At least some Republicans outside of Washington appear to be doing what Republicans inside of Washington have never had the guts or moral fiber to do: Oppose Donald Trump.
Trump's insistence on challenging incumbent GOP governors such as Georgia’s Brian Kemp for failing to steal the 2020 election was apparently a bridge too far for the Republican Governors Association (RGA). So the group decided at a Phoenix retreat late last year to directly oppose Trump's insurgency, according to reporting from The Washington Post.
Though the RGA has traditionally sidestepped Republican primaries, this cycle the group’s leaders concluded they had no choice but to pour millions into protecting sitting governors who had become the focus of Trump's ire.
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Kemp, who certified the state's 2020 election win for Joe Biden, quickly became a top priority for the RGA. The group dropped some $5 million on Kemp's battle against his Trump-backed challenger, former Sen. David Perdue. The group also lined up a list of other GOP governors and high-profile Republicans who publicly backed Kemp, including former Vice President Mike Pence, who was set to appear with Kemp Monday—one day before Georgians head to the polls.
“This is just not the best use of our money. We would much rather use it just in races against Democrats,” said former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, co-chair of a 2022 fundraising arm for the RGA and a participant in the Phoenix meeting. “But it was made necessary because Donald Trump decided on the vendetta tour this year and so we need to make sure we protect these folks who are the objects of his vengeance.”
The cash infusion helped serve as a bulwark against Perdue, whose fundraising effort sputtered despite Trump directing a total of roughly $2.6 million from his political action committee to the Perdue campaign.
By any measure, Perdue's gubernatorial bid has turned into a miserable failure, trailing significantly in both fundraising and polling. Perdue’s collapse came despite the fact that he centered his campaign around amplifying Trump's 2020 lies, saying he wouldn't have certified the election and effectively pledging to steal 2024 for Trump if necessary.
One person delighting in Trump's disaster is RGA co-chair and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey who, like Kemp, became the object of Trump's rage for certifying his state's election win for Biden. Ducey, who has been term-limited out of his post, has also taken a pass on running for Senate despite being heavily recruited to do so by the establishment wing of the GOP.
“The focus is on 2022. I don’t believe we should spend one more moment talking about 2020,” Ducey told the Post.
When asked if Trump's backing was "worth much," Ducey responded, “It hasn’t been to date."
That has perhaps proven most true in the GOP gubernatorial primaries. In Idaho, RGA-backed Gov. Brad Little won decisively over Trump's insurgent candidate, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, by some 20 points.
The same was true in Nebraska, where GOP candidate Jim Pillen, backed by the sitting GOP governor, notched a victory over Trump-backed Charles Herbster, who had been accused of sexually assaulting eight women. Naturally, Trump rallied to Herbster's side even after the allegations emerged.
Trump has groused privately about Perdue's lackluster showing, but he told the Post he has heard that his candidate is "surging."
He also acknowledged that it's tough to beat an incumbent.
“I’m the one who got that guy elected. I endorsed him, and he won," Trump said of Kemp, taking credit for his elevation to governor. "He’s not good on election integrity, and he did a terrible job on election integrity. We’ll see what happens.”
But the Republicans who made it their mission to doom Trump's revenge tour are already celebrating what they view as an epic defeat.
“It’s clearly the most important race for Donald Trump in the country. He’s made Brian Kemp public enemy No. 1,” Christie said. “We have to decide if we want to be the ‘party of me’ or the ‘party of us.’ And that’s what a lot of these primaries are going to decide.”
Overall, Trump's bid to dominate GOP primaries this cycle has had mixed results. But whatever his setbacks at the gubernatorial level, Trump and Trumpism remain the most dominant forces in the GOP today, courtesy of Republicans’ spineless leadership in Washington.