If you want to gauge the temperature of the current political climate, ask veteran Republican political operative Brian Robinson.
He is not shy when it comes to talking about Georgia and national politics. Robinson worked on Capitol Hill for former Republican Congressmen Phil Gingrey and Lynn Westmoreland. He served as former Gov. Nathan Deal’s deputy chief of staff. He’s a host of WABE’s weekly “Political Breakfast” and a frequent guest on FOX 5 Atlanta’s “The Georgia Gang.” He also writes a monthly political column for Georgia Trend.
Through his political consulting and public affairs communication firm Robinson Republic, he provides public relations work for corporate clients and campaign work as well.
He’s working on several Republican political campaigns. Robinson declined to name clients but they include Jake Evans, a lawyer at Hall Booth Smith and former chair of the state ethics commission, who is running for the newly-redistricted 6th Congressional District seat. Other clients include Butch Miller, who is running for Lieutenant Governor and Latham Saddler, who is running for U.S.Senate. Miller’s opponent in the May 24 Republican primary is Jeanne Seaver. Saddler, a banking executive and Navy vet, is running against Republican opponents former football running back Herschel Walker, state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, and Trump campaign surrogate and Air Force vet Kelvin King.
Robinson also isn’t afraid of addressing the many elephants in the room in today’s hyper-polarized political climate, whether blue-collar blues, cancel culture, critical race theory, or intra-party political divisions, including the Republican right’s continued adulation of Trump.
Robinson also talked to Atlanta Civic Circle about the upcoming gubernatorial showdown in Georgia and what the future holds for American democracy.
“I don’t think for most of my life I worried about American democracy or questioned the legitimacy and reality of the American dream. But I do today,” he says. “I think this is the greatest country in the world of all time. Will it be that when my daughter is 80? It does feel like we’re going into decline–and right now, we seem hopelessly divided.”
The conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Tammy Joyner: How would you characterize what has transpired politically over the last year in Georgia and elsewhere?
Brian Robinson: The current environment is as toxic as I’ve ever witnessed. You had very high profile Senate races in Georgia, with [Democratic Sen. Rafael] Warnock, [Democratic Sen. Jon] Ossoff, [Republicans] Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue–and even Loeffler and Doug Collins in the Republican primary. The two Senate runoffs that determined control of the US Senate were highly-contested and highly watched nationally. Then, immediately, we transitioned into a fight over electoral votes.
We’re now moving directly into the midterms and gubernatorial contests. The Georgia governor’s race is going to be the most highly-watched primary in the country. It’s of national significance, and it’s going to be interesting to watch Perdue, a former U.S. Senator with Trump’s endorsement, against a sitting governor, Brian Kemp.
You also have two national figures involved – Stacey Abrams and Donald Trump. He’s made Kemp his No. 1 target, and he’s determined to destroy him.
Both Abrams and Trump have pushed all of their chips to the table here in Georgia, which raises a lot of ‘road to the White House’ implications. If Abrams loses, her pathway [to the presidency] closes. Trump is the unquestioned leader of the Republican Party, but if he goes all in for Perdue – and Kemp wins – all of a sudden, others will feel emboldened to step up. So he’s got a lot riding here.
Are you surprised by Trump’s dominance?
At no point during those early years did I think it would be as permanent or as long-lasting as it has become. It just goes to show you how much the American right feels under siege. With the dominance of the left in popular culture, academia, and the media, many on the right – the cultural conservatives – believe they would be canceled if they say how they see the world out loud.
What are pro-Trump conservatives afraid to speak out about?
About what’s going on in the country, whether it’s transgender women playing sports or critical race theory. The messages and value systems they are being fed through pop culture, the media, academia, hold their views and values in contempt–and call them offensive, even. So, people feel like they’re belittled and marginalized.
Donald Trump stands up and pokes people who belittle conservatives–the blue-collar Americans–in the eye–the people who think they’re racist and stupid and backward. They tried to cancel him, but he always stands up and fights back and they love it. He takes on the people who hate them. That is more important than what his background is or what sins he’s committed. He’s leading the fight against their enemies at a time of cultural war – and that’s the top priority.
What are you hearing or observing in the Republican political circles you travel in and from the general public in Georgia?
