In mid-September, Georgia Republican Party Chairman David Shafer convened a private meeting of the state GOP’s executive committee and claimed Gov. Brian Kemp was refusing to investigate clear evidence of massive voting irregularities in the 2020 election.

Twelve weeks later, former Sen. David Perdue initiated a primary challenge against Kemp, accusing the governor of turning a blind eye to voter fraud in Georgia that cost former President Donald Trump reelection. For Republican insiders in Georgia, especially Kemp allies, Shafer’s comments and other maneuvering in the run-up to Perdue’s campaign are unmistakable proof he is disregarding his duty as state GOP chairman to remain neutral in what quickly developed into a bitter intraparty feud.

Republicans in the Georgia Senate, many of them Kemp partisans, told Shafer as much earlier this fall, before Perdue entered the race for governor, during a caucus meeting held behind closed doors. The state senators told Shafer to cut it out. Legislators who confirmed the tongue-lashing said Shafer was told that “he was violating his duties as party chairman and biasing” candidates running for office in competitive 2022 primaries that have been endorsed by Trump.

“That didn’t seem to change anything because he’s still helping Trump candidates,” including Perdue, a high-ranking Georgia Republican said Friday, requesting anonymity to speak candidly.

Back in mid-September, during the meeting of the state GOP executive committee, Shafer alleged Kemp had dismissed the solid evidence of voter fraud backed up by an eyewitness he had presented in the spring and that the governor refused to let the Georgia Bureau of Investigation look into the matter. But a Republican who participated in the virtual meeting said there were inconsistencies in Shafer’s story. Some executive committee members believe the chairman had ulterior motives.


“Everybody knows he’s backing Perdue,” the Republican who participated in the executive committee meeting said. “He was doing it to cast doubt on Gov. Kemp. There’s no other reason in my mind for why he had done that.”

Shafer denies playing favorites in the gubernatorial primary. “We are neutral in contested primaries and focused on the general election. I would encourage all of our gubernatorial candidates to make the case for how they will unite the party to defeat Stacey Abrams in November,” he said in a statement provided to the Washington Examiner. Abrams, the Democrat who lost to Kemp in 2018, is running for governor again in the midterm elections.

Trump claims the 2020 election was stolen and that President Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia, the first for a Democratic nominee since 1992, was illegitimate. And the former president blames Kemp, saying the governor could have prevented it. To exact revenge, Trump is backing Perdue in the primary, having encouraged the former senator, who lost reelection in a Jan. 5 runoff to now-Sen. Jon Ossoff, a Democrat, to challenge his longtime political ally.

Veteran Republican operatives in Georgia, including those with ties to Kemp, are speculating that Shafer’s subtle efforts to boost Perdue have little to do with a political preference for the former senator.

Rather, the chairman’s jockeying has everything to do with a desire to avoid conflict with Trump, who remains quite popular among grassroots conservatives. Many GOP insiders in the state are also convinced Shafer is desperate to avoid blame for Trump’s loss and the loss of two Senate seats on his watch in the same election cycle. In the second runoff election Jan. 5, now-Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, ousted appointed Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler.

“I don’t know that Shafer’s a David Perdue person, but he’s certainly a Donald Trump person, and if you’re on Kemp’s team, you have the right to be skeptical of the decisions he makes,” said a Republican strategist in Georgia who is not involved in the governor’s race. A Georgia GOP official doubted Shafer would ever cross the line with overt support for Perdue, which would violate his charge to remain neutral in the primary.

But this same official predicted Shafer would engage “in the soft things we all know” to innocently boost Perdue’s candidacy, such as “talking to people on side, or lining up folks to see David.”

Shafer, 56, is a former state senator who ran for lieutenant governor in 2018. He was considered the front-runner in the GOP primary but lost after a late surge by the eventual winner, now-Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who is among the Republicans besides Kemp who Trump blames for his loss in Georgia. Republican insiders in the Peach State describe Shafer as a savvy operator who will do what is necessary for political survival.

If Shafer believes working under the radar to boost Perdue is required to remain in Trump’s good graces, he will do that. Some Republicans say Shafer has yet to make any such moves but say that test will come next year when Trump presumably holds rallies in Georgia to campaign for Perdue. If Shafer attends, that will be interpreted by Georgia Republicans as the chairman opposing the governor.

Earlier this year, Shafer was criticized by some Republican insiders for attending a Trump rally in Georgia to which only candidates endorsed by the former president were invited.

Kemp supporters say Shafer has long since signaled his opposition to the governor by “liking” social media posts that accuse Kemp of ignoring obvious voter fraud and willfully disenfranchising Republican voters. This distrust for Shafer, Kemp supporters say, is why the governor signed a law this past summer that allows incumbent state lawmakers only to launch super PACs that can raise unlimited amounts of money and coordinate with candidate campaigns.


Kemp, who also has a federal super PAC, called his new state super PAC “Georgians First.”

“I don’t think anybody trusts David Shafer,” a Republican operative working on Kemp’s behalf snapped. Polling shows a close contest between the governor and Perdue, with supporters of the incumbent conceding that the challenger could win even as they express confidence Kemp will ultimately prevail.