After Sen. Johnny Isakson announced he would retire at the end of the year, Gov. Brian Kemp took the unusual step of forcing everyone interested in being nominated to be Isakson’s replacement to submit a resume or curriculum vitae online. Although this is uncommon, it gave a measure of transparency to the process. Transparency is always appreciated because it allows for greater public knowledge and scrutiny of decisions. Sometimes, though, that can reveal some ugly fights, and this is one of those cases. As it turns out, Kemp is drawing a lot of criticism from Republicans regarding his decision to nominate financial executive Kelly Loeffler instead of Rep. Doug Collins.
The campaign to attack Kemp for choosing Loeffler has been intense but is ultimately just a costly distraction. Having made his intention to nominate Loeffler clear, Kemp is unlikely to go back on his decision. Thus, this serves no purpose besides dividing the Republican Party before a difficult election next year.
The backlash among some conservatives regarding Kemp’s choice has been surprisingly strong. In a meeting between Kemp and President Donald Trump, the president expressed that he preferred Collins. Still, Kemp stuck with Loeffler, initiating a downright vicious battle with Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz. Gaetz accused Kemp of betrayal and fearing former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams. He also suggested that a Republican should primary Kemp in the 2022 Georgia Gubernatorial race, leading to sharp rebukes from Kemp aides.
Gaetz, Trump and other conservatives may favor Collins, but the decision should lie with Kemp. This is a Georgia decision, so a Georgian should have the final say. It’s hard to know exactly what he’s thinking, but he should be able to nominate someone without being threatened by people outside of the state.
As someone who lives and works in Georgia, he understands Georgia politics much better than Trump or Gaetz. Perhaps he thinks Loeffler’s business credentials fit in better with his vision for Georgia. Or maybe he thinks that Collins is too extreme for Georgia. Collins is no moderate, and he’s a close Trump ally. For example, his website proudly boasts how he has defended Americans’ Second Amendment rights. He’s demanded that Rep. Adam Schiff testify in front of the House Judiciary Committee as part of the impeachment inquiry. That could play well to the Republican base and conservative activists, but his appeal is less clear in a general election of a state that is quickly turning into a battleground state. Notably, Morning Consult found in October 2019 that Trump had a net approval rating of -3 in Georgia. Following a close governor’s race in 2018, it’s not hard to see how a very conservative figure closely aligned with Trump could struggle.
Regardless, such public Republican infighting can only hurt the party in future elections. A representative from another state threatening to primary Kemp in 2022 is an extreme and possibly costly attempt to influence his decision. Republicans outside of Georgia should accept Kemp's pick and instead focus on their constituents.