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Columns Tom Baxter

While Trump chops, his voters show signs of moving on

By Tom Baxter

He came and he chopped. But on a night when the Braves were riding high, former President Donald Trump’s visit to Truist Park for the fourth game of the World Series didn’t draw that much attention.

This might have something to do with Trump’s call for a boycott of Major League Baseball earlier this year after the league moved the All-Star Game out of Atlanta (or Cobb County, if you want to be technical). There was conspicuously little notice of him in the Fox broadcast of the game, and when Trump thanked MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred and New York Yankees president Randy Levine for inviting him to the game, Manfred let it be known Trump had asked to come.

Trump’s attempt to insert himself into the Virginia governor’s race met with a similar result. The former president held a “tele-rally” Monday night for Republican Glenn Youngkin, but the Youngkin campaign kept a polite distance from the event, making it clear, as the MLB commissioner did, that the former president hadn’t been invited. One of the campaign’s closing ads ridiculed Democrat Terry McAuliffe for mentioning Trump’s name so much.

Make no mistake, the issues which have caused Youngkin to surge in the closing days of the Virginia campaign are mostly Trumpish issues, like the quarrel with local school boards over mask mandates and bathroom policy. But Trump himself had little to do with the emergence of these issues, any more than his chopping had anything to do with the twin home runs which put the Braves in the lead Saturday night.

The Virginia campaign seems to be pointing toward an emerging pattern in Republican politics. The message — resistance to COVID-related mandates, fury over local school issues, unhappiness over rising prices — remains very strong. But that message no longer seems to depend on one particular messenger.

As these new issues have emerged, Trump has remained laser-focused on his claim the 2020 election was rigged, even going so far as to suggest Republicans won’t vote in 2022 or 2024 if his grievances aren’t “solved.” His base may be with him about the last election, but by next year it is likely to be riled up about something else.

Trump still has enough clout with GOP leadership for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to take the very unusual step of endorsing Herschel Walker, Trump’s hand-picked candidate for the Republican nomination in the 2022 Georgia U.S. Senate race. Walker attended Saturday’s game with Trump. Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue wasn’t there Saturday night, but he made it known earlier in the week that he’s looking at a primary challenge to Gov. Brian Kemp, no doubt with the enthusiastic support of his cousin, former Gov. Sonny Perdue, as well as Trump.

Perdue might give the governor quite a primary battle, maybe even beat him. The question is which of them can beat Stacey Abrams.

Kemp already has. It could be harder for him to do it again next year given the state’s explosive growth in population since that 2018 race. The newcomers look like they lean Democratic, but it will take another election to prove that. This time Kemp would have the power of incumbency. A bitter primary might drive away some Republicans, but don’t forget what happened at that rally in Perry when said it might be better if Abrams replaced Kemp. A woman in the crowd shouted back something like “we don’t want her.”

You don’t hear of Trump supporters talking back to him at rallies very often. The Trump base Republicans are the voters most likely to show up in droves to defeat Abrams, and nothing he says is going to change that.

Perdue lost to U.S. Sen. John Ossoff last year by 55,000 votes, a significantly wider margin than Trump’s 13,000-vote loss to President Joe Biden. It’s that he lost the race, which was a very special situation, but how he lost it. He wilted under Ossoff’s attacks in one debate and ducked the next one. He never found an effective way to answer the charge that he paid more attention to his stock trades than the people’s business.

Tuesday’s Atlanta city elections won’t get the same national coverage as the Virginia governor’s race, but it has great importance for next year’s race. This will be the first major election since the passage of the new voting law. Any serious problems are likely to prompt a move by Republicans to take over elections in Fulton, the state’s largest reservoir of Democratic votes, and set the stage for an even more contentious 2022 election.

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Tom Baxter

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.

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3 Comments

  1. Elizabeth November 1, 2021 9:57 pm

    Truist Park is in unincorporated Cobb County, not Marietta (or Smyrna, as others have said in error). If you’re going by mailing address, the ballpark has an Atlanta one because it’s in 30339. Marietta city limits are further north on Cobb Parkway.Report

    Reply
    1. Tom Baxter November 1, 2021 10:35 pm

      Will fix.Report

      Reply
  2. Noel M November 2, 2021 11:21 am

    Excellent piece.Report

    Reply

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