2010 was only eight years ago, but those years seem like an eternity as measured in political events. A popular incumbent Governor was term limited. All statewide positions were on the ballot. Primaries were bitter. Elections got personal.
I remember it well, as I had a bit of a front row seat to that one. It was as the primaries were heating up that I decided to step out from behind my internet pseudonym and start calling the balls and strikes of the election as I saw them under my own name. Social media was still in its early stages, but it was developed enough that it wasn’t only able to get personal, but amplify the personal nature of campaigns. I wasn’t immune.
When the primary contests were over, the candidates did what candidates do. They pledged support for their former adversaries and then moved on to general elections. Their supporters…don’t always do that. I haven’t always done that. Once it’s personal, it’s personal.
A lot of folks have made comparisons of the primaries we’ve just finished to the primaries of 2010. Let me first articulate two ways they are different.
2010 ushered in the rise of the Tea Party. Georgia was perhaps at its peak of one-party representation. The Democratic message from Washington wasn’t resonating in Georgia. Even their Gubernatorial nominee, former Governor Roy Barnes, attempted to outflank Republicans on the right with respect to immigration policy. There was little doubt of the predetermined outcome of the general election as we approached November 2010.
The Republican runoffs for 2010, while highly personal and occasionally bitter, were not the runoffs Republicans just experienced. The damage was somewhat contained because the 2010 runoff was only three weeks long. The runoffs we just experienced were nine weeks long. Nine weeks of personal attacks, negative ads and mailers, and time for partisans to dig in their heels and build dislike for their opposing candidates.
Democrats mostly sidestepped this problem. The only statewide contest that appeared on the runoff ballot was a contest for State School Superintendent. Their gubernatorial candidates – once so divided that supporters of the nominee shouted down her opponent based on her race – have long since publicly buried the hatchet. Democrats are motivated, and no candidate or high level operative or volunteer wants to be the reason the “resistance” movement fails.
Republicans, however, are just beginning their march to “unity”. A rally to begin that process was held less than 48 hours after the votes were counted. Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle was on hand to publicly endorse Brian Kemp. The race to replace Cagle, however, was still being contested and recount options being weighed. Unity, it seems, will be delayed a bit until procedure plays itself out.
Post-primary reconciliation requires more than a quick speech, however. Unity is a two-sided affair that requires some active management.
Candidates have personally invested years into their high profile races. It’s hard for them to make the call to endorse someone that was their opponent just hours before. I know. I’ve made this call.
Deep down, they also know this is how it works. They know many of the charges made about their opponents are just like the ones that were made against them. They are often trumped up, distorted versions of the truth designed by consultants to define the race and move voters. It’s an unfortunate part of how this game is played.
Volunteers and supporters, however, don’t see this as a game nor as the cost of doing business. They often view elections as a battle for good and evil. They’ve been told over and over “this is the most important election of our lifetime.”
Rather than a game, many see these elections as a battle for the very survival of civilization as we know it. They wrap their chosen candidates with a messiah complex and consider those who oppose him or her as true evil.
Social media reinforces and exacerbates this problem. A nine-week runoff allows for feelings to become hard set.
Thus, unity will require more than just talk while exiting the stage. Supporters of the victors need to be gracious to those who were supporting other candidates. Supporters of those who came up short need to think long and hard about what four years could do to the state’s budget, business climate, and the holy grail of the next Governor – redistricting.
Elections aren’t about the past, they’re about the future. Georgia Republicans face a united and energized Democratic party in a rapidly purpling state. Regardless whether they supported a winning candidate or one that failed capture a nomination, their question they face will be the same. Do they want to spend the time between now and November trying to get ahead, or would they rather get even? These choices are mutually exclusive.