Last week, former President Donald Trump returned to the battleground state of Georgia for one of his signature “Save America” rallies. Packed with energy and thousands of adoring supporters, the 45th president revels in the adulation.
Maintaining that level of energy among the grassroots is critical to the success of Republicans in the midterms as well as Mr. Trump’s apparent desire to control the levers of the GOP nationally.
However, the former president’s persistent failure to resist attacking fellow Republicans over his allegations of election fraud could create a significant problem not just for him but for the party he claims to lead.
Following the 2020 election, Mr. Trump’s relentless attacks on Georgia Republican officials and Gov. Brian Kemp were the likely cause of hundreds of thousands of Republicans who sat out the January 2021 runoff election that handed control of the U.S. Senate to the Democrats.
Mr. Trump’s public disdain for both Mr. Kemp and Sen. Mitch McConnell left the impression that he couldn’t care less about the broader consequences of the outcome. The debate over a trillion in new taxes and the rollback of the Trump tax cuts wouldn’t even be happening if Republicans controlled the Senate.
But Mr. Trump’s vengeance over the election eclipsed all other considerations.
Call it tit-for-tat. Call it shooting inside the tent. Whatever you call it, Mr. Trump continues to be known more for his self-serving attacks than anything he did when he was in office. It’s doing a disservice to his own legacy and the Republican party.
Former Mr. Trump may not like Mr. Kemp, and he’s entitled to his opinion. However, for the titular leader of the Republican Party to ignore Mr. Kemp’s record for the sake of advancing his own agenda portends further possible division that will dimmish the party’s ability to fully capitalize on the left’s failure of leadership.
During his tenure, Mr. Kemp has presided over multi-billion-dollar budget surpluses, signed historic tax cuts, and now is working on a deal with the legislature to create a flat tax that will make the state even more competitive. Mr. Kemp is about to sign a bill that will exempt veterans under the age of 62 from state taxes for $35,000 in pension and other income.
During the pandemic, Mr. Kemp was one of the first governors to open the economy back up, getting millions of workers back on the job. Early on he embraced both parent and employer choice with respect to COVID-19 mandates instead of coercion tactics of Democrat governors.
Mr. Kemp has been a champion for parental rights in education, supporting greater instructional transparency and greater control over classroom content. Last year, he signed several historic school choice bills that expand parental choice, including for special needs children.
Just last week he was listed in the top 10 U.S. governors by the American Legislative Exchange Council just behind another Republican governor loathed by Mr. Trump, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.
None of this, of course, is good enough to shield the governor from the ire of Mr. Trump who is intent on ousting through a primary he manufactured.
Despite the evidence, to Mr. Trump, Mr. Kemp is a RINO and must go. In a risky move that may roil voters, the former president has positioned himself as the supreme arbiter of who a true Republican or conservative, based on his own murky criteria.
Recent polls are showing Mr. Kemp with an average of a 9-point edge over Trump-backed former Sen. David Perdue. Right now, Mr. Kemp is well-positioned to win the primary, and he has the best chance to beat leftist-activist Stacey Abrams in November, though the head-to-head matchup is too close for comfort.
Republicans today live in constant state of asking WWTD or “What will Trump do?” While the Democrat Party craters at the hands of President Biden and the far-left, Republicans waste valuable time, money and energy attempting to divine WWTD. Should Mr. Perdue lose, one would hope Mr. Trump’s outrage would be tempered to avoid scuttling another Georgia race.
If Mr. Trump’s lust for vengeance against Mr. Kemp in any way leads to a repeat of 2021, it will doom any hope he might have of continuing to play a productive role in the party.
Ensuring his legacy is understood and Republicans continue to embrace a populist conservatism that blunts the left’s advance should be Mr. Trump’s focus.
A little more discipline and a little less ego would have meant a second Trump term. Now finally exhibiting those qualities can help ensure victory for conservatives in November.
Mr. Trump continues to tease a comeback to his adoring crowds but continuing to put his own anger and interests first simply isn’t the way to do it.
• Tom Basile is the host of “America Right Now” on Newsmax Television, an author and a former Bush administration official.