations on strategic planning and public policy issues, as well as serving as an election analyst for CBS News.