Some Republicans in Georgia are calling for a purity test as Trump appears at the convention after the indictment

ATLANTA (AP) – The Georgia Republican Convention begins Friday. Donald Trump is still expected on Saturday, even as a right-wing party faction seeks to punish Republican Party officials they believe are ideological traitors by barring them from future primary elections.

Trump may enact a tinge of revenge after announcing on Thursday he has been charged with misappropriating classified documents, which sidelined party deals and speakers, including Republican presidential candidates Asa Hutchinson and Vivek Ramaswamy.

The proposal to ban candidates could be used to punish elected Republican leaders, including Governor Brian Kemp or Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, for standing up to Trump by rejecting then-President demands to make up for his 2020 election defeat. It could also be used against candidates who show insufficient purity in relation to abortion or taxes.

Kemp, Raffensperger and some other officials are skipping the two-day meeting in Columbus.

The proposals could be quashed as opponents say primary voters should decide who is eligible to run for Republican. While ideological purists try to relentlessly push Republicans to the right, pragmatists say it’s a strategy to lose the general election in contested Georgia.

Jack Kingston, a former Georgia congressman who ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 2014, said it’s “bull” for any Republican to presume to set boundaries for the party.

“These things never work,” he said of the party’s attempts at purity. “And it’s just dumb, because you can’t grow the party without attracting at least a few moderates who wouldn’t fit some people’s definition of a good Republican.”

Saturday will be Trump’s first visit to Georgia since March 2022, when he endorsed candidates challenging Kemp and other Republicans. Most of Trump’s candidates lost in their primaries. One of the nominees, Senate candidate Herschel Walker, was plagued by scandal and lost a runoff to Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock.

Trump said he faces a court hearing in Florida next week on the documents matter as investigations remain against him elsewhere, including in Georgia. An Atlanta-based prosecutor, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, is investigating whether Trump unlawfully interfered in the 2020 election and has suggested impeachment decisions will be made in August.

But Trump’s legal troubles hide another Georgia legacy: the wedge he drove between Kemp and the state party. Trump had supported Kemp in the Georgian’s successful run for governor in 2018, but their relationship was already deteriorating when Kemp dismissed Trump’s call to overturn President Joe Biden’s narrow victory.

Kemp, Republican Attorney General Chris Carr and others have lashed out at outgoing state party leader David Shafer, who faces his own legal danger after 2020, saying Shafer sided with Trump and the Republican incumbents in 2022 undermine. They are boycotting the party congress.

Kemp seeks to project national influence to distract Republicans from Trump, arguing that resentment and a backward focus on the 2020 election would repel voters. But the belief that someone stole Trump’s election in Georgia, despite ample evidence to the contrary, has sparked a new wave of activists now taking control of the Georgia party.

The decision to grant a speaking seat to Arizona native Kari Lake, a staunch Trump supporter who continues to deny losing the gubernatorial race last year, is symbolic of unwavering support for the stolen election claim. Lake will be replacing former Vice President Mike Pence, who is also running for president and canceled a speech at the convention on Friday.

Kemp has stopped subtly attacking Trump, even as polls show Trump is the front-runner for the 2024 nomination.

“Our country’s takeback of Joe Biden doesn’t begin with congratulating North Korea’s murderous dictator,” Kemp tweeted June 2, joining Republican presidential hopefuls who have criticized Trump for asking North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un to nominate him Landes on the board of the World Health Organization.

The candidates to succeed Shafer say they will try to cover up divisions in Georgia and are betting the desire to defeat Biden in 2024 can serve as glue.

“The aim here is not to shoot at people. “The goal here is to get the Republicans elected,” said Josh McKoon, a former state senator who is running for the presidency.

But those who want to enforce adherence to Republican ideals say the party must be more than just a cheerleader.

“Why are we allowing people to run under the banner of Republicans who are betraying our principles?” Alex Johnson, president of the right-wing Georgia Republican Assembly, asked during an online talk show on Wednesday.

Johnson’s plan would allow the state convention to bar individuals from the Republican primary for years to come. There is no proposed standard for what justifies a ban, although Johnson and other GRA members say bans should be imposed on officials who flout the party platform.

“If they’re afraid of being voted out as a Republican, they’re going to do a much better job,” Johnson said.

Such a move would likely be challenged under Georgian law, which says parties cannot block primary candidates who comply with “procedural rules” and sign an oath of allegiance. Johnson and others argue that US Supreme Court decisions guaranteeing freedom of political association take precedence over any legal obstacles.

But Debbie Dooley, an activist who campaigned against Kemp, said, “It’s wrong for a handful of people to decide who gets to run as a Republican.”

“I think the Republican voters in the Republican primary should be the ones who determine who the GOP nominee is,” Dooley said.

If successful, the rule could undermine Kemp and others’ ability to eventually govern the party. A recent state law allows Kemp and some other officials to raise unlimited amounts of money and coordinate campaigns that were once key party functions. Kemp maintained his political activity after his re-election, establishing a federal political action committee to lobby for congressional and presidential elections.

Kingston said the party’s core identity — the conservatism of a small government and an aversion to central authority — inevitably leads to such struggles.

GOP icon Ronald Reagan challenged President Gerald Ford in a bloody 1976 primary. The Georgia State Congress in 1988 dissolved due to infighting among supporters of Pat Robertson and George HW Bush. Tea Party-era delegates booed Governor Nathan Deal in 2011, rejecting his election as party leader in the same way Kemp was booed at the 2021 convention over the 2020 election.

And then came Trump.

“We all saw Trump as the ultimate outsider winning in Washington,” Kingston said, “but we’ve had this anti-establishment part of the party for a long time.”

Kingston, who can laugh about it now, felt the painful reality of his failed Senate nomination himself. As a 22-year veteran of Congress, “I had a 100 percent rating from every conservative group,” from anti-abortion advocates to deficit-hawks and anti-tax groups. But he lost a primary to then-CEO David Perdue “because I became ‘the Washington guy.'”

“There’s just no compromise with some of these people,” Kingston said.