ATLANTA — Who will win Georgia in the race for president next year?
The Peach State is expected to be pivotal, once again, to whomever ends up winning the White House.
And this coming weekend, Georgia Republicans are giving a high-profile platform to former President Donald Trump, as he campaigns for a second term, at the annual state GOP convention in Columbus.
Trump, and his ally Kari Lake of Arizona, the GOP nominee for Governor of Arizona in 2022 -- a staunch denier of her loss last year as well as of Trump's loss in 2020 -- are the convention’s two featured speakers. Lake is the keynote speaker on Friday and Trump speaks Saturday afternoon.
While Trump will be there, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has decided to skip the state GOP convention this year.
The two men represent two, conflicting wings of the Georgia Republican Party.
It is a party divided, gearing up to try to prevail over the Democrats in the 2024 elections.
Emory University Political Science Professor Dr. Andra Gillespie said Monday that Trump is securing tighter control of the Georgia Republican Party than ever.
“What this signals is that, at least at the state and local party level, the Trump wing of the party is ascendant,” in Georgia, Gillespie said, “and they are the people who are going to be holding key leadership positions in the party for the next few years. This is consequential.”
Dr. Gillespie said Gov. Kemp is powerful enough on his own, that he can easily skip the Trump-leaning state GOP convention without any political harm to himself.
This past Friday Kemp, for the first time, even publicly criticized Trump, because Trump posted a message on social media congratulating North Korea’s dictator Kim Jung Un for being named to the Executive Board of the World Health Organization.
“Taking our country back from Joe Biden does not start with congratulating North Korea’s murderous dictator,” Kemp wrote in a Tweet.
So while Kemp may not need the backing of the Trump wing of the Georgia GOP right now to do or say what he wants, Gillespie said that lesser GOP politicians -- as well as new Republican candidates for state and local office across Georgia -- may have no choice but to seek the support of Trump and Trump Republicans in Georgia, at least until Trump himself is out of the picture.
That is, she said, unless Kemp’s own political fund-raising apparatus continues to grow into a powerhouse -- one that can become an alternative to the state GOP for Republican candidates trying to win funding and votes without Trump support.
“I think the Republican party is still trying to figure out what it’s going to look like for the second half of this decade,” and beyond in a post-Trump nation, Gillespie said. “Brian Kemp knows that his place amongst Republican voters is pretty secure. It's just a question of whether or not the Kemp organization could be deployed to help other people who are not pretty well-established Republican figures in the state.”
As for another Trump ally, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Rome), she’s now the subject of news headlines in conservative media, such as “Far Right turns on MTG...” as published in The Daily Beast.
Critics accuse her of becoming an establishment Republican, most recently because she joined forces last week with Republican House Speaker Keven McCarthy and supported the deficit deal that McCarthy negotiated with President Joe Biden.
Gillespie doesn’t think Greene is in trouble with her Trump base in Georgia, yet.
“People may be mad with her now, but the truth is, she is one of the most conservative members of the House of Representatives,” Gillespie said. “It would be hard to find somebody who could run to the right of Marjorie Taylor Greene” and challenge her in 2024.
“It would be hard for somebody else to build up the type of organization and platform and brand that she has built over the last few years," Gillespie added.
So, as it is, Greene and Trump, as of now, are more firmly in control of the Georgia Republican Party than ever.