A Purple State Under the Gold Dome

Georgia may be a purple state now in national politics, or even a blue one given the trifecta Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock completed in this past week’s U.S. Senate runoffs. But it remains solidly red under the Gold Dome in Atlanta.

As members of the General Assembly return to the state Capitol this week to begin their annual legislative session, it bears watching how the still-in-charge Republicans react to their sudden political mortality – and how they signal their intentions to stave it off.

The events since the runoffs will certainly give them pause. After nine weeks of Donald Trump’s accusations that Democrats – and, in his telling, some high-ranking Georgia Republicans – had stolen the election from him, we saw where that kind of rhetoric leads. An angry mob of Trump supporters broke into the U.S. Capitol, ostensibly to stop the congressional certification of Joe Biden’s electoral win.

They only temporarily succeeded. But the images of rioters violently confronting police, shattering windows and forcing open doors, breaking into leaders’ offices and the Senate chamber, peering through an opening in the door at police in the House chamber with their handguns drawn – the effect of those images won’t be temporary.

We are still writing the first draft of history here, but it seems quite likely that this marks a political turning point. Trump has mocked his political obituaries many times before, but this incident goes beyond disparaging John McCain or being caught on video speaking obscenely about women. It gets to the core of our nation’s governance.

It also catches him on the way down, not the way up.

Whether Trump could sustain his movement looked like a fascinating question for the next two to four years. It’s a difficult thing for any former president to do, much less one who lost re-election and saw the opposition party take control of Congress. The Capitol incursion made the task that much harder.

So, where do Georgia Republicans go from here?

There’s a real, and obviously raw, split within the party. Sides were taken over Trump’s election challenges, and it wasn’t always just politics. It got very personal for some involved. Those wounds won’t heal quickly or easily.

The healing process may run well beyond the elections of 2022, when Republicans will try to maintain not only their majorities in the General Assembly, but their decade-long grip on every statewide constitutional office. If it does last that long, the damage may be too much for the Georgia GOP to overcome.

But if the party can muster a meaningful degree of unity before taking on a well-oiled Democratic machine, it has an opportunity to bolster its case heading into those contests.

Many Georgians are struggling mightily right now. Thousands remain out of work, and the national labor market hit a distinct bump in the road last month, shedding jobs for the first time since April and extending a six-month downward trend. Employment gains have been stronger in Georgia than nationally, but that progress is fragile.

Many parents are at their wits’ end, trying to juggle their day job with their second job as a virtual school teaching assistant for their children.

Others feel the mental and emotional strain of living so tentatively for the better part of 10 months, and wondering how much longer this limbo may last.

What’s more, their physical health remains in jeopardy as COVID-19 surges anew: This past Friday Georgia reported more than 10,000 cases in a day for the first time. The seven-day moving average was over 70% higher than at this summer’s peak, and it was more than seven times higher than this spring’s peak.

Removing barriers to employment and education. Improving access to mental and physical healthcare. That sounds like the meat of an agenda that would soar above our partisan rock bottom. That sounds like the work a majority party keen on maintaining its position would undertake.

Kyle Wingfield is president and CEO of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation: www.georgiapolicy.org.
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