Kemp’s Senate Selection is Just Identity Politics

The round-them-up-and-take-em’-home Georgia Governor Brian Kemp recently caught the ire of Trump loyalists for refusing to bow to the president’s will. After Sen. Johnny Isakson announced his retirement, Trump held a meeting with Gov. Kemp at the White House in November and recommended that seasoned Washington veteran Doug Collins replace him. Instead, Mr. Kemp had someone else in mind: political outsider Kelly Loeffler. 

Why? Because she’s a woman.

In announcing the Loeffler pick in early December, Kemp reasoned that she is a “real conservative” who will “defend life,” “protect the Second Amendment” and support Trump. But in Loeffler’s own words, her political resume consists of “running against my best friend for student council president in eighth grade.” The only variables she had to deal with, she explains, were “campaign posters” and talking to kids in the cafeteria.

How is that even close to enough experience? As a U.S. senator, Loeffler will grapple with far more than lunchroom antics.

Admittedly, she has abundant experience in the corporate world. Loeffler was the chief communications and marketing officer for Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), which owns the New York Stock Exchange and was founded by her husband, Jeff Sprecher. She’s also the CEO of exchange company Bakkt, whose parent company is ICE, and is a co-owner of the women’s basketball team Atlanta Dream.

But not all managerial experience translates smoothly between one field to the next, especially where politics is concerned. Whereas a CEO or a co-owner is mainly concerned about the bottom line, politics involves making decisions of national and international import.

Collins, on the other hand, is a different story. Rep. Collins has served in Congress since 2007, and has been on several committees. He’s currently the ranking member of the House Committee on the Judiciary and has sponsored 14 bills that are now law, the most recent being the seismic criminal justice reform bill, the FIRST Step Act, passed last year.

Even more important to voters, though, is his avid support of the president. While Trump supporters obviously adore political outsiders, having someone with a proven track-record of defending their man is their utmost priority right now, since an overwhelming majority of Republicans support the president, and 81 percent are opposed to impeachment. And Collins, with his ferocity amid the impeachment effort, clearly fits the bill. Loeffler insists she will defend the president—that’s it, an insistence—which puts Trump supporters at unease. It’s a simple battle between Loeffler’s insistence vs. Collin’s action, and Collins comes out on top.

Unfortunately, though, pundits across the spectrum revel in discussing the GOP’s “old white man” problem. Indeed, the theory goes: the GOP is the party of ancient gray-hairs who represent the ideals of their generation, not a vision for the future. How does one fix this? By recruiting prospective GOPers who aren’t old, white, or men.

Particularly in Georgia, Loeffler is being used to appeal to women in suburban Atlanta, a crucial constituency the Governor and his cohorts need to maintain power. But trying to appease a group by giving them someone who simply checks a demographic box is merely reducing female voters to their identities.

Furthermore, Loeffler’s values are up in the air. The only semi-definitive idea we have of her political leanings are a few words and some donations, most of which were admittedly to Republicans, but others to Democrats. So, we have no clue if Mrs. Loeffler stands for much at all, much less where. The truth is: being a total outsider has as much appeal as it has uncertainty. Voters want to know what they’re getting, and Loeffler’s “record” is too vague to give them that pleasure.

Collins isn’t the perfect man for the job, but, compared to Mrs. Loeffler, he is clearly the best man for the job. We know where he stands, he has the appropriate experience and he’s been successful in the halls of Congress. And that is what counts. So long as this hysteria about image and identity persists, so too will more qualified individuals be unjustly denied the respect — and the positions — they deserve.

Christian Watson is a political writer based out of Georgia and a Young Voices Advocate. He can be found on Twitter at @OfficialCWatson.