Sen. David Perdue is getting some national credit for being the 2014 embodiment of the outsider-fueled movement that has swept over the 2016 Republican presidential race. But what of his vanquished Republican establishment-backed opponent?
Former Rep. Jack Kingston has gone on something of a media tour, vouching for his favorite presidential candidate (Texas Sen. Ted Cruz) while also dredging up memories of his hard-fought 2014 loss to Perdue in the GOP runoff. And he can’t help but see parallels between the Donald Trump movement and his contest.
“Politics is unique in the sense that if you have experience it’s held against you. Everybody is enamored with the new shiny object,” the Savannah Republican told us this week. “Fifteen years ago, you looked at somebody’s experience and what they actually achieved, how they acted. And now, it’s almost to the extent where experience isn’t part of the debate anymore.”
The Huffington Post on Friday released a fantastic podcast with Kingston that offers a refreshingly candid look at his campaign arc. He talks of how Sen. Saxby Chambliss didn’t give him a heads-up on his decision to retire, his angst over hiring a political consultant and the moment he realized he was going to lose the runoff to Perdue.
It came at his election night party, when early results showed he was up by a few percentage points. A closer look at the data, though, showed he was under-performing in some of his key districts.
“I said to my consultant, ‘It doesn’t look good,’” Kingston recalled. “He said ‘I know. You want me to explain it to you.’ And I said, ‘No, I’ve been in this game a long time. One thing I know how to do is read numbers and I think it’s over with.’ He said, ‘Yeah, it’s over.’”
No one else knew. Kingston thought he should break the news to his family and the rest of his inner circle before they heard it from the media. And he knew he had to call his opponent and congratulate him.
“It’s devastating but you do know you got to look at it philosophically from the very, very beginning: I’m going to make this race and I might lose, and if I lose, I will never be chairman of the Appropriations Committee in the House; I’ll never go on another trip to see the troops in Afghanistan; I’ll never be able to host a town meeting,” Kingston said. “You put all that up for risk… I also knew that if I did lose I didn’t want to be, you know, crappy about it.”
He also talks at length about the dangers of being seen as a consensus-builder in the Georgia GOP:
“In the Republican primary, you can not use the word bipartisan. To give you an example, during the primary, Saxby Chambliss, the retiring senator, was playing golf with President Obama. He got a hole in one. Everybody said, ‘It’s a good thing he’s retiring. What the heck is he doing wasting our time playing golf, and why is he playing golf with that horrible Barack Obama?'”
“But to argue that, it’s kind of a good thing for my senator to be hanging out with the president. Life is networking, and if you can get something done on the 18th green and maybe Saxby was working on one of our military installations. But people don’t want to here that kind of rational discussion.”
Listen to the whole podcast here. And keep in mind, as you listen, that Kingston may yet run for higher office in Georgia again.
It’s lengthy, but worth your time:
Updates: Kingston’s son Jim, who took the loss particularly hard, offers his own take on the 2014 race.
“There were seven candidates in the primary that year. Four of them ran on an ‘outsider’ message, of having never been to Washington. That message was already intriguing, but only one of those four candidates started with statewide name ID and was capable of contributing significantly to his own campaign. So there was a whole list of factors that went into it, I think Mr. Perdue even had a ‘career politician’ relative that chaired his campaign.”
“That said, I—nor anybody else in our family or with our campaign—holds anything against any one of the other six candidates. It didn’t shake out that way we’d hoped, but my dad endorsed Mr. Perdue the night of the runoff election and we were happy to come together in the fall for the good of the party, headlining events and hosting a big BBQ for Sen. Perdue in the summer. To this day, John Eunice and Billy Kirkland both remain two of my close friends in Georgia politics.”
As for the possibility that his dad will run for office again? Jim Kingston said: “I have heard that rumor, too.”