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What the GOP Must Learn From Georgia Runoff

AMAC Exclusive – By Daniel Berman

Raphael Warnock’s victory in Georgia on Tuesday in the U.S. Senate runoff election was expected by virtually everyone, from pollsters who almost bent over backwards to apologize that their models even showed a close race, to GOP donors and national groups who committed half-heartedly if at all to the race, allowing Warnock to outspend Herschel Walker by nearly 5-2, to leading GOP figures who seemed unsure whether a larger or smaller margin of defeat better served the interests of their respective factions in intraparty conflicts.

Election night jumbled a lot of talking points when for a brief period it appeared the race was too close to call. The final margin, 51.4% for Warnock and 48.6% for Walker, is causing equal confusion. It is not close enough to promote stories about a GOP comeback, or Democratic performances in November being a fluke, yet is not wide enough to fit the narrative of a hapless Walker campaign, saddled with a toxic candidate, in free-fall. This presents a bit of a problem for GOP strategists. If the result had been a blowout, they could have blamed the candidate, and implicitly Donald Trump, the man they insist forced Herschel Walker, a legend in Georgia, onto the 68% of GOP primary voters who backed him. In that case, their own actions or inaction would have been vindicated. “There was nothing we could do with such a candidate,” would be the common refrain. “No amount of money could have won this race… They tried their best. Kemp turned his entire operation, or at least its payroll, over to Mitch McConnell to support Walker and it was not enough!”

If, however, the race had been razor-thin, say 50.2% to 49.8%, then there would have been little doubt that despite the weakness of the candidate, being outspent nearly three to one probably made at least .2% of a difference. The decision of leading conservative and Republican media figures to write-off the race and move-onto recriminations before voting was over likely demoralized enough voters.

With the race ending somewhere in the middle of those two scenarios, there are some takeaways from Tuesday’s results that are important for the GOP moving forward.

Blaming Herschel Walker is an easy excuse

Was Herschel Walker a flawed candidate? Without a doubt. There is a reason, however, for the old saying, “victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” Herschel Walker is being portrayed not as just a “flawed” candidate, but a hopelessly awful one who lacked any redeeming strengths, yet whose weaknesses were so apparent that only malice could explain overlooking them. This may help excuse other Republicans, in Georgia and nationally, of responsibility. But the myth that Donald Trump somehow forced Walker onto Georgia Republicans is nonsensical, as is the mythical strength of his leading mainstream primary rivals.

Walker, for all his flaws, was a living legend in Georgia, one of the most famous sports figures of his generation. That gave him appeal which could, if properly exploited, transcend partisan and ideological lines. Walker was not an unknown figure before Donald Trump endorsed him. He was by far the most famous of the potential candidates. His victory with nearly 70% of the primary vote was a testament to that. To suggest that 68% of GOP primary voters who cast ballots for Walker were simply demonstrating blind loyalty to Donald Trump is absurd. 73% of those same voters cast their ballots for Brian Kemp over Trump-endorsed former Senator David Perdue, while a majority also voted for Brad Raffensperger. Walker did have wide appeal, including to seemingly many non-Trump supporters at the time of the primary.

Walker’s current critics are revisionist in ignoring that a key reason for his easy victory was that while some reservations, albeit well-founded ones, were made about Walker’s inexperience and other flaws as a candidate, no real effort was made to sell any of the mainstream alternatives. Congressman Doug Collins had, like Mo Brooks in Alabama, a poor electoral record, and lost badly to Raffensperger, as did Perdue in the Governor’s race. While both would have been better advised to run for Senate, it is unclear how an inability to appeal to much more than a third of Republican primary voters would have translated into a winning general election message.

Perhaps if Brian Kemp had decided to run for Senate things may have been different, but he had no intention of doing so, and it is likely that Raffensperger or another state officeholder would have made the primary into a divisive battle over 2020 if they had tried to run.

For structural reasons, there was a choice between boring, generic Republican politicians with many of Walker’s issues, and Walker, who at least potentially countered them with celebrity. Endorsing Walker was not an impulsive decision by the former president; it was, rather, the most logical choice given the options available.

The GOP allowed the narrative of a flawed candidate to become entrenched

By the time of the runoff, a narrative had taken root that not only was Walker a flawed candidate, but his opponent, Raphael Warnock, was some sort of political juggernaut who was charismatic, and had wide crossover appeal. There was even discussion of Warnock as part of a future national Democratic ticket.

