By Walter Jones –
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Being outside was clearly “in” with the Republicans at their state convention over the weekend, and no one was more in than David Perdue.
“I will always be an outsider,” he said. “…They offered me the Kool Aid. I wouldn’t take it.”
He had little competition for the darling of the convention since the Republican governor and Republican House speaker didn’t even attend. The Republican lieutenant governor merely urged unity by noting that he and his wife don’t agree on everything and that the selection of Supreme Court justices is reason enough for the party to work toward winning the White House – a message delivered without uttering the name of the party’s presumptive nominee, Donald Trump.
The keynote speaker, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, was 24 minutes into his 25-minute address before he mentioned Trump.
To show how unpopular Gov. Nathan Deal and U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson were, they mentioned by name by delegates debating a motion chastising the party’s elected officials for straying from Republican principles.
Perdue, the state’s junior U.S. senator, got the warmest response of any speaker during the two-day convention.
Starting with a standing ovation when he was introduced at a fundraising breakfast, it peaked as he wrapped up his address to the convention donning his trademark denim jacket and a red, “Make American Great Again” cap.
“With Trump in the White House, we can fix the budget process. We can grow the economy. With Trump in the White House, we can reduce spiraling healthcare costs. With Trump in the White House, we can absolutely save Social Security and Medicare,” he said. “We’ve got a chance to change the direction of our country.”
National campaign operatives observed early this year that Perdue’s 2014 success in his outsider campaign highlighted the start of a trend in voter attitudes that Trump, Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson were all trying to tap into. While incumbency is still a stronger factor, as Georgia’s May 24 primary showed, at least for open seats, voters’ preference is for political newcomers.
Another newcomer who won in ’14 was Rick Allen, the congressman for the convention-hosts 12th District. His endorsement of Trump was the only one to come in the form of a scriptural reading and instructions from God.
“I believe the Lord wants me to support our nominee,” Allen told the convention.
Yet, Perdue is still such a new face that when he was dining in an Augusta restaurant Friday night, delegates walked right past him without pestering him with greetings or selfie requests. They recognized him well enough on the convention stage, not moving a muscle when the fire alarm in the new facility began sounding in the middle of his speech.
His most candid comments, though, came in remarks to the 35 Young Republicans who conducted their own state convention during time set aside to honor military veterans. He told the young activists that neither Trump nor Democrat Bernie Sanders’ support was due to ideology but rather as candidates who annunciate voter frustrations.
“I don’t know if he’s conservative or not,” he said of Trump. “I know he’s more conservative than Hillary Clinton.”
The corporate CEO-turned freshman senator also said he’s not a fan of Trump’s trade policies. He acknowledged that Trump’s punitive threats put our trading partners on notice that he will be a tough negotiator.
Perdue recounted conversations he’s had with Trump during the 2014 election cycle. He said he didn’t endorse any of the presidential candidates during the primaries because he wanted to get commitments from all of them to reducing the federal debt, Perdue’s most persistent issue.
Perdue said that while running a Reebok and Dollar General, he had to have a keen sense of consumer sentiment. That same instinct tells him, he said, that voters today are hungry for someone with a fresh perspective.
“I know an outsider when I see one,” he said.