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Let’s Clear the Air on Kelly Loeffler, Brian Kemp, and Georgia

In three-card monte, a skilled shuffler moves three cards around on a deck and it is hard to keep track of which is which. Often the key card gets swiped from the table to ensure the odds are against the player. It’s a great card trick.

In Georgia, we have a three-card monte going on where the cards are shuffling themselves it seems. There’s a coordinated effort to push Brian Kemp to pick Doug Collins for the Senate. There is the Governor’s effort to pick Kelly Loeffler. Then there is the effort of outside conservative groups deeply concerned about the Governor’s pick.

I think we need to be very, very careful here not confusing the effort to help Collins with the effort of conservative groups with real concerns. There is real concern from socially conservative groups about Kelly Loeffler. There is a coordinated effort to get Doug Collins in the seat. The two efforts sound alike, but they are not related.

The effort to get Doug Collins in the seat has done a disservice to Collins and also to these concerned conservative groups. The effort has ensured Collins will not get the seat, but it has also seemed like the outside conservative groups are part of it. The two cards look the same in the shuffle. They are not and we should treat concerns from socially conservative groups legitimately and sincerely.

Frankly, I trust Governor Kemp to get this right and give him the benefit of the doubt because I know him, like him, and have found his instincts right on these issues. But the conservative movement does not know him and conservatives nationally have a stake in this whether those in Georgia want to believe it or not. The person who sits in Johnny Isakson’s chair is going to help shape the federal judiciary, federal law, and more.

When the Susan B. Anthony List, Concerned Women of America, March for Life, etc. all speak with one voice expressing the same concern, our first reaction should not be to assume they are coordinating with Doug Collins because they aren’t. Their concerns are legitimate and their opposition is notable.

I have reason to trust Brian Kemp to get it right and they do not. They see a business executive on the board of a hospital that has roots in the abortion industry. They see a business executive with an ownership interest in the WNBA, which is explicitly hostile to conservative values and explicitly supportive of Planned Parenthood. They see a business executive who has wanted to get involved in Republican politics for some time and has never thought to build bridges with socially conservative groups.

Conservative groups in Washington, particularly pro-life groups, are experts in ferreting out poseurs. The number of people who’ve lied to pro-life groups will make up a significant portion of the political class in hell. I have a friend who ran a pro-life group for years and told me she far more enjoyed her time visiting with Barbara Boxer or Nancy Pelosi than with certain Republicans because the Democrats were honest about their positions and did not feel the need to head pat like so many Republicans who love Jesus and babies so long as they never have to actually vote on pro-life issues.

But therein lies the intersection on this issue with me and why I am willing to give Governor Kemp the benefit of the doubt on Kelly Loeffler. Kemp replaced a Governor who talked a good game on religious liberty, encouraged the legislature to pass RFRA, then made sure it was done in a year he wasn’t on the ballot but the legislative Republicans were. The legislative Republicans all voted for it and Nathan Deal vetoed it despite promising to sign it. They’d claimed they supported it and he was not on the ballot. That governor then went on to sabotage protections for faith based adoption agencies in the state, but he loved Jesus and babies.

Kemp came in and pledged to sign fetal heartbeat legislation. Most Republicans assumed he would pull the RFRA stunt. Instead, he kept his word. He personally intervened to get support for it. He did the same with a school choice measure that was blocked by Senate Republicans. He has worked with conservatives to protect faith based adoption agencies. He’s earned enough good will and trust from conservatives in Georgia for us to trust him when he says Kelly Loeffler is pro-life and conservative.

But the Kemp and Loeffler folks need to do better.

Kemp made everyone who was interested in the job apply for the Senate. It cannot be a coincidence that Loeffler applied at the end of the last day for applications. That sounds very much like the fix was in, whether it was or not. It appeared to be a done deal the moment her name circulated. In the two weeks since, there have been no significant efforts to reach out to conservative groups that would ultimately help fund a Loeffler bid from the outside. There have been no efforts to court socially conservative groups at the national level. There’s just been a “trust us” attitude. That’s all well and good for those of us in Georgia, but this is a United States Senate pick, not a Georgia Senate pick.

Governor Kemp and Ms. Loeffler have to short circuit a challenge from the right. As I’ve mentioned, pro-life groups are really good at ferreting out poseurs. Loeffler needs to engage in serious outreach. Incumbency and the NRSC may have their advantages, but ask Charlie Crist and David Dewhurst just how far they’ll get you when conservatives mobilize.

If Loeffler is the real deal, Governor Kemp, Ms. Loeffler, and the conservative movement can all relax. If she’s not the pro-life conservative being advertised, this is going to get very messy very quickly and conservatives will be justified in rallying against Loeffler.

The next few weeks are going to be very critical. I can tell conservatives outside of Georgia to trust Governor Kemp, but they don’t have the reasons to trust him that I do. Frankly, I’m trusting the word of the Kemp team and a handful of mutual friends Loeffler and I share that she is a pro-life, socially conservative candidate. But I must concede the socially conservative groups in DC are right that there is no paper trail there that I know of or a history of giving to pro-life causes (Romney does not count). But there is a paper trail of giving to Democrats.

“Trust but verify” would normally work, but it is hard to verify when the deal is already done and the Governor intends to convey the advantages of incumbency with no verification outside his control.

So it ultimately comes down to trust. And I do trust Brian Kemp. But I also trust Marjorie Dannenfelser, Penny Nance, and the other conservative women who’ve dedicated themselves to the pro-life cause and have enough history within the movement to know when they’re being played. As a result, I have to strongly encourage Kelly Loeffler to reach out and earn the trust of these women and conservative movement — a trust I am assured she will be able to earn.

I’ll support Brian Kemp’s pick because I trust Brian Kemp. I don’t know Kelly Loeffler so I do not trust her. To earn the trust of conservatives, Loeffler’s use of Kemp’s trust only gets her so far. She’s got serious work to do quickly to prove her conservative credentials or the rest of us have serious work to do through November finding someone with conservative credentials to challenge her. Georgia does not need its own Susan Collins or a Lisa Murkowski. We can do better and more conservative than either.

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