Newly-elected Republican Party of Georgia Chairman David Shafer has a big task ahead of him in the leadup to the 2020 election.
The governor’s mansion, every statewide elected office, state legislative leadership and both U.S. Senate seats are held by Republicans.
But last fall, Democrats gained several suburban seats in the legislature and Stacey Abrams garnered more votes than any other Democrat who ran for statewide office, narrowly losing to Gov. Brian Kemp.
David Shafer sat down in the GPB studios to share his vision for the party in the coming years.
On "complacency" within the Republican party
Let me first say that I'm very optimistic about 2020.
I do think we've become complacent during this period of time in which we've been in the supermajority in both houses of the General Assembly and holding all the elected statewide positions.
We've allowed the party infrastructure to become weaker, which happens with any muscle that you don't use.
And because we had these overwhelming majorities, and the Democratic Party was not presenting much of a challenge, I do think that we allowed that infrastructure to become weaker, and we can't afford to do that going forward.
The margins in the last statewide election were uncomfortably close, and we did lose some seats in the legislature and in Congress in the suburbs of Atlanta. And we have got to reverse that, but I'm confident that we can do that.
On motivating Republicans across the state to get involved with campaigning and voting in elections
I do think that many Republicans have woken up to the danger. The Democrats are radicalized, and they are energized, and they obviously – I think – outworked us on a grassroots level in the last election cycle, maybe the last two election cycles.
And, and you began to see that in some of the election results, even though we continue to win. And so I think that many Republicans have woken up to that danger, but it's just a matter of getting them organized and working in the right direction.
We've started a number of programs: Project 159 is to organize each one of the counties for the Republican Party. We had at one point all but six of the 159 counties with functioning Republican Party organizations… that's declined to about 130.
Most of those counties are counties that Brian Kemp and Donald Trump carried, so we know that there are Republicans there, they just have not been organized. There'll be a big push in the first few months of my administration to get each of these county parties organized.
And we've unveiled a plan that assigns each of our county party organizations goals to get ready for 2020. So they don't just exist on paper, they're actually working toward goals that will help us be ready.
On what the Democrats are doing right
Well, what I've noticed is that they're doing many of the same things that we did when we were in the minority. I got my start in politics as the executive director of the Georgia Republican Party in the early 1990s, when there were virtually no Republican elected officials in the state.
And we ran candidates for every office, even offices that we didn't think that we could win and organized in ways that I'm now seeing the Democrats organize against us.
So I think that we've just got to be prepared. We can't remain on the defensive, we've got to go back on the offensive and answer them.
On Gov. Brian Kemp's performance during his first six months in office
I'd give him an A! He passed his teacher pay raises he talked about on the campaign trail, he passed a Medicaid waiver law which will allow us to innovate our healthcare delivery system. He's made investments in school safety, which is important to all Georgians and improving the mental health services of our students.
I think that this first session for him was a home run and he deserves an “A” if not an “A-plus.”
On the state's new abortion bill, and whether the potential benefits of the bill are worth the backlash from Hollywood and other critics
Abortion is obviously an issue that divides Americans. The Democratic Party has become radical on the question of abortion.
In the 1990s, when Bill Clinton was president, the Democrats ran on the idea that abortion should be safe, legal and rare. And they've dropped the rare. Democrats are opposed to protection for the baby in the womb [or] virtually at any stage of development. They’re opposed to protections for the baby in the final months of pregnancy; they're opposed to protection for the baby while it's being born. Some Democratic politicians have said they're opposed to protection for the baby after he or she is born.
And I think the Republican party has taken the position that the dignity of every human life is important, and that there ought to be legal protections at a certain point in the womb, and the beating heart is the point that the that the legislature decided on.
Stephen Fowler: But is this fallout, the potential film boycotts, the national attention and calls for companies to pull out of Georgia and things like that… is the potential economic effect of this law worth the potential protections that are written into the bill?
David Shafer: I don't believe you'll see any film production companies pull out of Georgia; we've got one of the most robust tax credit programs of any state in the union.
The entire film industry was created during this Republican supermajority, because of the tax credits that Republicans championed.
In 2006, I think there was less than $100 million being spent by the film industry in Georgia, I think that last year was $2.7 billion being directly spent. And that’s almost entirely because of the tax policies.
I think that you’re seeing a lot of virtue signaling. They’re saying that the might consider pulling out if the courts don’t enjoin it, they’re probably hoping that the courts do enjoin it, so they won’t be called on any of this virtue signaling.
But I think that in the end, none of these boycotts will materialize.
On the effectiveness of messaging from Republican candidates warning about the "dangers of socialism"
I think that the Democratic Party has become radicalized, frankly, at every level.
You know, Georgia was the last state in the Union [since Reconstruction] to elect a Republican governor in 2002. And one of the reasons it was so hard for us to do that was that the old Democratic party was basically a center-right pro-business party. Sam Nunn and Zell Miller and George Busby and Joe Frank Harris were conservatives, they were in the mainstream of political thought.
The Democrats that are trying to replace us are not center right. They're not part of the mainstream, they are radicalized, and they do advance policies that are socialistic in orientation.
I don't think that the vast majority of Georgians want that. And I do think that's a message that is both authentic and will resonate.
Stephen Fowler: But is the “socialism” label going a bit too far in that categorization of some of the policies and the politicians?
David Shafer: They’re openly embracing it… I mean, Bernie Sanders calls himself a socialist. So they’ve openly embraced the labels that we have long suspected represent their actual thinking.
On the "purple-ization" of Georgia and increased Democratic control of the suburbs
I don't think that the suburbs have shifted as much as the Democrats did a better job of turning out their voters than we did turning out our voters in 2018.
The Democrats in 2018 had a presidential-level turnout. In the 6th and 7th Congressional districts, Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux actually got more votes than Hillary Clinton got two years earlier.
The Republicans did better than normal. But we didn't reach presidential-level turnouts, which is why those two congressional races were so tight and why we lost ground in some state legislative districts.
So I think we've got to do a better job of turning out voters. We've identified 500,000 Georgians who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 who did not turn out in 2018. And we're going to be doing everything in our power to turn them out in a year-and-a-half from now.
On the voters the Georgia Republican Party needs to be targeting before November 2020
There really are two groups of people we've identified.
There are 50-something thousand people who have moved to Georgia that we believe are reliable Republican voters who are not yet registered to vote. So we'll be reaching out to them through a variety of mechanisms between now and the end of the year to get them registered.
And then there's those hundreds of thousands of Georgians who voted for Donald Trump in 2016, who did not show up in 2018.
And we’ll be doing everything in our power to turn them out not just for the president, but for every Republican up and down the ticket.