Opinion: Georgia’s GOP lieutenant governor conducts the 2020 autopsy his party won’t
"Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan (R) felt queasy last December after dodging a reporter’s question about whether Joe Biden was president-elect. He said he’d seen no evidence of fraud but added that the process needed to fully play out. This was a standard GOP talking point, but Duncan understood how such vacillation gave oxygen to President Donald Trump’s efforts to steal the election.
The lieutenant governor decided he had a duty to acknowledge reality: The president he’d campaigned for had lost. Duncan knew this bit of truth-telling might cost him reelection. “My breathing suddenly became quick and shallow,” he recalls.
Just as Duncan feared, telling the truth about the "big lie" derailed a promising political career. He announced this spring he won’t seek a second term, averting probable defeat in a primary. That’s liberated the former professional baseball player to release a book this week, “GOP 2.0,” that recounts “the six nightmarish months” he spent in a “bizarre Twilight Zone” after the November election.
Trump called him “corrupt” — and threats poured in, via voicemail, email and social media. A website appeared with his face centered in crosshairs, alongside his address and a picture of his home. FBI agents told him Iran was behind that page, according to his book, as part of a broader effort to amplify election disinformation.
When his teenage son Bayler tweeted a family motto, “Doing the right thing will never be the wrong thing,” the lieutenant governor liked and retweeted the post. His wife, Brooke, was “furious” with him because she feared he had just exposed their son to attack, Duncan writes, “and she was right.” State troopers stood guard as he played catch with his three boys in their yard. “Imagine explaining that to your children,” he writes.
Legislators privately told him they admired his courage. Then they publicly attacked. “I found myself on an island — one that was getting pounded by bombs and artillery,” Duncan writes. “Lie by lie, the former president sapped the trustworthiness of every single Republican official.”
From Duncan’s vantage point, the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol was entirely foreseeable. He draws a direct line from Trump’s lies to the restrictive voting bills that Republicans introduced in legislatures across the country, including the state Senate over which he presides.
“Unfortunately, many held to the theory that if more people vote, Republicans will lose,” Duncan writes. “Because they got scared, GOP leaders became too focused on making voting more difficult. … We had a clear motive and selfish aims. Nobody thought GOP efforts were anything more than attempts to ensure more Republicans won next time.”
Trump’s false claims of fraud also discouraged introspection. After debunking a litany of conspiracy theories, Duncan criticizes party leaders for refusing to perform the kind of post-mortem they did after Mitt Romney’s loss to Barack Obama in 2012. Duncan’s book can be read as the closest thing to an autopsy we’re likely to get from any Republican who holds statewide office.
As Duncan notes, the Republican nominee has won the national popular vote just once since 1988, and Democrats last year won Georgia’s electoral votes for the first time since 1992. Duncan lives in suburban Atlanta’s Forsyth County, an area he previously represented in the state House, which swung 14 points away from Trump between 2016 to 2020. He notes that the elementary school his three boys attended has changed from majority White to majority Indian.
Duncan argues that conservative policy, combined with genuine empathy and a respectful tone, will allow Republicans to make inroads among Asian Americans, women and other constituencies that Trump repulsed. “Let’s expand the tent, people, not shrink it,” he writes.
The lieutenant governor said in an interview on Tuesday that he will not vote for Trump again in 2024 if the former president wins the GOP nomination, but he expressed a remarkable level of certitude that his party won’t make that mistake again. Duncan said he’s “playing the long game” and predicts rank-and-file Republicans will “wake up, one-by-one,” as they realize they were hoodwinked.
He’s exuding the sort of wishful, maybe magical, thinking that keeps underdogs going. That mentality gave him the perseverance to pitch for five teams in the minor leagues over six seasons until a ligament in his right shoulder gave out before he could realize his dream of pitching for the Marlins in Miami.
Even after everything he’s gone through, the 46-year-old hopes for a political comeback someday. “Like Wayne Gretzky says, I’m skating to where I think the puck is going,” Duncan said when we talked. “If I’m right, then there’s going to be lots of opportunities maybe in the future to run for office.”
It’s an optimism I wish I shared."