Donald Trump went out of his way to lure former Sen. David Perdue of Georgia into a Republican gubernatorial primary that was sure to be contentious.
Perdue, an erstwhile ally of sitting GOP Gov. Brian Kemp, came out swinging immediately upon entering the race, charging that Kemp had "failed all of us" and could not win in November. He said Kemp had "caved to [Democratic rival Stacey] Abrams and cost us two Senate seats"—one of which was the one Perdue himself had lost in a special election early in 2021. "The country," Perdue added, "is paying the price today."
Perdue quickly followed up that performance by effectively promising to cheat for Trump if need be in the next election. Asked if he would have certified the state's 2020 election results, Perdue responded, "Not with the information that was available at the time and not with the information that has come out now."
Republican operatives in the state expected the entire race to be filled with divisive attacks and cutting reprisals
“This will be the ugliest, nastiest race this state has ever seen,” one Georgia Republican told The Washington Post. “It is hyper-personal on both sides. Friendships, very long friendships, will be ruined and never recovered over this.”
Surely that was among Trump's greatest ambitions: to break apart the Georgia GOP, defeat Kemp in the process, and then rebuild the state in his likeness with sycophants running amok.
Except, hold on, it's not going exactly as planned, according to CNN.
Since he launched his campaign in December, Perdue -- who lost a runoff last year to Democrat Jon Ossoff -- has struggled to bring aboard the network of political donors and operatives that have supported him and his cousin, former Gov. Sonny Perdue, in the past. One such figure is Alec Poitevint, a former Georgia Republican Party chairman during Sonny Perdue's governorship and a national party activist who chaired David Perdue's successful US Senate bid in 2014. Despite Poitevint's close ties to the Perdue family, he is supporting Kemp's reelection campaign.
In his 2020 reelection bid for Senate, Perdue raised more than $100 million. But in the first couple months since Perdue announced, Kemp has raised twice as much as his rival: $2.5 million to Perdue's $1.2 million.
Perdue's cash-on-hand deficit is also pretty stunning, with just under $900,000 in the bank compared to Kemp's $12.7 million and Abrams, the Democratic candidate, sitting on $7.7 million.
What limited polling is out there has also favored Kemp in the primary. A Quinnipiac University poll late last month found that 43% of likely Republican voters supported Kemp, while just 36% favored Perdue. But that poll also included Republican Vernon Jones, who has since abandoned the governor's race for a congressional bid. Another poll this week found Kemp leading Perdue by about 10 points.
"I think Perdue is on life support and knows it," one neutral GOP operative told CNN.
Even Perdue himself seems on the defensive.
"I'm going up against an incumbent governor. I'm a big boy, I knew that. This is no surprise. They're going to outspend us five or six or seven times," Perdue said. "But we're not getting out of this race."
The Georgia GOP primary may be far from over, but it's just the latest example of a Trump endorsee underperforming expectations after being tapped by the supposed kingmaker.
That's particularly bad news for "strongman" Trump, whose supposed invincibility depends on an air of invincibility that’s taking hits left and right. If the guy who promises to steal an election for Trump can’t generate enough energy to prevail in a GOP primary, it suggests that Trump’s mojo is seriously suffering.
Trump's endorsement ad of David Perdue is perfectly divisive and comically awful
Trump looking less invincible and inevitable all the time
Perdue confirms he would do anything Trump wanted him to do to cheat his way to victory
Perdue's only real campaign pledge to Georgians was that he will gladly cheat for Trump in 2024
Georgia GOP lawmakers urged Perdue to avoid divisive primary against Kemp. It didn't go well