How, precisely, this narrative took root is a tale of the utmost negligence on the party of the GOP at all levels. Warnock has a highly problematic history, with many of the same issues with alleged domestic violence that were used with such effect to discredit Walker. Warnock allegedly ran over his ex-wife’s foot with his car after an argument over whether Warnock would allow his wife to apply for a passport – an incident that occurred not in the past but while he was running for Senate in 2020. Warnock was also arrested in 2002 for allegedly obstructing a child abuse probe into a summer camp. No wonder his wife called him a “great actor” in police footage.

This leaves aside that Warnock has largely been a down-the-line liberal vote, even voting to abolish the filibuster. Yet despite efforts by Walker to promote these stories in ads, they failed to resonate or influence the narrative.

A large part of the reason for this is that it was Walker who was left pushing these stories in his own campaign ads. This made them suspect in the same way that if Warnock’s campaign had been the one bringing forward accusations of Walker soliciting abortions in attack ads, the effect would have been to cast doubt on the charges and the man whose campaign was making them.

The most effective framing of Walker was done not by Warnock, but by the media and insiders on both sides. When it was not just MSNBC or the mainstream media which was pushing a narrative that the race was between a “scandal plagued, mentally ill” Republican and a charismatic Democratic pastor, but also Republican strategists and aides, then it became the narrative. The race became a “test” of whether Republicans would vote for Walker “despite all his problems” and not whether Democrats would vote for Warnock despite his. Take as an example the New York Times story entitled “A Pastor and Politician Who Sees Voting as a Form of Prayer.” Real credit is due to Warnock’s press team for this type of coverage. Celebrities pay millions for this sort of image management.

As much as the lack of financial support hurt Walker, the lack of narrative support played the decisive role in the contest. Unlike Blake Masters in Arizona or J.D. Vance in Ohio, Walker had no history of extreme political positions, or really any positions at all. Nor did he adopt any during the campaign.

Georgia is trending left, but more slowly than assumed

While it is hard to account fully for uncontested races, as of this moment, Republicans lead the popular vote for the U.S. House 50.6% to 47.8% or a margin of 2.8%. In November, Republicans won the aggregated vote for U.S. House in Georgia 52.3% to 47.7%, or about 4.6%. None of the 14 districts was seriously contested by the other party in the general election, so it can function as a reasonable floor for both. What is striking is how similar that total was to the results in 2018.

YearGeorgia House VoteNational House VoteDifference
201852.27%-47.73% R53.4%-44.8% DR+6.2%
202051%-49% R50.8%-47.7% DR+2.6%
202252.31%-47.69% R50.6%-47.8% RR+1.6%

Three things stand out. First, the 2018 and 2022 results in Georgia are almost identical. Second, the GOP won the popular vote in all three years, which does indicate the Senate race was an outlier, albeit not a huge one. Thirdly, Georgia is moving leftward such that even a better GOP year in 2022 could barely keep up.

There was a lot of talk after 2016 that the confident predictions about “demographics being destiny” made after the 2012 election, whether by Democrats or the GOP in its autopsy, were proven wrong. The idea that those specific trends were static was indeed proven incorrect. However, the general movement of U.S. politics towards polarization is real. Georgia provided a microcosm of that phenomenon this year.

Even with several factors trending against the GOP, however, Georgia still did not shift it that much. Walker still received 48.6% of the vote. However, if that is a floor, Democrats are likely to have a similar floor in future statewide contests.

The problem in Georgia is that the groups and areas Walker won are casting less votes relative to the rest of the state than they did a few years ago, while those that voted for Warnock cast more. Georgia is not quite at the level where it leans Democratic by any means. The above chart still shows the state voting around 1.6% more Republican than the nation at large on average in House races. But that trend has also slowed somewhat in recent years. Georgia is not likely to be a “blue state” in terms of voting to the left of the nation in 2024, but it may well only vote 1% to the right of the nation, which would have been enough for Hillary Clinton to win it in 2016.

We are still stuck with 2016 coalitions

The Georgia runoff is interesting in respect to what didn’t happen. Warnock did not make inroads with rural whites, especially in North Georgia where Marjorie Taylor Greene had underperformed in November. He did not reverse trends in rural African American counties, where there has been a steady erosion of Democratic support. He won the places and people he won in November, and in those areas slightly more voters turned out. The major trends of the global realignment, in which education and age are key drivers of voter preference, are supported by this result.

