For the second time in less than two years, Georgia voters have dealt an embarrassing defeat to former Sen. David Perdue—and, by extension, to former President Donald Trump.
On Tuesday night, Gov. Brian Kemp easily defeated Perdue in the Republican gubernatorial primary, with such a commanding lead that the Associated Press called the race by 8:30 p.m.
That resounding victory means Kemp will head into his November rematch against Democrat Stacey Abrams without having to endure even a runoff contest against Perdue. That result is likely to be the biggest black mark on Trump’s endorsement record in this 2022 election season, which he is using to try and demonstrate his hold over the GOP.
Despite Trump endorsing Perdue, campaigning personally for him, and diverting over $5 million to his campaign, Georgia Republicans decisively voted for someone who Trump has viciously attacked and blamed for his loss in the 2020 election. Many Republican voters might believe that Trump lost unfairly, but if Georgia’s primary was a test, they clearly were not ready to fire Kemp over it.
Meanwhile, Perdue, who staked his entire campaign on election fraud conspiracies, squandered the political comeback he might have imagined after his stunning loss to Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA) in the January 2021 Senate runoff elections.
The ex-senator and former Fortune 500 CEO finished the primary in humiliating fashion, plummeting in polls and getting outgunned by Kemp at every turn. Post-mortems of his campaign were written days before the election, with Perdue allies—such as Newt Gingrich—openly expressing their disappointment with his lackluster campaign.
On Monday, Perdue spent his final day on the campaign trail blaming the press for calling out his parroting of Trump’s election fraud lies, claiming he at least wouldn’t get blown out, and making racist remarks about Abrams.
Though Kemp has been the clear favorite in this race for months, the utter collapse of Perdue’s campaign would have been difficult to predict when he jumped into the race in December.
Ever since Kemp refused to illegally overturn President Joe Biden’s 2020 election win in Georgia, Trump has been consumed with destroying Kemp, who the ex-president elevated to the governorship after endorsing him in a contested 2018 race.
During the 2020 Senate runoff campaigns in Georgia, MAGA grassroots antipathy toward Kemp was at a fever pitch, and some Republicans doubted if he could ever get elected again. After Democrats completed their Georgia sweep in January 2021, Trump was itching to fuel a primary challenge and urged on Perdue, who had been a confidante of his as a senator.
The primary campaign saw Perdue and Kemp, formerly close allies, attack each other in increasingly bitter fashion. Kemp and his backers at the Republican Governors Association—who together outspent Perdue by millions of dollars—saturated Georgia airwaves with ads calling Perdue a sellout to China. The governor also notched a number of conservative wins during the 2022 legislative session, with some red meat to the base, which he used to bludgeon Perdue.
It quickly became clear that Perdue had a flimsy case to voters beyond just repeating the falsehood over and over that Kemp was responsible for Trump’s loss in 2020.
In the first debate, Perdue’s playbook of blaming Kemp produced considerable fireworks between the two. At one point, the ex-senator fumed at Kemp that “the only reason I'm not in the United States Senate is because you caved in and gave the elections to Stacey and to the liberal Democrats in 2020.”
"Weak leaders,” responded Kemp, “blame everybody else for their own losses instead of blaming themselves.”
Trump, the Republican with the greatest capacity to blame others for his shortcomings, tried to prop up Perdue in the final stretch, with media appearances in Georgia and a late cash infusion. But reports began to trickle out that the ex-president was privately complaining about Perdue’s poor effort, though Trump denied those stories.
Tuesday was not all bad for Trump in Georgia: Herschel Walker, his chosen pick to run against Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), easily won his primary.
But the governor race may leave a bruise that lasts longer than the Walker victory lap. Kemp has not just survived Trump’s onslaught, but thrived, and has done so with the conspicuous help of Trump’s biggest enemies. Notably, on Monday night, former Vice President Mike Pence was the featured speaker at Kemp’s last rally for the primary.
Kemp’s easy win is undoubtedly good news for the GOP, which has been spared another two months of the messy, expensive intra-party feud. Republicans feel good about Kemp’s chances to defeat Abrams a second time this November.