A combination of observation, research, data, and anecdotal evidence has shaped my views on this. There’s been this growing cultural divide over the last 50 years, beginning with the reaction to the radicalism of the 1960s. It manifested in the Ronald Reagan years, but I think [what’s behind the ascendency of] Reagan and Trump was that America changed.
The left would argue that it’s because the nation became more diverse. We’re moving toward being a browner nation that is majority-minority and all these white people just can’t take it. White fragility. White rage. They feel they’re losing their grip on power. That is a narrative that is fed by hearing all the time that white people are racist, white people are bad.
I think conservatives are reacting to that narrative because they find it offensive. That’s why you see this reaction to critical race theory. I think that’s where the temperature is on this.
But I would argue that this is an oversimplification. I believe the truth is much more complex. Any society that diversifies has those pressures. We are not especially racist, nor especially divided. If anything, we are way more welcoming than most countries. And it’s not just cultural. There are economic elements too, with many people falling behind as the traditional pathways into the middle class – like heavy industry – have declined. A lot of it has to do with the hollowing out of American industry.
Going forward, how can we address the political and cultural polarization?
We no longer work from a common set of facts or news stories, so I don’t know that we can – until something breaks. I think things are breaking, but not in a dramatic, optical fashion the way September 11 unfolded.
Several things can happen. One of the [political] parties could collapse. A lot of people would argue that it’s the Republican Party that would collapse, because of the browning of America and the decline of the white population. I thought that was a plausible theory too, but nothing seems to be bearing it out.
What are your predictions for the 2022 midterm elections?
Republicans in Georgia are set up to have a banner year, like Republicans across the country. We saw the telltale signs in the Virginia and New Jersey elections this year–from a 10-point win for Biden in Virginia to, 12 months later, a 2-point win for a Republican governor and an even bigger swing in New Jersey.
The Congressional ballot is the best it’s ever been in 40 years. So Republicans are going to take over the U.S. House and Senate next year. I would imagine they’re going to keep control of the Georgia General Assembly–and by a larger percentage of votes than in 2020.
If Republicans can unify–which is called into question by the divisive primary we’re facing–the Republican nominee for governor should be able to beat Stacey Abrams, and that means the down-ticket Republicans all ride in too.
The only thing that would blow up Republicans’ chances would be dividing along the “Stop the Steal” message. But Abrams is such a big figure in our consciousness and our national politics–and her negatives are high– so [opposing her] can rally Republicans outside of all our own internal conflicts. That’s a huge motivating factor.
Could you address the Democrats’ criticisms of the new Georgia Election Integrity Act, (also known as Senate Bill 202), which the GOP-controlled legislature passed in March? Critics contend it will suppress votes, particularly for people of color, because of, among other things, greater drop boxes safeguards and more required identification.
The controversy is complete horseshit. The overriding question is will the new law suppress the vote of anybody in Georgia? The answer is no. The empirical evidence is all that should matter. Not Stacey Abrams’ rhetoric. Not the DOJ’s reckless racist rhetoric.
The DOJ’s lawsuit (filed earlier this year) very specifically says this law was designed to keep Black people from voting. That is malarkey. Look at all the nonsense around this argument that Black people don’t have driver’s licenses or access to the internet. There’s a difference [compared with white voters], but it is minuscule.
The most important thing here is putting safeguards around drop boxes. They’re now inside facilities. They’re only available during certain hours and they’re being monitored more closely. Those safeguards are reasonable and do not suppress votes. The photo ID requirement for absentee ballots is long overdue. At the end of the day, if you can‘t drop off a ballot in a dropbox, you can show up at the same place and vote early in person. Everybody’s got a drop box in their front yard.
The bottom line is that in 2022, the percentage of voters at the polls will reflect the percentage of voters by race. And that should be the end of the discussion about this being controversial.
What have you learned from all of the political animus over the past year?
It’s what I told my mom that America needs to learn. This goes back to 2016 when she would see stuff on Facebook, saying Hillary Clinton eats the flesh of children or whatever. I said to her – if you’re reading stuff that seems too outrageous to be true, it’s probably not true.
What we have seen with the manipulation and weaponization of social media is it allows the biggest lies to spread rapidly–and those lies often dehumanize the opposition.
We have become addicted to the chemical reaction in our brains produced by outrage.