Duncan looks ahead to GOP 2.0, as Big Money looks for a political homePhoto by Kelly Whitmire
By Tom Baxter
Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan has been the most interesting character in the Georgia Republican soap opera of the past year, if only because he’s the one whose intentions haven’t been entirely clear.
Going back to Gov. Brian Kemp’s argument with former President Donald Trump over the appointment of former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, Duncan, in keeping with his baseball background, has been a team player. When the battle over the November election got hot, he stood with but not in front of Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
They were the primary targets of Donald Trump’s fury. Duncan’s role was more supportive. He could have walked way with the least collateral damage of anyone on the team, but when the left-over passions of 2020 blew into this year’s legislative session, Duncan leaned in the other direction.
While Kemp and Raffensperger gave lip-service support to the voting bill in hopes of mollifying the angry Republican base, Duncan washed his hands of it, refusing even to preside over the Senate while the bill was being debated.
Duncan didn’t do that much to make his intentions clearer when he put out the news through an aide last week that he doesn’t plan to run for office in 2022.
In the first place, his plans haven’t been finalized, according to his chief of staff, John Porter, making what we know so far an unsettled non-announcement. He seems to be giving himself enough wiggle room not to run, or to run in any of the statewide races available in 2022, with the likely exception of the office he currently holds.
Duncan came to the lieutenant governor’s office from the House, with a lot of ideas about how to run the Senate, and soon grew frustrated with the entrenched Senate Republican establishment. If Duncan does decide not to run for lieutenant governor again, it may have as much to do with his frustrations over that as it does with Donald Trump.
In the un-finalized plans for his future, Duncan will be throwing his energies into GOP 2.0, his new organization committed to making a fresh break with the Trump years with “a fresh and reasoned approach to creating Republican majorities.”
Right now GOP 2.0 amounts to a bare-bones website with a “Donate” box at the bottom, but its potential shouldn’t be underestimated.
Over the past weekend there was a conference call of more than 100 top corporate executives talking about ways to protest discriminatory voting laws, including withholding political contributions. A few hours later, Trump, who has urged followers to contribute directly to him and not to the Republican Party, hosted a group of top GOP donors at Mar-a-Lago.
Short-term, it might not look like it makes much sense to launch a post-Trump organization in the teeth of a fiercely loyal Trump base. Long term, it makes no sense at all for a bunch of Republican fatcats to shell out $100,000 to take a bus to Mar-a-Lago to hear Trump call Mitch McConnell a “dumb son of a bitch.” Big Money has grown increasingly uncomfortable and is looking for a place to go in our political system. Duncan, who has called himself a “serial entrepreneur,” already has his sign up on the web.
The GOP 2.0 website calls on the party to improve its “Policy, Empathy and Tone,” which makes a really lame acronym but gets the point across. For Republicans of a suburban, moderate, policy-oriented mold, GOP 1.0 is growing increasingly inhospitable. For those like Duncan who clearly have large ambitions, the straddle between what it takes to win a Republican primary and a statewide general election grows ever wider.
The announcement over the weekend of a brokered deal between the South Korean electronics companies warring over a planned electric vehicle battery manufacturing plant in Commerce might not seem to have much to do with this tempest in the state GOP. The governor’s office was said to be “ecstatic” over the development, and Jun Kim, the CEO of SK Innovation, praised Kemp for his “sustained effort” to keep the project alive. But the Georgia official credited with pulling off the negotiation and rescuing the $2.1 billion was U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff.
“When the future of the plant was in jeopardy, Senator Ossoff provided leadership and helped us achieve a path forward,” Jun’s statement said.
IIf that’s true, this is the biggest impact an elected Georgia Democrat has had on public policy in nearly two decades, pulled off by a senator who has just turned 34. It comes even as one of the Republicans’ most promising young talents — who has just turned 46 — considers sitting out the next election.