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KINGSLAND — By almost any measure, it’s a remarkable snub.

A Republican governor, de facto leader of his state’s political party, skipping its annual convention?

But passing up the Georgia GOP’s annual convention, taking place in Columbus in June, is what Brian Kemp plans to do, said his communications director, Cody Hall. Compounding the slight to grassroots voters, the governor instead will “continue to build his own organization to energize conservative voters and elect GOP officials,” Hall said.

Doubtless there are numerous political considerations behind Kemp’s reported decision — not least, his political ambitions beyond his second and last term as Georgia’s governor. But whatever the case, his move deepens the strife roiling the state GOP.

For one thing, with the governor now overseeing a separate campaign apparatus that promises to “energize conservatives and elect GOP officials,” why should the state GOP convene a convention at all?

And if a political party’s chief function is to get its candidates elected to public office, how exactly will the state party and Kemp’s campaign organization work together in the wake of the governor’s very public rebuff, if that’s even possible?

Cooperation between the governor’s office and a state Republican Party whose ranks are filling with even more conservative members may prove difficult, if not impossible, as the First District GOP convention in Kingsland on Saturday suggests.

Most notably, delegates from county Republican committees across Coastal Georgia elected Appling County’s Kandiss Taylor as chair.

Kandiss Taylor
Kandiss Taylor speaks in front of her bus during a campaign stop for the November 2022 election.. Credit: Craig Nelson/The Current

Taylor, a member of ultraconservative Georgia Republican Assembly, ran against Kemp and three other candidates for governor in the Republican primary last year, trumpeting her disenchantment with the conservatism of the incumbent governor and other Republican state officials.

“I’m Republican, I’ve been Republican all my life. I’m very conservative,” she told a meeting of Chatham County Republicans during the primary campaign last year. “But a party doesn’t control me. And the party does not define me. I’m defined by Jesus Christ. I belong to Him.”

‘This is good versus evil’

Following her remarks, she posed for a photo in front of her campaign bus emblazoned with her image and the slogan “Jesus, Guns, Babies,” and told T­he Current:

“The people of Georgia are sick of the establishment politicians . . . It’s not about parties. This is good versus evil. This is right versus wrong. The people are ready for change. I’m one of the people. I’m not an establishment politician.”

Taylor’s campaign wasn’t successful — she won a meager 3.42% of the 1,204,742 ballots cast, or 41,232 votes — but her anti-establishment message resonated among Coastal Georgia’s activist, rank-and-file Republicans who showed up to vote for their district party representatives Saturday.

Along with that, at least 75% of her candidate slate won election to the state GOP committee and to the First District executive board. That follows the victory of Brittany Brown in last month’s race to lead the Chatham County GOP. She emerged from the Georgia Republican Assembly, and her slate of seven candidates won six out of seven races they contested for positions on the county’s executive board.

James Abely, a Glynn County lawyer who attended the First District GOP convention, held at Christ’s Church Camden, hailed Saturday’s outcome as a triumph over the powers that be in the state Republican Party.

“It was really a good day. The establishment was running — no, ruling — the First District GOP lost. Grassroots Republicans have had enough,” said Abely, who serves as a volunteer legal adviser for the Coastal Republican Assembly, a chapter of the ultraconservative Georgia Republican Assembly.

Avoiding boos

It’s expressions of that anti-establishment fervor by Taylor and other self-described members of the party’s grassroots and a repetition of the chorus of boos that Kemp received at the annual convention on Jekyll Island in 2021 that the governor appears keen to avoid, even though it’s that very grassroots that GOP stalwarts say got him first elected governor in 2018.

As Kemp climbs the ladder in pursuit of his lofty political ambitions — perhaps making himself available for a presidential draft as soon as next year, say some Glynn County Republicans — he has priorities.

And the last thing the lame duck governor apparently believes he needs are Taylor and other grassroots Republicans, many of them supporters of Donald Trump, sniping publicly at his heels, while powerbrokers of the national party look on.

That Kemp has evidently decided to be a no-show at the state party’s signature event suggests that he and his advisers have decided that whatever price he pays for not attending is small compared to how he can better serve his greater political ambitions by staying away.

Namely, he again shows his distance from the far-right, heavily Trump-supporting base of the state party and positions himself as a conservative candidate for U.S. Senate in 2026 or for president, perhaps as early as next year, some delegates in Kingsland suggested.

Another calculation underlying the decision to stay away from Columbus in June and withstand the criticism from Republicans that surely his decision will bring down on him may be electoral.

No matter how much the “establishment” Kemp is resented by the “grassroots” — or how much the moderate, conservative, and ultraconservative wings of the party mistrust and dislike each other — it won’t make a difference at the ballot box, the reasoning goes. They fear and hate Democrats more.

The Tide brings regular notes, anlaysis and observations on news and events by The Current staff.

Craig Nelson is a former international correspondent for The Associated Press, the Sydney (Australia) Morning-Herald, Cox Newspapers and The Wall Street Journal. He also served as foreign editor for The...