This week, Republican state Sens. Burt Jones and Brandon Beach traveled to Maricopa County, Arizona, to observe the state’s GOP-led sham audit that election experts have dismissed as “performance art” and a “clown show.” Jones and Beach were among the 16 state senators who joined a Texas lawsuit last year seeking to invalidate election results in their own state, among several others. Georgia’s own GOP attorney general, Chris Carr, called the unsuccessful suit “constitutionally, legally and factually wrong.”
Both Jones and Beach have been stripped of their chairmanships within the GOP-led Senate caucus, but that hasn’t dampened their political aspirations one bit. In fact, if anything, it has boosted their electoral hopes, with Jones planning a bid for statewide office (possibly lieutenant governor) and Beach widely expected to run for Congress.
At the state Republican Party convention last weekend, both Jones and Beach were presented with “Warrior Awards” by GOP chair David Shafer for their fearless perpetuation of disinformation.
“He led the charge, he cosigned lawsuits, he cosigned amicus briefs for lawsuits,” Shafer said of Sen. Jones. “And when it was all said and done, when the General Assembly convened in January, he was stripped of every committee assignment of value because the only people punished or held to account in the last election cycle were the people who called out the election wrongdoing.”
The state convention also turned into an unfortunate reminder of lingering GOP divisions for Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who is running for reelection next year. As Kemp addressed attendees, he was booed and heckled by detractors. The state party also passed a resolution censuring Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for failing to fulfill his duties and calling on Kemp to “repair the damage that has been done” to Georgia’s elections.
Enter Vernon Jones, a former Democratic lawmaker-turned-Trump supporter who is challenging Kemp in the GOP primary. Jones’ chief line of attack against Kemp is that he didn’t work hard enough to make sure Trump prevailed in the state. In other words, Kemp wasn’t an avid enough cheater.
“When I look at what happened with this election integrity, and we got a governor who will not call for a forensic audit in all 159 counties,” Jones said, drawing cheers at the same convention that booed Kemp. “Why won’t he call for a special forensic audit if he said the elections were fine? Why did he sign a new [elections] bill if he said the election was fine?”
But Kemp’s misery pales in comparison to that of Secretary of State Raffensperger, who has borne the brunt of anger over Trump’s dismal defeat in the Peach State. Several challengers have set their sights on unseating Raffensperger, but one already has the imprimatur of Donald Trump: GOP Congressman Jody Hice. As one might expect, Hice has a rather special zeal for spreading election fraud disinformation, telling right-wing media outlet Newsmax in November that he was not “convinced at all, not for one second, that Joe Biden won the state of Georgia.”
No matter which of these candidates prevails in the primaries, the fallout threatens to hobble Republicans in next year’s general election, which will feature the critical reelection bid of Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and perhaps a renewed gubernatorial bid by voting rights activist and former state Rep. Stacey Abrams.
Primary races are often contentious, and the hope among party leaders is usually that any remaining wounds can be healed in time for the general election. But the state of play among Georgia Republicans has an entirely different feel to it, fueled by multiple races charged with divisive lies and recriminations that could easily leave one side of the divide disillusioned. One way or the other, that’s not an ideal scenario for a party in a state that could be in the throes of a political sea change.