Volunteers pulled out chairs to seat the growing audience of Republicans filing into the Spout Springs Library on Monday.
Six months since Donald Trump was elected, members of the South Hall Republican Club keep coming back to monthly meetings. In previous years, they’d be resting on their laurels after their party won the presidency and held on to the House and Senate.
They’re energized by an unconventional president and their first complete control of national government in a decade, and the leadership of the GOP is no longer comfortable on its laurels.
Hall County political groups even set up a rally for the president in Atlanta, an event called Trump United for America, organized by Lanier Tea Party Patriots Chairwoman Lucrecia Hughes.
“We did one downtown last month that went really well, and had a number of speakers at that to continue the movement and the encouragement of people to be involved, people to know the Constitution, and people to know their rights and protect their rights,” said Kimberly Pils, vice-chair of the Hall County GOP.
She said she’s seeing three sources of motivation in those turning out after Trump’s victory: the president himself, immigration and constitutional rights.
“I think people were encouraged by the Trump win. I know there was a big split within our party nationwide because of him, but I think people are seeing that he is trying,” she said. “People realize that there’s someone in the White House that is going to listen to us.”
And Trump has been a motivating factor for more than just the Republicans.
Six months since the national defeat that shocked the Democratic Party, the Hall County Democrats now have about 120 active members after membership dwindled into the single digits in the past few years. A young Democrats group has emerged from the Hall County Democrats, the Brenau University College Democrats and an organization called Georgians for Respect, Amity, Civility and Equality.
Ashley Childs, one of the creators of the Brenau College Democrats, said she didn’t pay attention to politics before the 2016 election.
“Once this election started going, I got more and more interested, and once Trump got elected, I got very interested,” Childs said.
As with many on the left, the Brenau student said she was afraid of what Trump, a firebrand and newcomer to politics, might do in office.
“I live in a sorority house in Brenau, and to see so many of my sisters crying and worried about themselves — because a lot of them are in the LGBT community, one has a father who is overseas right now. I have two Muslim sisters — to see them so concerned really concerned me,” she said.
GRACE is one of the “salons” that have sprung up as a response to Trump’s victory. It holds semi-regular meetings and public events that members say is reminiscent of the 2010 tea parties. One of its organizers also said the group is working to fight against what they see as a collapse of American values in the Trump era.
“The central point is that the progressive movement in the area wants to come up with a response not just to Trump, but the general direction of politics — it’s extremely polarized,” said Josh McCall, an organizer of GRACE and a announced Democratic challenger to U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, in the 2018 election.
“It’s really been an effective strategy for the conservative party to divide. We’re divided by black and white — they use Black Lives Matter as this wedge to drive a wedge between police and the community, between whites and blacks, we have Muslims versus Christians — that’s really what won the last election: the divisions and the lack of respect.”
McCall noted that he held an event about his campaign in late 2016 that attracted about five people. In April, his campaign announcement brought 120.
As with Trump United for America, GRACE held its own event on the Gainesville square in April, when it hosted speakers and presentations for activists and passers-by.
Unlike the efforts in the GOP, McCall was dismissive of the national Democratic Party, saying it was “in ruins” and “unplugged” from the rest of the groups in the country.
While the Democratic Party works through understanding its November loss, the Republican Party is adopting some of its traditional methods of winning elections, starting with organization.
A fire under the feet of political leaders, who are looking to extend political interest beyond the presidential election, is part of what’s keeping local residents involved.
“They think it’s good to keep the momentum going; let’s not lose this momentum like we have done in the past,” said Ana Adams-Wiley, activities chairwoman for the Republican Women of Hall and a University of North Georgia student. “The next presidential election that comes along, we’re more organized, we’re ready to go and we know who our volunteers are. We don’t have to be scrambling.”
It’s no surprise that political groups are looking to focus the energy of a presidential election on other causes and other races. In Hall County alone, more than 71,000 people voted in November. More than 50,000 people voted for Trump.
With a laundry list of state and national political goals within reach for the first time since 2006, Adams-Wiley said the Hall GOP has been encouraged by the interest in political activity in the era of Trump.
“It hasn’t stopped,” she said. “In fact, it’s strengthening. This momentum has really intensified.”