Georgia’s gubernatorial campaign is offering a glimpse into what state Republicans have known for a while: The Georgia Republican Party is President Donald Trump’s party.
Trump enjoys approval ratings as high as 85 to 90 percent among the most dedicated Republican voters: those likely to show up to the polls for the July 24 runoff between Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp.
When: July 24
Early voting: July 2-20
Support for Trump is shaping Georgia’s gubernatorial race, state politics and the position of Georgia lawmakers in the nation’s capital.
According to an internal poll from McLaughlin & Associates of Alexandria, Virginia, released by Cagle’s campaign, 91 percent of die-hard Republicans approve of Trump’s job performance.
And Cagle is banking on that support staying strong through the July 24 runoff. When Trump concluded his summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un this week, Cagle announced that the president should receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
“President Trump’s leadership has brought us to the precipice of peace with a longtime, dangerous foe — after many failed attempts in the past to bring North Korea to the negotiating table,” Cagle said in a Tuesday, June 12, announcement. “I know the liberal media will go to great lengths to put a negative spin on this progress, but if President Obama were still in office, they’d be clamoring to give him another Nobel Peace Prize.”
Kemp too praised Trump for his summit in Singapore, but stopped short of arguing the president should receive a Nobel Prize.
“Thanks to (Trump’s) leadership and out-of-the-box diplomacy, we are one step closer to a denuclearized North Korea and a safer future for our families, allies, and the world over,” Kemp said on Twitter on Tuesday.
The North Korean regime has promised to denuclearize more than a half-dozen times in the past.
Just before the summit with North Korea, Trump ignited a public fight with Canada on trade, railing on the nation for its huge tariffs on American dairy products.
Along with a war of words between Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — Trump called him “very dishonest and weak” and said he made “false statements” during the G7 summit in Quebec — Trump’s tariffs on certain Canadian imports has caused our northern neighbor to respond with its own, retaliatory tariffs to be levied in July.
Trade policy is one of the lasting deep divides in the Republican Party, and Sens. John McCain and Bob Corker have both called out the president over his tariffs.
But Georgia Sen. David Perdue, a staunch Trump ally in the Senate, remains on the president’s side on trade. He took to the Senate floor on Tuesday to criticize other senators for their comments on Trump’s tariffs.
“I’m tired of senators trying to undercut President Trump at every turn,” Perdue said, adding, “Like me, President Trump is an outsider to this political process. He is a business guy who spent his career successfully negotiating deals all over the world. For years, he has seen how American has often been treated unfairly when it comes to trade.”
Perdue staked out his position on Trump early. He’s made headlines since 2017 for his support of the president within the Senate.
And it’s not just Georgia Republicans who are getting the message from their voters: The president’s grasp on GOP politics was on display in several primary contests around the country on Tuesday, June 12.
In Virginia, Republican Corey Stewart won the party’s nomination to run against Sen. Tim Kaine, the Democrat who was Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016.
The controversial supporter of Trump beat more conventional Republicans for the nomination. Stewart has gone beyond simply defending Confederate monuments and the Confederate flag. The candidate has been documented by Virginia and national media attending a press conference with a white supremacist who organized the infamous Charlottesville protest, during which a woman was killed in a hit-and-run strike by a vehicle. Stewart was quoted blaming “both sides” for the violence.
Stewart’s win frustrated conventional Republicans in Virginia, a feeling captured by Republican strategist Brian Walsh on Twitter.
“Can we just skip past the part where the media focuses on all the idiotic, racist & embarrassing things Corey Stewart will say & do the next five months and just acknowledge Tim Kaine won his re-election tonight,” Walsh said. “And he has Stewart voters to thank for it.”
But for Trump, the Virginia nomination of a strident ally was encouraging.
“Congratulations to Corey Stewart for his great victory for Senator from Virginia. Now he runs against a total stiff, Tim Kaine, who is weak on crime and borders, and wants to raise your taxes through the roof,” Trump tweeted. “Don’t underestimate Corey, a major chance of winning!”
Most notable on Tuesday was the ouster of South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford, a Republican representing Charleston who until Tuesday had never lost a race in his state.
He was beaten in the primary by Katie Arrington, and there was one issue in the race: support for Trump.
Sanford has occasionally criticized Trump and fellow Republicans on conservative grounds, objecting to Republican positions on budgets and trade while representing Charleston.
It was his criticism of Trump that lost him the race against state lawmaker Arrington, an ardent and vocal Trump supporter in South Carolina.
Trump himself weighed in on the race on Twitter, issuing a cutting insult of Sanford on Tuesday when polls were still open.
“Mark Sanford has been very unhelpful to me in my campaign to MAGA,” Trump wrote, referring to his Make America Great Again mantra. “He is MIA and nothing but trouble. He is better off in Argentina. I fully endorse Katie Arrington for Congress in SC, a state I love.”
Trump’s dig at Sanford was a reference to the congressman’s time as governor of the state and his infamous affair with an Argentinian woman in 2009, earning him both censure from the South Carolina legislature and a divorce from his wife.
Sanford ended his term as governor in 2011 and was succeeded by Nikki Haley. He staged a comeback campaign two years later and won his election to the U.S. House of Representatives.
And there lies an example of Trump’s power over the Republican electorate: Sanford survived an ugly, public affair that made national headlines for weeks, finished his term as governor to go on and resurrect his political career as an influential congressman in D.C.
But he couldn’t survive being labeled an opponent of Trump, and he couldn’t survive a tweet from the president.
“We are the party of President Donald J. Trump,” Arrington said in her victory speech on Tuesday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.