One Man’s Opinion, “A House Divided,” Tuesday, October 19, 2021
Over the years, I have had the honor and pleasure of assisting, staffing and supporting both Democratic and Republican candidates and officeholders, from the U.S. Senate and Georgia’s Governor’s office to sheriffs and local county commissions. There are certainly differences in philosophy and approach between the two major parties, but good people still exist and seek careers in public service on both sides of the aisle.
Georgia’s Republican Party had a long drought and ride to eventually becoming Georgia’s majority party. Growing up here in the 70’s and 80’s, the Georgia GOP won its first statewide contest with U.S. Senator Mack Mattingly in 1980. It would be November of 1992 before they would win statewide again with U.S. Senator-elect Paul Coverdell, and Public Service Commissioner Bobby Baker. During the rest of the 1990s the state became redder, politically speaking, first with a GOP Majority of its Congressional delegation in 1994, as Congressman Newt Gingrich swept into the Speaker’s office on the back of his “Contract with America” campaign. Other statewide wins would follow and the Governor’s office began to become competitive. In 2002, then State Senator Sonny Perdue would score an upset win over incumbent Governor Roy Barnes, as then 8th District Congressman Saxby Chambliss ousted popular Democratic incumbent, U.S. Senator Max Cleland (D-Atlanta).
But beginning with the campaign for the Presidency by U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton in 2016, that GOP lock on the northern suburbs began to crumble. Demographic shifts were accompanied by a dramatic shift right on numerous social issues, chasing off moderates, independents, Libertarian, and many nonpartisan voters who had leaned or voted in close contests for the GOP nominee. During 2016, 2018, and most recently 2020, the GOP has witnessed its share of the vote in the top 10 most populous counties, all surrounding metro Atlanta, continue to decline. Among the top 10 in 2020, only Cherokee and Forsyth counties went red in the Presidential contest. This would tell most political strategists and tacticians that the party might want to reconsider pitching that Big Tent so often described by President Ronald Reagan, with room available not only for Reagan Democrats and Libertarians, but fiscal conservatives, business folks (Chamber of Commerce Republicans) and even the many RHINOs now so often derided by longtime GOP activists. The ‘GOP Grassroots’ as they are called received their most recent and significant landscaping around the creation of the Tea Party in 2010.
Without too heavily stereotyping, much of this group remains enthralled with former President Donald J. Trump, and the most popular applause line on the campaign trail this cycle involves some variation on “Stop the Steal,” referring to numerous unproven and outright fraudulent election conspiracy theories and allegations of wrongdoing or ‘nothing doing by Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan in the aftermath of the November 2020 General Election.
During the November 2020 General Election, the GOP lost one Congressional seat, came in second in one of the U.S. Senate contests and picked up seats in both the State House and State Senate. It was not an election cycle for statewide Constitutional offices. But other than the Trump contest lost to Joe Biden by a few hundred votes less than 12,000, Georgia’s GOP had a very good night. Apparently an evening they may choose to replay over and over straight out of the majority.
Georgia’s GOP, once a proponent of leaner government, greater transparency, running government more like a business, and leaving room for a broad array of opinion and points of view, has devolved almost into a mono-syllabic chanting society, looking backward versus forward, and conducting a never-ending series of circular firing squads, often with its own well-established officeholders and incumbents taking that fire. Go figure.
This should be a year for re-calibrating, potentially broadening appeal and solidifying of power for Georgia’s GOP, but as President Abraham Lincoln once said about our nation, a house divided against itself cannot long endure, and the current GOP rank and file appear more intent on taking out each other than taking on a powerful ticket topped by incumbent U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock (D-Atlanta), and most likely vote-getting goliath Stacey Abrams in a rematch with Governor Brian Kemp. If the GOP doesn’t change direction and start looking forward instead of backward, they will have only themselves to blame for what may become devastating losses up and down the ballot next fall.