Whoever came up with the expression about elections always being about the future did not anticipate Georgia’s Republican gubernatorial primary. The only reason incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp is facing an intra-party challenge is because he followed the law and honored his state’s election results after the 2020 cycle.
At that point, Donald Trump tried to make him a GOP villain and recruited David Perdue to take on Kemp. The former senator’s entire statewide candidacy has focused on little more than ridiculous conspiracy theories about his benefactor’s defeat.
It was against this backdrop that the Republican candidates met for one more debate over the weekend, in advance of early voting getting underway yesterday, and the discussion predictably turned to the 2020 race. As part of the event, Kemp declared:
“I was as frustrated as anyone else with the results, especially at the federal level. And we did something about it with Senate Bill 202.”
Once in a while, a politician will make a mistake by accidentally telling the truth.
Let’s take a brief stroll down memory lane to review how we arrived at this point. By all accounts, Georgia administered the 2020 elections perfectly well. As the dust settled, state officials boasted about how effective the system was, even in the midst of a pandemic.
The problem, of course, is that Democrats did surprisingly well in top-of-the-ballot races in Georgia, winning at the presidential and U.S. Senate levels. Trump predictably responded with unfounded conspiracy theories, and his allies were told to echo the lies.
Republican policymakers in Georgia, fueled by the Big Lie, got to work on a voter-suppression package — Senate Bill 202 — that the state clearly did not need, but which Kemp signed anyway. As regular readers may recall, the law made it harder to cast ballots through drop boxes, while simultaneously making it more difficult to cast absentee ballots. GOP officials also made it illegal to bring water to voters forced to wait in long lines.
A Vox report added that the same package even gave Georgia’s Republican-controlled General Assembly “effective control over the State Board of Elections and empowers the state board to take over local county boards — functionally allowing Republicans to handpick the people in charge of disqualifying ballots in Democratic-leaning places like Atlanta.”
GOP officials in Georgia have experimented with assorted defenses, but Kemp went ahead and dropped the pretense during his most recent debate: The governor and his party didn’t like voters’ verdict, so they “did something about it” by undermining voting rights.
It might be tempting to consider a more generous interpretation of Kemp’s comments. Perhaps, one might argue, he meant that the voter-suppression law was necessary because he was “frustrated as anyone else” by the way in which the state’s elections were administered, rather than being frustrated about voters having the audacity to vote for some Democrats.
The problem with this interpretation is that we already know it’s not true: Kemp wasn’t frustrated with the administration of the 2020 elections; he endorsed the administration of the 2020 elections.
Which leaves us with the more controversial interpretation: When the governor boasted over the weekend about approving Senate Bill 202 because of his frustration with election results, he was making clear that Georgia Republicans made it harder to vote in 2021 because they didn’t like losing in 2020.
These admissions are unusual, but not unprecedented. Over the last decade or so, a handful of GOP officials — take a bow, Rep. Glenn Grothman — have accidentally admitted that voter-ID laws were part of a deliberate electoral scheme to help Republican candidates.
But the fact that Kemp has some company doesn’t make his unfortunate candor any better.