Complete and utter repudiation. That’s what a record number of Republican primary voters in Georgia administered to former President Donald Trump this Tuesday. The man Trump blamed for not contesting his narrow 2020 loss in the state, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, won renomination with 74% of the vote.
The man he persuaded to get into the race on the single issue of relitigating the 2020 election, former Sen. David Perdue, finished with only 22%. Kemp not only won far more than the 50% needed to avoid a runoff, he won more than 50% in 158 of Georgia’s 159 counties.
On top of that, the man Trump blamed even more than Kemp, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, was renominated with 52% of the vote. His Trump-endorsed opponent, Rep. Jody Hice, carried only a few small counties outside his congressional district.
Last week, based on the results from earlier primaries, I wrote that it’s “not exactly Trump’s party” anymore. This week’s results underline that. Republican primary voters are not Trump’s chess pawns, and Trump, for that matter, is nothing like a chess grandmaster.
The Republican Party, in the state where the issue was raised most vociferously, is a party ready to move past the 2020 election. It’s a party that loves leaders who take on the predominantly liberal media, but it wants them to be effective policymakers, too, like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, or former Vice President Mike Pence.
It's a party that is also faring better than usual for an opposition party in a midterm election year. Turnout in primaries is a good indicator of partisan enthusiasm. This is less so in states with voter registration by party, but even in such states, Republicans have run well, winning 53% of the two-party primary vote last week in Pennsylvania (where Democrats have a 7-point edge in voter registration) and 55% in North Carolina (where Democrats have a 4-point edge).
In states where voters are free to vote in either party’s primary, Republican majorities of two-party turnout were far greater — 67% in Texas on March 17, 65% in Ohio last week, 62% in Georgia, and 79% in Alabama and Arkansas this week. Only in Oregon did Democrats outvote Republicans, albeit by a narrower margin (55-45) than in the 2020 election (56-40).
The Georgia results do not bode well for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who claimed baselessly that she won the 2018 election, and for the charges, accepted and recounted as gospel by national Democrats and by Delta, Coca-Cola, and Major League Baseball corporate executives, that state Republicans’ changes in voting laws amounted to voter suppression. “Jim Crow on steroids,” in President Joe Biden’s words.
But voter turnout was robust. Republican turnout nearly doubled, up 92%, from 2018. Democratic turnout was up 28%. That ain’t what Jim Crow looked like in the pre-1965 Voting Rights Act Deep South. It’s an example, rather, of an affliction common among high-education partisans of both parties. It’s what I call, turning Thorstein Veblen upside down, "politics as the leisure of the theory class" — a cultivation of obsolete, ancient grievances and the proclamation of unachievable goals. This is why you have the Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia campaigning against “voter suppression,” which hasn’t been a significant factor in more than 50 years. A majority-white congressional district in Georgia elected black minister Andrew Young to Congress in 1972.
You also have Democrats like Pennsylvania gubernatorial nominee Attorney General Josh Shapiro campaigning heavily on the abortion issue. That’s not entirely a theoretical matter, as a Supreme Court reversal of Roe v. Wade, along the lines of Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion, would prompt Republicans in some states to ban abortions or, more likely, impose restrictions like those in much of Europe.
But the practical effect would be limited. My own estimate is that most abortions would continue to be allowed in states where, according to the pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute, 75% to 80% of abortions are currently performed.
As for Republicans, the theory pushed by Trump and some followers is that somehow, the 2020 election result could be reversed. But the numbers in the ranks of that theory class seem to be dwindling, as voters focus on issues — inflation, immigration, crime — for which policy could make a difference.