In the end it was just a reality show too far, the idea that U.S. Rep. Doug Collins could be lured away from a confrontation with U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler with the sourest plum in Washington, the job of national intelligence director.
It isn’t clear how serious President Trump was last week when he mentioned Collins as one of the people he was considering to permanently fill the post he had temporarily filled the day before, when he named U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell acting national intelligence director. Grenell replaced the former acting director, Joseph Maguire, who was said to have fallen out of favor when his aides briefed the House Intelligence Committee about Russian involvement in the 2020 election.
Passing fancy or not, Collins lost no time in putting it to rest. The next morning in an interview with Fox’s Maria Bartiromo he said that it was “humbling” to be considered for such an important job.
“But let me just tell you right now,” he quickly added, “I know the problems of the intelligence community, but this is not a job that interests me and at this time it’s not one that I’d accept.”
When someone who has tied himself to the president as closely as Collins rejects it out of hand, you know Trump has a hard job to fill.
Listing his Washington accomplishments in the interview, Collins said that he had “fought against the intelligence community.” That’s both a reason why he was on Trump’s short list and why the job is so hard to fill. It involves a wired-in antagonism toward the people a director supervises, in some of the most difficult and dangerous work anyone in government does.
It’s interesting that Collins rejected the offer without any apparent worry that it would have any repercussions among Trump voters. He knows those voters. He and Loeffler are going to continue to skirmish with each other about who is most loyal to Trump, but Collins has made the calculation that he gets a pass on this one.
Radio conservative Erick Erickson wrote in a Sunday Macon Telegraph column that he found it aggravating that there is a race with “two good candidates with identical views on the issues claiming we cannot trust the other.”
But there is likely to be a lot more of the same, now that vital questions of national intelligence have been dealt with.
The Democrats aren’t coalescing quickly, either. Former U.S. Attorney Ed Tarver, resisting pressure from Democrats here and in Washington who have lined up behind the Rev. Raphael Warnock, formally announced his entrance in the race last week, joining Warnock and Matt Lieberman.
Next week is the five-day qualifying period for all races, which sometimes produces a surprise or two. We think we know all the cards on the table in the Senate race, but a race like this, a race with lots of sparks coming off it, can have a kind of magnetic attraction. The jungle primary could grow even larger by the time qualifying week ends.
There’s no doubt that Loeffler’s get-to-know-me ads are helping her to build name recognition, but even in these she seems a little stiff. Not Bloomberg stiff, but she doesn’t have as much money as Bloomberg, either.
Loeffler has put serious resources into establishing that she’s as reliably conservative as Collins would be, reminding us several times a day that Washington is “even worse than you thought.” The real question for her campaign is whether that money buys her anything else: Will it attract more moderate suburban voters who might be turned off by Collins?
For a few weeks in March, Georgia’s twin Senate races will be overshadowed by the passing parade of the March 24 Democratic Presidential Primary. California Sen. Kamala Harris announced her support for Warnock this week, and we may see some of the Democrats still in the presidential race weigh in before the vote.
At the same time, we’re not seeing any effort from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to tip the scale in the Democratic primary to see who opposes U.S. Sen. David Perdue. That contrast could become more glaring as the campaign goes on.
Tom Baxter is a veteran Georgia journalist who writes for The Saporta Report.