Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, a Republican, believes his party is at a crossroads as the 2022 midterm elections approach. And he says Republican voters need to choose between believing in disproven election fraud conspiracy theories and forging ahead with new leadership that will push the party toward a better place.
“We're either gonna placate and play populism one on one and try to live 10 seconds at a time, or we're gonna put genuine leadership on display,” Duncan, who describes himself as a lifelong conservative, told Yahoo News, scoffing at the notion that the loudest GOP voices are its most influential.
“I don't think [Fox News host] Tucker Carlson or [Texas Sen.] Ted Cruz are the leaders of our party. I think that would take us in the wrong direction just from tone alone.”
“It's time to turn the page,” he added. “It's time to move on.”
Duncan, Georgia’s second in command behind Gov. Brian Kemp, also a Republican, catapulted himself into the national spotlight over the last 14 months after going toe-to-toe with former President Donald Trump over Trump's unfounded claims of election fraud. Trump called Duncan “corrupt” and “too dumb” to recognize voter fraud in December 2020 and said he should be “replaced.” But at a time when many Republican leaders backed Trump’s lies or stayed silent, Duncan pushed back.
“When you have a sitting president willing to lie to America and to their party about what the true realities of the election were and willing to stoke the fire and send out incredibly hateful tweets and cause all types of disruptions, including [the Capitol riot on] Jan. 6, to play out, then of course it's gonna take some time to unwind those comments and that kind of ideology,” Duncan said.
Surveys suggest that most Republicans think President Biden cheated to win the 2020 election. A Yahoo News/YouGov poll released last week showed that just 9 percent of Trump voters believe Biden won the election “fair and square.”
And Republicans can’t seem to get on the same page when it comes to condemning the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection.
Last week, on the first anniversary of Jan. 6, Kemp, Duncan and Republican Georgia House Speaker David Ralston all condemned what Ralston called the “despicable criminal behavior” of pro-Trump rioters. But Carlson, who has promoted conspiracy theories about Jan. 6, took a different approach, mocking Cruz for calling it a “terrorist attack.”
“Every word Ted Cruz uses is used intentionally. He’s a lawyer,” Carlson said on his Fox News program. “He described Jan. 6 as a violent terrorist attack. Of all the things Jan. 6 was, it was definitely not a violent terrorist attack. It wasn’t an insurrection. Was it a riot? Sure. It was not a violent terrorist attack.”
Cruz later appeared on Carlson’s program to apologize for his remarks.
Looking to push the idea of rebranding the Republican Party, Duncan has shifted his focus on building an advocacy organization called GOP 2.0, which he says advocates for putting policy above politics.
“We forgot to be more inclusive and grow the size of the tent, and we forgot to have an encouraging tone,” Duncan said. “That's not some sort of election fraud. That's our fault as a party.”
“That's what GOP 2.0 is in the process of trying to unwind — that damage — and really try to put a safe place to call home for folks like me that are fired-up conservatives,” he added. “I believe in the conservative principles from start to finish. I just don't think I gotta be angry when I do it.”
Duncan has decided not to run for reelection this fall. He says he’s instead looking to connect with Americans all over the country through speeches, media events and a new book. Eventually, though, he hopes to run for elected office again in the future.
“I love the job of lieutenant governor, but I can't have a conversation with America if I'm trying to run for reelection in just Georgia,” he said.
Following two close election cycles in Georgia, both Kemp and Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock will be on the ballot in the Peach State this November. Kemp is also facing a primary challenge from former GOP Sen. David Perdue, who says he would not have certified Biden’s victory in Georgia and has secured Trump’s endorsement.
Duncan says Georgia voters will now decide the trajectory of America — and he hopes they land on the right side of history.
“I think so many people wake up now on both sides of the aisle and kind of think that our best, America's best days are behind us. That's not true. This is America. Our best days are in front of us,” he said. “We're going to be the proving ground for who is right.”
Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: John Bazemore/AP Photo, Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images, Janos Kummer/Getty Images