In short, the country is on the same trajectory it has been on since 2016. We have now had four elections in which great expectations were instilled. In 2018, Democrats failed to win Florida, Iowa, and Ohio “back.” In 2022 a “red wave” did not reach Oregon and Washington. Instead, we have had four versions of the 2016 election, each with candidates, events, and issue patterns which favored one party or another. While these affected turnouts, it was ultimately the same dynamics at play in each election.

This does not mean that one party cannot have a better year than another. Democrats had a better year in 2018 than they did 2020, and the GOP had a better 2016 than 2022 (or 2018), but ultimately 2018 was a much better version of 2016 for Democrats. The shock in 2022 came from how similar it was to 2020 outside of a few large states such as California, Florida, and New York. Even in those states, the outcomes did not change, merely the margins.

This has implications for discussion about 2024. The discourse about whether Donald Trump should run again, and if not, who should replace him, contains a universe of possibilities that does not seem supported by data. Some candidates are likely to perform better than others, some will have much greater funding, and run more disciplined operations. Ultimately, it is likely that whatever Republican is running is going to have to try to win with the 2020 coalition. No Democrat, Biden or otherwise, is likely to try and win the 2012 election a second time by focusing on Iowa and Ohio.

The GOP can win in 2024. But the party must first figure out how to win the 2020 and 2022 elections, on those maps, and with those coalitions. That is the message Georgia reinforced.

Daniel Berman is a frequent commentator and lecturer on foreign policy and political affairs, both nationally and internationally. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics. He also writes as Daniel Roman. 


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Mark
1 month ago

First, let me ask a question. When did Doug Collins run against Raffensperger? Paragraph 7. Do you mean Jody Hice, our 10th District Congressman who ran against Raffensperger for secretary of state? Also, as a county chair I heard lots of folks in support of Walker mainly because they were old white folks who knew he was a football hero. But there was also a group who were concerned very early that this might not be a winning plan going forward, realizing there was baggage here that would be difficult to overcome. Kelvin King was a very good candidate who came on strong but did not have the name recognition but none of the baggage and is black and has a strong religious perspective. We also have a lieutenant governor who had decided not to run but went on national TV to say he would not vote for Walker in the runoff. The obstacles just became too difficult to win.

No-mo-libs
1 month ago

A flawed GOPer or flawed Marxist (lol), I’ll take the former every time, no questions asked. Also the political scene demanded voters send a signal that the Biden Campaign’s policies stink. The voters did’nt.

No-mo-libs
1 month ago

You forgot to mention that GOP boss, Mitch McConnell, had dissed the entire GOP slate. Mitch also did not fund the Walker campaign, and so curbed the GOP base. Its as if Mitch had owed Nancy and Schumer, D-NY, one.

John Pfalzgraf
1 month ago

Georgia was not the problem. The problem was who Mitch McConnell endorsed across the country. If he would not have avoided backing candidates supported by Trump the red wave would have materialized. The problem is RINO’s like McConnell, Romney and can you believe it – Paul Ryan has raised his head again!!!

johnh
1 month ago

My opinion: Georgia voters have not forgotten the highly publicized phone call that Donald Trump made to Georgia AG asking him to find 11,000 more votes 2020 election. And he wrongly accused election mother & daughter of fraud with ballots that resulted in the two people getting death threats. And Trump did not apologize to these two people for falsely ruining their lives. Georgia citizens were not impressed with Trump & his failed end run for 2020 election.

e brown
1 month ago
Reply to  johnh

Watch the documentary 2,000 Mules. Georgia was inundated with fake ballots for Biden and later Warnock in January.

TC Lillibridge
1 month ago

And John fetterman and Katie Hobbs were what…stellar? How can you even try to pass this as objective journalism when two failed and seriously flawed candidates from the left win. We have selections not elections. Walker and Warnock we’re both flawed, we’re all flawed, bit Georgia did not elect Warnock, PA did not elect Fetterman, and AZ did not elect Hobbs, these were corrupt, stolen elections. So how about digging into and reporting on that truth.

MariaRose
1 month ago

I am curious if analyzing the percentage numbers of voter turnout to actual registered voter numbers could give a more accurate picture. Forget about the portrayal by the media of large numbers of voters, compare the results to actual number of registered voters who n the active voter rolls to get the real percentage of voters who turned out. If the election results from the 2022 election are based on a lower than 30% of actual registered voters then the results are not based on the full population but only the voters who actually came out to vote. Figure that out before the next election to really see what needs to appeal to the voters.

