Outside the Jekyll Island Convention Center, the air was warm and airy for those attending the Republican Party of Georgia State Congress, but the temperature in the crowded hall was a little cooler for Governor Brian Kemp.
After an introduction by former Senator David Perdue, Georgia’s first lifelong Republican, elected governor since the Reconstruction, was booed and ridiculed by some of the crowd.
Kemp was a popular leader who was applauded for his conservative stance on everything from education to business. He reminded attendees that in the face of national criticism, they had agreed to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have reopened our economy; they tried to pressure us to close it, ”said Kemp. “And that’s why we’re setting records today for the amount of investment in Georgia, the jobs we create.”
In his speech, Kemp campaigned for a new law “preventing radical local governments from exposing their police force,” noted his support for Georgia’s abortion law, which was blocked by the courts, and beat up billionaires in New York and California who killed the Support Democrats. In the past few weeks, Kemp has enforced the conservative-popular ban on vaccination cards, critical racial theory and masks in schools.
So why the boos?
At the convention, which saw record attendance and a massive influx of first-time visitors, the ethos of the event was that the 2020 elections were stolen and it is up to Republicans to correct this injustice and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Lawmakers received awards for making false claims about fraud and trying to overturn the election. Resolutions were passed blaming Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, calling for draconian electoral restrictions, and calling for the republican electoral system of Georgia to be scrapped in favor of hand-written paper ballots – something that GOP lawmakers ridiculed (Democrats just two years ago).
Kemp’s defense of SB 202, the comprehensive 98-page electoral law signed earlier this year, did little to suppress the booing section in the back.
“Let me also warn and remind you that the ‘demolition culture’ of the left, Major League Baseball, Stacey Abrams and Joe Biden have tried to continue to cancel and boycott our state,” said Kemp. “You lied to you and the rest of the country about the Electoral Integrity Act, a bill that makes it easy to vote and cheat regardless of what someone tells you.”
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The party ultimately avoided Lt. Gov. Blaming Geoff Duncan for choosing not to run for re-election after becoming a pariah for speaking out against Trump’s election charges. But most of the vitriol was directed against Raffensperger – especially by his challengers.
US MP Jody Hice, supported by Trump and one of the loudest voices in spreading lies about the election, handed out Boot Brad pins.
Former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle presented a nifty parody of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” in which Raffensperger and the Democratic Abrams were beaten up. Most of the song’s claims are misleading at best and false at worst, but the message is clear: Raffensperger isn’t a true Republican because he didn’t overturn the election.
Then there’s TJ Hudson, the 17-year-old Treutlen County’s probate judge who also served as the rural county’s chief electoral officer. His argument with the foreign secretary is not an alleged back-room deal with Abrams, but rather comes from a place where he actually knows how elections work.
He aspires to become a chief electoral officer because he said more training is needed for local electoral officers and poll workers to better understand the new electoral system – and to tone down any claims that something nefarious has happened when people don’t like the results.
After the chaos of 2020, from a pandemic delayed primary to the November conspiracies, Hudson said Georgia needed someone with actual electoral experience at the helm.
“If you want a congressman, pick this guy,” said Hudson. “If you want a former mayor, choose this guy. If you want an engineer, choose this guy. If you want an election officer, choose me!”
There is a palpable grassroots anger in Georgia’s GOP and a misinformed belief that rampant fraud cost Trump a victory – despite five million votes being counted, handchecked and re-counted.
In a video message from Trump, the former president advertised “huge numbers” in the losing race.
“Some strange things happened to us because I think we did better than anyone understands, except for the people in this room and people, frankly, all over the country,” he said.
Skepticism and conspiracy over Joe Biden’s victory has paved the way for candidates like Vernon Jones, a lifelong Democrat turned Trump supporter, to gain a foothold in the primary campaign against Kemp and strengthen the grassroots around last year’s election .
In the courtyard of the Westin on Jekyll Island, Jones showed up to the cheering of a sizeable crowd at his election launch event and strutted to Born in the USA before pumping his fist on a retaining wall like a noisy spring break ready to hit the city and wore a shirt that said “Stomp my flag, I’ll stamp your a **.”
“When I look at what happened to that electoral integrity and we have a governor who doesn’t ask for a forensic exam in all 159 counties, there’s a damned dead cat at stake,” Jones said cheerfully. “Why doesn’t he request a special forensic exam when he said the election was okay? Why did he sign a new law when he said the election was okay?”
But the forensic exam that Jones and other Republicans want cannot happen and does not exist in the world of elections. Election experts say several safeguards have already been put in place to ensure there are no fake ballot papers, only legal votes are counted, and any wrongdoing is exposed.
While much of the convention was spent in the past, there are some who ponder the party’s future – who see that Georgia today is very different than it was five or ten years ago, when the state was red.
After the end of the convention, with chairman David Shafer re-elected to lead the party, Surrea Ivy sat surrounded by her family and crowds of supporters who congratulated her after her unsuccessful challenge against Shafer in the race for chairman.
She gave a strong speech and many delegates said her eyes were clear on what would happen if no changes were made.
“What the Republican Party has to do is get on the bandwagon and get back to the people,” she said. “We have to start building relationships. We have to promote the platforms that we announce. “
Ivy, a black Conservative who was spurred to become more involved with the party after last year’s elections, said the party was at a crossroads and changes needed to be made to ensure the GOP’s message didn’t get that way closely tailored to specific demographics or ideologies.
“If the Republican Party doesn’t read the handwriting on the wall and start to embrace reality, we can see ourselves destroyed,” she said. “If we don’t take culture into account, we’ll die.”
There are signs that the unit might be around the corner after the primary next spring, but it will be a long year until then. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich sent a video message to Congress fueling the crowd for the next election cycle, reminding them that there is much to be done to compete with an emerging Democratic Party.
“There will be some fighting here and there but that’s fine,” he said. “Healthy parties can afford family disputes, but in the end the whole family has to come together again. We have to win.”
Both party leaders and ordinary voters agree that 2022 is too high a stake to lose sight of their goals in other national bodies.
An ongoing concern is that newly encouraged grassroots voters who support candidates who don’t win the primaries will stay home in November and cost Republicans important races, as happened in the January Senate election, despite the likely prospect of Gov. Stacey Abrams enough to send shivers down the spine of even the most republican anti-Kemp republicans.