Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican, has gone against the wishes of Donald Trump and appointed Kelly Loeffler, a Georgia financial executive, to serve the remaining term of Senator Johnny Isakson, who is retiring due to health issues.
Trump pressured Kemp to appoint Rep. Doug Collins, a fierce supporter of the president in his bid to ward off impeachment. But Kemp apparently had more local political concerns, appointing the suburban female co-owner of Atlanta’s WNBC franchise to shore up his support among women and suburbanites.
Her selection ends months of maneuvering for the coveted seat, but it seems likely to open a tumultuous new phase. U.S. Rep. Doug Collins recently said he is “strongly” considering a run for the Senate seat if he’s not picked.
“I appreciate the support I have received from the president and many others,” Collins said Wednesday, “and right now, my primary focus is defending our president against partisan impeachment attacks.”
Loeffler’s appointment also creates a stark rift with the president, whose endorsement of Kemp last year helped him win a heated GOP primary runoff. The president repeatedly urged the governor to tap Collins, and a secretive meeting in Washington with Loeffler didn’t win him over.
Trump is going to see this as a personal betrayal. His retaliation is likely to come down on Kemp more than Loeffler. The president is not going to hand a Senate seat to the Democrats, the odds of which would increase substantially if Collins were to receive his backing in a primary. But Kemp is running again in 2022 and, if Trump is still around, expect the president to make Kemp’s life hell.
For the moment, the Georgia GOP appears to be sticking together:
Georgia Republicans swiftly responded with messages of praise or support, though some took a more measured approach. House Speaker David Ralston stood near Kemp when he made the announcement, but he signaled in a statement that he was still apprehensive.
“Governor Kemp has chosen the person he believes is most qualified to represent our values in Washington,” said Ralston, who has close ties to Collins. “I congratulate Ms. Loeffler and I look forward to getting to know her as we all work together to keep America great.”
Loeffler says she supports Trump and looks forward to working with him. But like a lot of rich people, she has contributed to both parties in the past.
But Loeffler’s appointment brings much uncertainty. She’s not widely known, even in political circles, and her stances on the contentious debates that she’d have to tackle in Washington are unclear.
Some grassroots activists have already sounded the alarm, worried that she’s too moderate because of past campaign contributions to Democratic candidates and mistrustful of her support for Trump.
“It’s one thing to say that you’re a Republican, but actions speak louder than words,” said Rebecca Yardley, the GOP chairwoman for the 9th District, who said she worries Loeffler stands in “direct opposition to our strong conservative values.”
Loeffler is pro-Second Amendment, anti-abortion, and says she supports Trump. Apparently, she is suspect because she doesn’t love Trump enough and gave money to the wrong party. Is that reason enough to oppose her?
On the other hand, Collins is a fanatical pro-Trump booster and would defend the president to the last. I’m sure Trump considered having another GOP senator who was vocal in his support and 100 percent behind him when pushing Kemp to appoint him. But Loeffler will be a reliable “No” vote if impeachment ends up in a Senate trial.