Rich Lowry: Kemp and Pence are Republican heroesThe Honorable Mike Pence
Like Wyatt Earp after the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Donald Trump and his allies mounted up for a vendetta ride in Georgia.
Unlike Earp and his posse, though, Trump didn’t get his man or any of his confederates, and Gov. Brian Kemp and Co. didn’t even have to leave the territory.
Kemp and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger had provoked Trump’s ire by refusing to indulge his delusions about the 2020 election or engage in any legally dubious maneuvers to change the result in Georgia, and they had felt the full fury of the White House and Mar-a-Lago.
It is not often that politicians do the right thing and infuriate the most influential figure in their party and the most committed element of their political base and live to tell the tale. Kemp and Raffensperger have. Together with former Vice President Mike Pence, whose separation from Trump is more and more obvious, they form a cadre that resisted intense pressure to turn their backs on their duty in 2020 — showing backbone and a moral and institutional integrity that will redound to their credit in the history books.
They also point to a future when the GOP has escaped the box canyon of Trump’s “Stop the Steal” obsessions. That day is not here, but Tuesday’s results show it might not be impossibly far away either.
If Trump had been rationally calculating his interests, he would have thought twice about making his signature project in the 2022 primary season a challenge to an entrenched, politically shrewd governor.
Instead, he pulled the strings to create a state-wide vengeance slate challenging everyone from Kemp on down. Trump wanted to get state Rep. Vernon Jones out of the gubernatorial primary to make way for his preferred candidate, former Sen. David Perdue. So, he coaxed Jones into the primary for the 10th congressional district, and then got one of his former advisors, Patrick Witt, out of the congressional primary and into a primary against the Kemp-selected incumbent insurance commissioner.
The tale of the tape is that Perdue got 21.8% of the vote, Jones got 21.6%, and Witt got 16.7%.
In fairness to Witt, he was sent on a particularly witless suicide mission.
As a 32-year-old former Trump advisor who worked on the president’s legal team that attempted to overturn the result in Georgia, Witt was running against John King, a former police chief and major general of the Georgia National Guard who is the first Latino to serve in state-wide office in Georgia.
(The nearly 22% that Jones garnered, by the way, was enough for second in a crowded field and he made it into a runoff.)
Republican primary voters in Georgia clearly favored moving beyond an all-consuming focus on 2020 and opposed Trump continuing to make the state his political plaything.
Trump has catalyzed some healthy and useful changes in the GOP. The blight is his fixation with 2020 that he’s done all he can to foist on the party.
The orthodoxy about the stolen election forces Republican politicians to say something that is untrue and most know to be untrue; it institutionalizes a politics of cynicism and fear — fear both of Trump and his voters; it detracts from a focus on the ongoing failures of Joe Biden; and it isn’t helpful in winning over swing voters.
It’s possible to read too much into Kemp and Raffensperger’s victories, which would have been difficult to pull off without the advantages of incumbency and of flawed opponents, while Pence will have much to overcome if he runs in 2024.
But in refusing to play by the rules as set by Trump, they have shown courage that should be encouraging to others in the party. Being an ambitious Republican doesn’t have to mean promoting or accepting falsehoods about 2020 for fear of a lawman whose firepower and writ aren’t quite as advertised.