Last week, when former President Donald Trump signaled that he may hit the “pause” button on his endorsements of Republican primary candidates, he clearly saw the handwriting on the wall about the shellacking his endorsed candidate, former Georgia Senator David Perdue, would take in the state’s Republican primary for governor.
Two others whom Trump loved to hate in Georgia, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Attorney General Chris Carr, also won by landslides over Trump’s bad picks.
Trump’s apparent retreat, combined with his three Georgia endorsees’ massive defeats, illustrate the power that individuals have in exercising their vote, no matter what a leading party influencer has to say.
Do you remember that father-to-be who, earlier this month, took the controls of a Cessna and safely landed it after the pilot became incapacitated? Citizens often fail to appreciate how much ability we have, working with others, to steer a ship, including the ship of state.
Think about how individuals’ actions lie behind Trump’s signal that he may be surrendering on endorsements. He was responding not only to polls predicting Perdue’s defeat, but also to recent endorsement failures or close calls.
On May 17, Idaho Governor Brad Little crushed his far more radical opponent, Lt. Governor Janet McMeachin, whom Trump had endorsed. In Pennsylvania’s Senate primary race the same day, Mehmet Oz, the TV personality whom Trump endorsed, either barely squeaked by or will lose to the more experienced Dave McCormick. A week earlier, on May 11, the candidacy of Charles Herbster, Trump’s choice for Governor, failed.
What makes Perdue’s 50-point loss yesterday stand out is that his opponent, incumbent Brian Kemp, like Raffensperger and Carr, earned Trump’s wrath by standing up to Trump in November 2020. All three supported the Constitution and certified Joe Biden’s election in Georgia.
Let’s not kid ourselves, however, especially about Kemp. He is no stand-up defender of democracy. Despite a lack of evidence of voter fraud in Georgia’s 2020 election, Kemp breathed life into the Republican false election claims by calling for review of absentee ballots and for a “signature match” audit.
He supported and signed Georgia’s voter suppression measure, Senate Bill 202, which gives state partisans the ability to replace county election boards and shamefully, prohibits providing a would-be voter standing in line with water or food.
Still, Kemp’s victory beats one by Perdue.
To be sure, some of Trump’s chosen Republicans elsewhere have won, including Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial nominee, Doug Mastriano. But Trump joined Mastriano’s bandwagon only after it was already clear from polls that he would win.
And for those who oppose a divisive, election-denier like Mastriano, his extremism makes him vulnerable in November; that is, if they exercise their power to vote. Republicans are reported to be in a panic that that will happen.
Let’s widen the lens a bit from Republican primaries to the effect of mainstream Americans helping to preserve a politically endangered species —bipartisanship. On May 19, the House voted 420-1 to condemn anti-Semitism. That is the kind of lopsided vote that tells us that extremist hate, while on the rise, does not have the hold in middle America that one might think from headlines.
And it matters when, two days later, Donald Trump stood on a podium with a notorious anti-Semite at the Conservative PAC convention in Hungary.
On the same day, the Senate voted 86-11 to authorize a new $40 billion for self-determination and survival in Ukraine. Notwithstanding the divided state of America, that kind of vote happens only when there is broad national agreement among citizens on an issue.
Widen the lens even further and you see even Russians exercising their individual power. On May 17, Mikhail M. Khodaryonok, a retired army colonel, had the courage to counter Putin’s disinformation on Russian TV when he said, “The situation for us will clearly get worse. We are in total geopolitical isolation, and the whole world is against us, even if we don’t want to admit it.”
Sure, he was forced to recant two days later. But his original truth-telling had more than six million views, signaling widespread impact on Russians.
And the next day, Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old Russian sergeant captured in Ukraine and tried for war crimes, showed the moral power of self-accountability that every individual has. Shishimarin confessed to shooting a 62-year-old civilian outside his home. Speaking to his victim’s widow on May 19, Shishimarin expressed shame and responsibility: “I realize that you can’t forgive me,”
The video of that statement ran on American television was widely seen in Ukraine and around the world. Despite the Russian soldier’s heinous act, his voluntary confession, his shame at evil-doing, and his vulnerability motivate others to act justly and oppose the crimes of war.
Small acts of redemption and truth-telling build on one another. In February when the Russian invasion began, there was no way that this young soldier could have known that his words of regret would echo around the world and be part of resisting the evil into which his country thrust him.
There is a lesson there for all of us.