Georgia GOP's Support of Trump Could Cost State Races in 2022, Some Party Members Warn

Georgia Republicans have seen infighting after former President Donald Trump's rally last month, when he criticized Republican Governor Brian Kemp, angering Kemp supporters who fear it could hurt party chances in state races in 2022, the Associated Press reported.

Kemp has yet to fully accept Trump's ongoing election fraud claims, and Trump's smear campaign of Kemp resembles how Trump targeted other state Republican party officials who did not try to overturn his loss.

"He wants to torpedo Brian Kemp," said James Hall, a state Republican Party committee member from Savannah.

At the rally in Perry, Trump repeatedly called Kemp "a disaster," and suggested that he'd prefer Democrat Stacey Abrams as governor.

However, Hall and party members fear a replay of the 2021 U.S. Senate runoffs when Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock beat Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler as turnout in that election fell more in Republican areas than Democratic ones.

Hall blamed Trump's election fraud narrative, saying it "scares people away from the polls." Trump's endorsements of certain primary candidates could end up hurting the GOP.

For more reporting by the Associated Press, see below.

Trump attacks Georgia Gov. Kemp
Former President Donald Trump called Governor Brian Kemp “a disaster" during a rally in the state last month. Above, Kemp takes questions from the media at the Georgia state Capitol in Atlanta. Elijah Nouvelage/AP Photo

Buzz Brockway, a former Republican state representative who lost a primary bid for secretary of state in 2018, agrees. "It's a suicidal cult. That's what's happening," he said. "It's not hurting the Democrats."

Others think harnessing the energy of right-leaning voters who are "really dissatisfied" with President Joe Biden will be more important in 2022 for the Republican party than distancing itself from Trump's damaging rhetoric.

"When President Trump says something tongue-in-cheek about Brian Kemp, I don't think anybody really cares," said Marci McCarthy, who chairs the GOP in the Democrat-dominated Atlanta suburb of DeKalb County. "I think more people are concerned about their everyday living."

Kemp partisans are particularly angry at state Republican Party Chairman David Shafer, who introduced the rally. Critics say Shafer violated party bylaws requiring him to not pick sides in primaries by appearing at an event during which Trump repeated his endorsement of several candidates. The state party also raised money for itself by selling VIP tickets to the rally.

Shafer, who continues to echo Trump's false fraud claims and call for an additional audit of Georgia's results, said Monday that it was Trump's event, not the party's.

"When we accept a contribution or sponsorship from a Republican candidate to speak at an event, that does not mean we are endorsing the candidate or agreeing with everything the politician says," Shafer wrote in a letter to state committee members after Hall and others complained.

His critics say it was foreseeable that Trump would attack Kemp. But Shafer said he's focused on recruiting volunteers and raising money to support a unified party after the primary.

"My job is to emphasize the areas of agreement and not the areas of disagreement with other Republicans," Shafer said. "We can't win divided. We've got to pull everyone back together, and that's what I'm going to do."

With Trump loyalists flooding in at the grassroots and increasingly controlling party machinery, many Kemp supporters are out of power, and it's unclear if their complaints will get any traction. Days after the rally, the local Republican Party in Cobb County—a onetime GOP stronghold that has swung sharply toward Democrats in recent years—censured Kemp for not doing enough to stop illegal immigration.

Former Cobb GOP chair Jason Shepherd resigned from the county party committee after the resolution passed.

"The Cobb Republican Party, when it should be preparing to challenge Democrats, is instead fighting Republicans," said Shepherd, who lost a bid against Shafer this summer to lead the state party.

More than a dozen county Republican parties have censured Kemp on some grounds this year, as did the 7th Congressional District GOP.

The Cobb County Young Republicans released a statement condemning their county party's move and saying the group would support Kemp.

Although Trump has endorsed Herschel Walker for U.S. Senate, state Senator Burt Jones for lieutenant governor and U.S. Representative Jody Hice for secretary of state, he hasn't been able to line up a candidate for governor.

Democrat-turned-Republican Vernon Jones spoke at Trump's rally, but the former president hasn't given Jones the nod, despite Jones building his campaign around claims that Trump was defrauded in the 2020 election and courting Trump-aligned figures including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former New York Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik.

Trump supporters over the summer talked up the possible candidacy of the obscure mayor of a small Georgia town. Trump's PAC later commissioned a poll that showed Perdue could beat Kemp in a Republican primary if Trump endorsed Perdue. The former president added fuel to that fire at his Georgia rally when he pointed out Perdue among a clutch of Republican Party leaders.

"Are you running for governor, David?" Trump asked. "Did I hear he's running?"

For now, though, Kemp remains the favorite to be the Republican nominee next year—even though it appears equally likely that he will continue to be dogged by Trump. Kemp supporters, at least, are tired of indulging the former president's taste for revenge.

"We're giving a huge microphone to a guy who is criticizing our people and that's how we're going to slit our throats in 2022," Hall said.