President-elect Donald Trump’s stunning victory upends the political landscape in Georgia, could catapult several Peach State politicians to top roles in the Republican’s administration and will reshape some of the state’s top policy divides.
The New York businessman’s victory effectively short-circuits a debate in Georgia over whether to expand Medicaid, as Trump and a Republican-held Congress have vowed to undo much of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.
It also could delay any prospects of broader immigration reform, another policy fight Georgia lawmakers have long wrestled with, under the weight of the wall on the U.S. border with Mexico that Trump vows to build.
Several of Trump’s high-profile Georgia allies are on lists of potential Cabinet appointees circulating in Washington, and his picks could set off a political chain reaction here. Other Trump supporters could see their power and influence in the halls of Congress or the statehouse rise sharply.
Shell-shocked Democrats are left soul-searching after another harrowing election loss in Georgia, which has now voted for the Republican presidential nominee in the past six elections. Even as metro Atlanta turns a shade bluer, much of the rest of the state remains a bright crimson.
Georgia Republicans have their own problems. With little funding from the Clinton campaign, Democrats flipped three metro Atlanta counties long held by the GOP: Cobb, Gwinnett and Henry. The transformation of Cobb, long a Republican stronghold, was particularly gut-wrenching for conservatives.
Trump seems likely to undo executive actions that Georgia and other Republican-led states have long fought, such as regulations on power-plant emissions and the Syrian refugee resettlement program.
His selections to the U.S. Supreme Court will invariably pull the judiciary further to the right and could set off a domino effect in Georgia’s court system. State Supreme Court Justice Keith Blackwell is among the 20 conservatives on a list Trump said he would vet for an opening on the top court.
An Obamacare dismantling
A growing number of Georgia Republicans signaled before Tuesday’s election that in the next legislative session they wanted to expand the Medicaid program, a notion many once vilified as too expensive. But that’s almost certain to be put on hold now.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday that the Senate would move quickly to dismantle the health care law and replace it. Georgia lawmakers will likely take a wait-and-see approach as Congress shapes new federal legislation.
U.S. Rep. Tom Price, a Roswell Republican, is likely to play a leading role in the health care debate. Not only is he chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee, but he is also among several contenders to lead the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.
“It’s just really exciting,” he said Wednesday. “All of us went to Washington to try to get into a position where we can help solve some big problems, and to be able to have that opportunity now is really, really gratifying.”
He’s among several Georgia politicians who could be tapped by Trump to serve in his administration. U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who heartily endorsed Trump in June, is rumored to be a potential selection as commerce secretary; he dismissed the talk on Wednesday.
If they are tapped, it would have a ripple effect in Georgia politics, setting off a scramble to compete for their coveted political vacancies.
Two other former Republican office-holders are also in Trump’s orbit.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, long a Trump confidante, could be named his secretary of state or appointed to another senior role. And former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, also an outspoken supporter, is on a list of potential leaders for the U.S. Agriculture Department.
“The Trump leadership team will be filled out in the coming weeks, and Georgia Republicans will play a significant role, both behind the scenes and on the stage,” Kennesaw State University political scientist Kerwin Swint predicted.
The once-unimaginable Trump victory also remade Georgia’s electoral map, and it plunged both parties into unfamiliar terrain. Republicans who are too cozy with the political establishment were effectively put on notice.
“The American public is tired of the political class playing us for fools,” said Dennis Fuller, a software trainer from Marietta.
State Rep. Allen Peake, who was among the few elected Georgia Republican lawmakers to publicly criticize Trump, said he heard the message loud and clear.
“You’ve got to give Trump credit — he did it his way,” Peake said. “Now I hope and pray he’ll get good, wise, competent folks around him.”
Once again, Democratic dreams of winning Georgia with the help of a rising number of minority voters and an influx of newcomers were dashed. Clinton lost the state by more than 230,000 votes, and Democrats were clobbered across North and South Georgia.
But Democrats managed the unthinkable in sweeping the core counties of metro Atlanta, including the GOP bastions of Cobb and Gwinnett. Holding Atlanta’s urban center was a silver lining for Democrats otherwise stunned by Trump’s sweeping victory.
Democratic leaders in Georgia and across the nation were largely tight-lipped on Wednesday as they processed the news.
Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams said she sees Trump’s election as a “charge to decide who we will become.” And former state Sen. Jason Carter, the party’s 2014 nominee for governor, said he struggled to explain the outcome to his two young boys.
“Teaching our sons to be good people is a little harder today,” he said.
Others took it just as personally. Pat Pullar flew to New York expecting a raucous party for Clinton — and then stayed until 1 a.m., when the race was all but over. After two years of volunteering for Clinton, the Clayton County activist is exhausted and frustrated. But she has a new mantra.
“I have adopted this philosophy,” she said. “You vote and then you adapt.”
Staff writers Tamar Hallerman, Tammy Joyner and Dan Chapman contributed to this article.