- Trump loyalists have become the dominant voice in many GOP chapters across Georgia, per the AJC.
- The sea change threatens GOP Gov. Brian Kemp, who is loathed by the former president.
- The wave of new leadership is set to shift the party's agenda on the local and state levels.
For decades, Cobb County, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, boasted one of the most influential Republican Party chapters in the state, propelling the careers of well-known lawmakers like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Sen. Johnny Isakson.
However, in recent years, what was once a solidly Republican suburban bastion has morphed into a politically-competitive jurisdiction where Democrats have been ascendant over the last decade – which culminated in President Joe Biden's countywide victory in the 2020 election, along with the locality backing Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in their respective races earlier this year.
In the wake of Georgia supporting Biden in 2020, local Republican chapters – including the Cobb County GOP – have become increasingly dominated by loyalists of former President Donald Trump, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who was endorsed by Trump in 2018, is now on the outs with the former president after refusing to overturn Biden's victory in Georgia last fall, rejecting calls to initiate a legislative session to install pro-Trump electors.
Now, animosity against the sitting GOP governor has spread from the party's kingmaker to the grassroots level.
Four years ago, Kemp was welcomed with open arms by the Cobb County GOP when he kicked off his nascent gubernatorial bid. However, in late September, he was censured by the organization for failing to meet campaign promises on immigration, party chairperson Salleigh Grubbs told the Marietta Daily Journal.
"[Kemp] has consistently said, 'I've got a big truck in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take them home myself,'" she told the publication, alluding to a widely-viewed advertisement from the governor's first campaign. "So the resolution portion of it says that Gov. Brian Kemp be censured for his failure to keep his campaign promises and meet his obligations to end illegal immigration in the state of Georgia."
'They just wanted a clean sweep'
Trump boosters are now driving the agenda within local GOP chapters, even more so now that the former president continues to repeat debunked claims about the 2020 election and tease a potential 2024 campaign.
According to the AJC, Trump loyalists have wrestled control of the local GOP machinery "in at least a dozen counties" in Georgia; while the loyalists have brought new energy to the local organizations, they have also "contributed to the ongoing friction" that the party must overcome to win in 2022.
Trump has so far refused to endorse Kemp in 2022, and he's eagerly seeking to replace Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger with conservative Rep. Jody Hice next year. Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who has been highly critical of the former president's election claims, declined to run for reelection in 2022. And former NFL star Herschel Walker is the leading 2022 Republican Senate candidate to contest Democrat Raphael Warnock in what will likely shape up as one of the most competitive races in the country.
DeAnna Harris, who leads the Cobb County Young Republicans and opposed the censure of Kemp, told the AJC that it was essential for the GOP to present a united front to voters.
"All families have disagreements, but we've got to learn how to disagree in private and move forward in public together," she said. "Because it's going to set the stage for next year – and the next presidential election."
Harris also said that the "Trump takeover" is not just about optics, but is indicative of allies having a say in the party agenda, along with their ability to recruit candidates and spread their message to voters.
Trump for years has rebuked party members who were not firmly in his camp, and his loyalists are waging "internal war on mainstream Republicans who long controlled the gears of power," according to the AJC.
In recent months, the changes within local parties have been swift.
Kerry Luedke, who chaired the Cherokee County GOP for much of 2020 and focused on turnout efforts, told the AJC that she was ousted from her post after a wave of activists arrived, inspired by former Trump strategist Steve Bannon's call for loyalists to seize control of the party.
"While I was out there knocking on doors for the runoff candidates, they were Christmas shopping. But in their view, we had to go," she said. "It didn't really matter to some of these activists what we had done. They just wanted a clean sweep."