News Update

Analysis: The politics of MLB's All-Star Game decision are more complicated than you think

The move, one of a series of decisions by large corporations and institutions — Delta, Coke, etc. — to speak out against the law has triggered a massive political back-and-forth at the national level, with Democrats insisting Republicans are trying to change the rules after losing the 2020 election and GOPers arguing that the reaction to the law is yet another example of cancel culture run amok.
Amid all of the spin and name-calling, I wanted to get at how the law was playing in Georgia — among both its political class and its voters. To do that I reached out Greg Bluestein, a political reporter at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Our conversation, conducted via email and lightly edited for flow, is below.
Cillizza: Is the reaction to the MLB decision purely along partisan lines? Republicans hate, Democrats applaud? Any exceptions?
Bluestein: The reaction is broadly along partisan lines, but there are important splits.
On the Democratic side, there are growing worries that MLB’s decision is the latest in what could be a domino effect of companies and events that pull out of Georgia — and a worry that Republicans could pin the blame on them for the economic damage.
So there’s an internal rift between some demanding boycotts and others, including many elected officials and party leaders like Stacey Abrams, who say it’s too soon to take that sort of step.
Among Republicans, there’s a sort of rallying effect behind Gov. Brian Kemp and the GOP legislators who voted in unison to support the law.
But there’s an outlier: Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, the No. 2 state official and the nominal leader of the state Senate. Duncan, a former minor league pitcher, said he disagreed with Commissioner Rob Manfred’s decision but respected the outcome. But he’s also stepped up his criticism of former President Donald Trump for promoting lies about Georgia’s election, saying the post-election misinformation campaign is divisive.
Duncan’s stance is no surprise. He was one of the first elected GOP leaders to loudly debunk the pro-Trump conspiracy theories, and he’s questioned the need for an election overhaul. And earlier this year, he refused to preside over the vote on a previous, and more restrictive, proposal. But it does represent a rift among top Georgia Republicans over the fallout.
Cillizza: What about the average Georgia voter? Are they following the law? Do they care? How do they feel?
Bluestein: That’s a great question, because there’s been so much splattered all over social media on this it’s hard for the average voter to keep track. (You can read the key details here.) And as some Republicans will admit, it’s partly because they pushed a far more restrictive measure earlier this year, one that would severely limit who can vote by mail and restrict weekend voting. As Duncan put it, the GOP fell into a “trap” on voting laws.
I’ve covered Georgia politics for roughly two decades now and all the perennial problems that crop up each vote: hours-long lines at polling sites, overwhelmed local election officials, dreadfully slow results in key counties. And when Georgians have to bring a lawn chair as an accessory to vote because the waits are so long, everyone can agree there’s a problem.
We’re seeing huge interest in this bill and the aftermath, but the question of how voters feel about the law is a little harder to pin down. The last poll we conducted, in late January before the law was signed, found most Georgia voters endorsed requiring some form of ID to cast an absentee ballot and broad support for stronger election safeguards. But it also showed most voters didn’t believe Trump’s lies about widespread fraud and they didn’t want new restrictions on ballot drop boxes and no-excuse absentee voting.

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Cillizza: Brian Kemp has been front and center in the pushback to MLB. Is this what gives him his credibility back among base GOPers?
Bluestein: That’s one of the most important questions leading up to next year’s election in Georgia.
The governor has been in deep trouble with his base, and Trump has vowed to support a primary challenger. This is Kemp’s chance to play the hero to the pro-Trump crowd, and so far he’s trying to maximize the attention. He’s done dozens of media interviews, mostly with conservative outlets, touting the law in the last week. And he’s vowed to defend it, even if it means more economic threats, lawsuits and boycotts. This is comfortable territory for him, too, as the state’s top election official for much of the last decade, and you can tell he’s spoiling for this fight.
But as we saw from a statement Monday night, Trump still isn’t won over — and says the law doesn’t go far enough. He wants more restrictive standards for absentee ballots that he says would have made him the winner in Georgia, even though there’s no proof whatsoever of any widespread voting fraud of any kind. And there are still rumbles about credible pro-Trump primary challenges to Kemp right now, though it’s getting harder to see that happening.
Cillizza: Are these the opening shots in the 2022 governor’s race?
Bluestein: That’s how I see it. Abrams hasn’t announced a 2022 rematch against Kemp, but she’s expected to launch her campaign in the next few months. And there’s reason to believe next year’s campaign will be even more bitter and divisive than the 2018 race. In that contest, Kemp and Abrams slugged it out over voting rights and access to the ballot box in the closing months of the campaign, ending with Abrams’ famous decision not to concede defeat to a Republican she believed unfairly presided over his own victory.
The shots between Kemp and Abrams over this bill are a prelude of what’s to come next year: Abrams accuses the governor of willfully working to block Black Georgians, the poor and the elderly from voting. Kemp tries to pin the economic fallout on Abrams, saying that corporate critics and others have “caved to fear.
Cillizza: Finish this sentence: In November 2022, Georgia Republicans will look back on this law and think ____________.” Now, explain.
Bluestein: “They’ll think of it as both a uniter and a divider.”
In one sense, it’s given Republicans still torn over a devastating double-whammy of defeats — Democrats flipped Georgia in a presidential vote for the first time since 1992, and then swept GOP Senate incumbents in January’s runoffs — something to crow about. Republican lawmakers embraced the election law and Kemp’s allies are exulting in the corporate backlash, privately calling it a “gift” for his campaign for a second term. If he avoids a serious primary challenger, this legislation will be a major reason why.
But in Georgia, like other battleground states, general election campaigns are no longer about a race to the middle. In 2018, Kemp and Abrams set turnout records by appealing directly to their parties’ bases. Democrats say these efforts to roll back voting rights will only help energize their supporters — and appeal to moderates and independents disgusted by Trump’s still-looming shadow over the Georgia GOP.
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