WASHINGTON ― Donald Trump’s grip on the Republican Party got a little tighter Monday when the lieutenant governor of Georgia, who has criticized the former president’s lies about the 2020 election and his incitement of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, decided not to run for reelection.
“It always feels coldest right before the sun rises. I believe that is the exact moment in time the Republican Party is caught in right now, and I am committed to being a part of creating those better days ahead for our conservative party all across this country,” Geoff Duncan said in a statement, adding that instead of seeking a second term, he will work on “healing and rebuilding” the Republican Party. “In the coming months, I will begin transitioning a majority of my political energy toward helping to build out an organization called GOP 2.0 on a national level.”
Trump, who tried to overthrow American democracy on Jan. 6 in his last-ditch attempt to remain in power despite losing the 2020 election by 7 million votes, has repeatedly attacked Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for refusing to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s narrow win in that state.
In fact, Trump’s attempt to coerce Raffensperger into “finding” 11,780 Georgia votes for him so he could claim victory, is the subject of a criminal investigation by Fulton County prosecutors.
Trump has been working to recruit GOP challengers to Kemp and Raffensperger to defeat them in next year’s primary, but he did not appear to have spent much energy going after Duncan, who has criticized Trump far more forcefully than either of the other two.
In early December, as Trump tried to strong-arm Republican officials in several states won by Biden into reversing those results, Duncan told CNN that Trump’s “half truths” and “lies” to try to overturn the election were bad for both the country and the party. “What is alarming is the amount of misinformation that continues to flow,” he said.
In March, Duncan opposed the election law pushed through the Georgia legislature by Republicans largely in response to Trump’s lies about voter fraud. “Republicans don’t need election reform to win. We need leadership. I think there’s millions of Republicans waking up around the country that are realizing that Donald Trump’s divisive tone and strategy is unwinnable in forward-looking elections,” he told NBC News.
One Republican pollster who does work in Georgia, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was “doubtful” Duncan could have gotten through his party’s primary next year with at least two other pro-Trump candidates already interested in the race in a state where a runoff is required if no one wins an outright majority.
An aide to Duncan, though, disputed that, saying that an internal poll showed him leading the field.
Trump, who was impeached a record two times but has expressed interest in seeking to get his old job back, has pushed hard to purge from the party those Republicans who have stood up to his lies about the election and those who voted to impeach him for inciting the Jan. 6 attack. Last week, House Republicans, at Trump’s urging, removed Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming from her leadership position because of her insistence that Trump’s behavior should disqualify him from a role in the party.
Trump spent weeks attacking the legitimacy of the Nov. 3 election after he had lost, starting his lies in the pre-dawn hours of Nov. 4 with claims that he had really won in a “landslide” and that it was being “stolen” from him. Those falsehoods continued through a long string of failed lawsuits challenging the results in a handful of states. After the Electoral College finally voted on Dec. 14, making Biden’s win official, Trump began urging his followers to come to Washington on Jan. 6 to intimidate his own vice president and members of Congress into overturning the Electoral College results and installing Trump as president for another term anyway. The mob he incited attempted to do just that as it stormed the Capitol. His supporters even chanted “Hang Mike Pence” after Pence refused to comply with Trump’s demands.
A police officer died after being assaulted during the insurrection, and two others took their own lives soon afterward.
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