I didn’t vote for Georgia governor Brian Kemp, but he has proven the adage that you sometimes have to campaign to the extreme and then govern from the middle. With notable exceptions, Kemp is trying to appeal to a larger segment of voters now that he’s in office than to pander to his base, and for that he should be commended.
In December, Kemp went against the grain and perhaps threw caution to the wind when he appointed businesswoman Kelly Loeffler to fill the vacant seat of Senator Johnny Isakson. Loeffler had no political experience, held no office of any kind, and like Donald Trump, may not even had so much as served as an officer in her homeowners’ association. But like Trump, she brought money to the table---a lot of money---which was a substantial factor in Kemp’s equation in selecting her from over 500 applicants, many with strong political chops.
We are in a different climate today with regard to campaigning. Perhaps time has dimmed my memory, but it seems that it wasn’t too long ago that those running for elected office were identified with policies and issues that the candidates believed in. If the voters agreed, the prevailing message carried them over the top.
For the past three years we have experienced a seismic shift in this thinking. Now candidates for office, local, state and national, vie for Trump’s endorsement. His endorsement is perceived not unlike a mobster getting the boss’s “blessing.” Candidates tout it, mock their opponents who don’t get it, and fear reigns among all as they compete for the blessing. Even the winner can fall out of favor with the “Godfather”, so the lucky recipient has to continue to curry favor, kiss the ring, and do whatever it takes to stay in good standing in order to get a few kind crumbs, to wit, nice words, thrown at the candidate for public consumption.
Governor Kemp tried to get ahead of the curve before officially appointing Loeffler. He knew that Trump supported the obsequious Republican congressman Doug Collins to replace Isakson. Collins had earned Trump’s blessing in spades by being Trump’s biggest defender during the impeachment proceedings and on all the Sunday TV talk shows. But politics makes strange bedfellows, and Kemp had his reasons for not choosing Collins to fill the vacant senate seat.
Kemp actually flew to Washington with Loeffler before making the official announcement in a vain hope that the two could persuade Trump to support his choice over Collins. Kemp returned to Georgia, head held high, and poked a finger in Trump’s eye. I will always admire Kemp for doing this---not because I like Loeffler---I don’t, but because the Georgia constitution gives Kemp the power to fill vacancies. It doesn’t confer it on the president. And Kemp exercised that power the way it was meant to be.
Georgia Republicans are very divided right now about Loeffler and Collins, each having their own faction of supporters. The criticism of Kemp may have died down, but good-ole-boy politics here in the Deep South is a different ball game. (I maintain dual citizenship between Georgia and New York in case things get a little too heated in my current denizen.) It’s too early to know if Kemp will pay a political price since the special election is not until November.
In the meanwhile Loeffler and Collins are learning new ways to cut each other’s throats. The long knives are out. Loeffler is a transplant from Illinois, married into money and also ran a successful business. She and Collins both play up their roots, which include being poor and working the soil. But more importantly, at least in their minds, is the daily sycophancy and homage they pay to Trump.
Loeffler hadn’t even been sworn in, hadn’t taken the oath to be fair and impartial during the Senate impeachment trial, but publicly proclaimed Trump’s innocence, denouncing the leading Democrats in the House who brought the charges as being part of sham and worse. She was desperately trying to catch up to Collins in his public sycophancy.
Loeffler has repeatedly stated, as an afterthought, that she just wants to work for the citizens of Georgia, that she is there for them, but her words seem to belie her actions. She also touts her Christian faith wherever and whenever she can, as does Collins tout his being a Christian minister, so both surely know that the Good Book reminds us that we shall know them by their fruits. Loeffler and Collins never fail to point out that they are one-hundred percent behind Trump. We don’t hear anything about what they are support beyond that, though, when it comes to serving their constituents and Georgia’s own needs.
I’m not predicting the outcome of the presidential election, but if the Godfather loses, one has to wonder how the dynamics of campaigning will change in America. Just maybe one can hope that candidates never feel beholden again to a leader, that their first loyalty is to the Constitution, to the voters, and to their consciences.