Allen Rosendahl
1 month ago

This wasn’t about Walker or Warnock but about a very corrupt ballot/ voting system. If all the other countries in this world can do this in one day AND in person With proper I.D. We need to get back to that. Also, a woman’s right to choose is BEFORE she participates in the creation of a new life, which begins at conception NOT perception! Once pregnant the right turns into a RESPONSIBILITY and that new life has all the same rights as the woman and man who participated in the creation of that new life!!!!

Robert
1 month ago

I love the Author’s comment ” was Walker a flawed candidate ” ?

If Walker was a flawed candidate then why was Revend Warnock not a flawed candidate?

I am tired of both parties or the “uni-party.”

Republicans have no spine or testicles and Democrats just lie and cheat.

A pox on both of their houses. They care only about themselves and not for the American people.

I am a God fearing American conservative, and both political parties are useless!

Robert

Robert Jones
1 month ago
Reply to  Robert

Warnock was a fatally flawed candidate as far as I’m concerned. Doesn’t matter though. He won the election. Walker was also a flawed candidate and he lost the election. I voted for Walker. I contributed close to a thousand dollars to his campaign. He didn’t deliver because of those flaws. You get the drift. There were 6 other candidates for the Republican nomination and none of them had that baggage.

Out of the 9 Republican candidates for statewide office 8 of them won by a respectable margin.

Do you know who didn’t win? Walker

I don’t know about you but I’m not worried about flawed Democratic candidates. They are all flawed as far as I’m concerned. Nor do I want Republican leadership with big balls and no brains. Right now they apparently have neither balls nor brains. I want candidates who win and throw Warnock, Biden, and the rest of the Democrats out on their ear before they completely ruin the country. That means avoiding the nomination of candidates like Walker who can’t win. Pretty simple really.

TC
1 month ago
Reply to  Robert

Truth

TC Lillibridge
1 month ago
Reply to  Robert

Truth

DeploraVet59
1 month ago

The only answer is to join the other side. Who was it that said, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”? Joe Biden? Well, he DID say, “If you don’t vote for me, you ain’t Black” I’m not Black, but I guess a lot of Black folk listened to him.

johnh
1 month ago
Reply to  DeploraVet59

I cannot believe that most people appreciated this stupid comment by Biden. Does not sound like a good way to encourage voters with such a comment.

Christopher Behr
1 month ago

The only reason Georgia might be “trending blue” is that thousands and thousands of blue yankees have been moving here from northern hellholes trying to escape the disasters that their corrupt politics and demented, immoral thinking created to begin with. People, just stay home and clean up your mess there instead of making another mess here.

Robert Zuccaro
1 month ago

They’ll have to decide what to do without my donations from now on.

Jim
1 month ago

Completely incoherent analysis

Hal-
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

Maybe you would have thought differently if you had got past the 8th grade????

T.M.
1 month ago

Before the crowd gathers with pitchforks and torches, let me state plainly: I voted for Trump in both elections and will likely vote for him again in the next. Yet, with Walker loosing by such a slim margin, let me state clearly another lesson the GOP needs to learn: NEVER TRASH TALK THE BLACK PREACHER. The African Ametican vote is critical in Georgia. I don’t care how liberal he or she is. I don’t care if he just spent a year in an insane asylum. I don’t care if the voters you are talking to haven’t been to church in over twenty years. No bashing the black preacher! The preacher has played an indispensable role of leadership and encouragement un that community since the early days of slavery and is still respected and defended today. You can question the black preacher, even carefully using a few well known quotes from him. You can then ask your audience if this is the man you want speaking for them, but no bashing. President Trump tore into Warnock before the election and set a good portion of Walker’s potential voters teeth on edge. That turned enough of them away to change the outcome. In the deep south, with a large African American vote: DONT BASH THE BLACK PREACHER.

Rich
1 month ago
Reply to  T.M.

Preacher or not, the man stands for the socialist/democratic platform that basically disavows God in all government. It’s time to tell the truth and vote for people that have moral integrity. A title does not bring a person any closer to God or his commandments for righteous living. This “preacher” will stand before God one day and may have to explain his stand on abortion just like all the other folks that support murder.

Hal-
1 month ago
Reply to  T.M.

IMO, if the Black, Brown, White, or Freckled person deserves criticism, that’s right to do so. What you should NOT do us characterize as being related to skin color or pigmentation!!!! I’ve been told the brain, Irregardless of skin color or pigmentation, is pretty much the same color.

