UPDATE: Apparently, Karen Handel is OK with Trump firing FBI Director James Comey while Comey was in the middle of investigating Trump’s ties to Russia. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Handel said the termination was “probably overdue.”
It remains to be seen if this is a one-off or the first step towards a new position on Trump for the Handel campaign.
This statement, that the firing was “probably” a long time coming, isn’t a full-throated approval. It’s similar to how she talks about Trump when forced to do so by reporters. When asked directly by Fox News’ Neil Cavuto if Trump’s support hurts her chances of winning the election, she said: “He’s the president of the United States, so to be able to have the president’s support is a good thing.” In the appearance, she was asked repeatedly about Trump but never even said his name. Handel is fine with his support but isn’t exactly jumping up and down that the president of the United States is openly supporting her. She acts like it’s no big deal.
She has to act that way. Handel can’t run around celebrating Trump’s attention—as she said in the interview with Cavuto, the election is about “who is best aligned with the values of the Sixth [Congressional District]” and Trump is not aligned with those values. It’s why she didn’t post pictures of herself with Trump after their fundraiser. Or email her list about the event’s success. She knows it could hurt more than it could help.
But she can’t run away from his support, either, nor does she want to since Trump brings money and the enthusiasm of his dwindling devotees. Trump and the Republicans are in power so if she wins, she has to begin currying favor now so she can have any influence at all in Washington, D.C.
Handel is continuing her established pattern where Trump is concerned: doing the bare minimum so that she can say she’s embracing him but not sharing it on her website, on Twitter, on Facebook, or via email. As of 5pm on May 10, the campaign had not shared her statement on Trump’s termination of Comey on any platform. It’s almost like she wants Trump to know she supports him and hopes that no one in Georgia notices.
Karen Handel, the Republican candidate for Georgia’s Sixth District seat, is in a tough spot.
During the first round of voting for the open seat—an 18-way jungle primary—Handel let other Republican candidates talk about Donald Trump and fight amongst themselves over who was the biggest Trump supporter. But now that she is in a runoff against Democrat Jon Ossoff, Handel has to figure out how to balance welcoming Trump’s support without letting him drag her down.
It’s a fine line. Trump only won in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District by 1.5 percent of the vote, and a March poll of district voters showed him with just a 53.5 percent approval rate, so Handel can’t exactly run as a Trump acolyte. But he brings attention, money, and energy from local supporters and Washington, D.C.-based groups alike.
In media appearances, she sidesteps questions about Trump’s support by talking about how it’s “all hands on deck” and “we need every single Republican we can get, including the president.” And she rarely mentions him online.
On April 19, the day after Handel advanced to the runoff, she tweeted at Trump to thank him for calling her and retweeted a congratulatory tweet from a fake Trump account:
On April 26, the Handel campaign sent an email to supporters asking for $10 in exchange for a chance to meet Trump at a fundraiser in Georgia. But no email after the event went out to share anecdotes or pictures of Handel’s appearance with Trump at the event.
On April 28, Trump opened his remarks at the NRA annual meeting in Atlanta by congratulating her and later appeared with her at a fundraiser that brought in a reported $750,000. Handel said nothing publicly.
On April 29, Handel retweeted a post from Vice President Mike Pence—her first tweet since April 25—and neither of her two Facebook posts on the 29th mentioned the president. Her “Team Handel” Twitter account also ignored the event.
On April 30, Handel’s campaign site posted a short note on the fundraiser but did not include any photos of Handel with Trump.
We know they met.
First 100 days: 👍 Next 100 days: 👍👍 pic.twitter.com/orp0qGKTgp
— Ronna RomneyMcDaniel (@GOPChairwoman) April 28, 2017
Dozens of people witnessed it.
— Brandon Phillips (@BCP229) April 28, 2017
And they’re clearly friendly.
— Brandon Phillips (@BCP229) April 28, 2017
Donald Trump had a “big” day on May 4. He signed a largely symbolic executive order on “religious liberty” and publicly celebrated the House’s passage of their dangerous health care plan. Handel, however, had no comment.
This post will be updated if and when Karen Handel decides to stop trying to hide from Donald Trump. In what is the most-watched race in America, she’s going to have to make a decision soon.