CTTEXAS
1 month ago

Screw the Republican party McConnell had $40 million they never spent to aid any Maga candidates.

theDuke19
1 month ago

Georgia is a red state; look at the county elections map, lots and lots of red. It is the big bad blue counties surrounding the Atlanta metropolis driving the Democrat machine. Unfortunately States and their counties are majority democracy, and thus smaller counties are not equally representative.

Frank
1 month ago

I was a staunch Trump supporter right up until some of the things he has said and a couple of Senate candidates he ridiculously supported like Oz in our state of Pennsylvania. What he said to DeSantis was the last straw. I hope DeSantis does run for the 2024 white house run because at 80 Trump will be too old to serve. As for the Republicans not winning the Senate solely falls on those traitor Rhino Republicans who continued too negatively attack any and all of the candidates Trump supported and is the reason, I believe Walker and Oz and a couple of others lost. Face its Walker and Oz were better than the 2 liberal clowns that won hands down yet because of the Rhinos and their puppet supporters they lost. Face it, the Rhinos and their puppet supporters are every bit as braindead as the liberals and their supporters and it showed in the elections in PA and Georgia. Kentucky is also the same as PA. and Georgia because their braindead puppet voters still defend the Republican Party’s biggest Rhino Mitch Mcconnell. So, until this changes with the Rhinos elections will continue nto be lost and the democrats will rule.

johnh
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank

I am RINO that did not appreciate Trump personally phoning Georgia AG & asking him to find 11,000 more votes for him in 2024 election. And phone call was taped, so Trump cannot deny that he did this. What was he thinking & probably only his ego?

Cyde Hurst
1 month ago

We must eliminate money laundering, ballot harvesting, and social media interference before any of this will change

Hal-
1 month ago
Reply to  Cyde Hurst

A key start to the eliminations references you make needs to begin with a term limits amendment in the Constitution for Senators, Congresspersons, and Exec Heads (e.g., IRS, FBI, State, etc.).

SAMSON
1 month ago

They will never learn, look at the mess we are in with these stinken democrats, AND THEN they are passing perverted marriage laws while the country falls apart and putting our country under further judgement of GOD.

phil
1 month ago

I live in Georgia. The spending was a big issue. Hershel wasn’t a bad candidate. He was an inexperienced candidate. Compared to Warnock he was a choir boy. The difference is Warnock’s campaign attacked two key themes over and over. Hershel was a liar and he is not mentally capable of being a senator. These ads were repeated over and over and over again indoctrinating everyone one. Very few ads mentioned Warnock’s’ voting record. The pipe line, inflation, cost of living etc. If those issues were harped on like Hershel’s alleged lying and mental issues were it would have been a different result. Why don’t the Republicans every mention the voting record of their opponent.

Robert Jones
1 month ago
Reply to  phil

Phil, I live in Georgia too. I saw plenty of ads tying Warnock to Biden. I don’t think that message was lost on the voters. Certainly the money was a factor and the constant attack on Walkers integrity and competency was a deciding influence. When your talking about a swing of less than 2% of the votes it comes down to a handful of voters. Walker was vulnerable within his own party to those attacks. The attacks were intended to keep “family values” voters from casting their ballot for Walker. They didn’t care if those “family values” voters switched their vote to Warnock. They just wanted to take them out of play in the election. It worked. Kemp won easily because he retained most all of the Republican base. Walker didn’t because he had baggage regarding abortion, domestic abuse, lying, and mental health that made some Republican and Independent voters walk away. I voted for Walker. I donated close to a thousand dollars to his campaign. He just wasn’t the right candidate and I blame Trump for pushing his nomination and others for his own political purposes. We need candidate that are not so vulnerable to attack by the leftist media or we are going to lose in 24.

DeploraVet59
1 month ago
Reply to  Robert Jones

I live in Ga too. I was a poll watcher and I overheard a voter talking to the Poll Manager (apparently a friend of hers). She said she didn’t like either of them (Warn or Walk)! She didn’t say who she voted for. I wish Josh Clark had won the Primary. He may not have gotten the Black vote but he would have gotten some. He was definitely a better man than Warnock.

Robert Jones
1 month ago
Reply to  DeploraVet59

I would have supported any of the candidates on the Republican ticket. My pick in the primaries was Kelvin King, a graduate of the Air Force Academy, and a construction company owner. None of the other candidates had Walker’s baggage. Anyone of them could have won the Senate seat.

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