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George on Georgia — Enter the Grift

Editor's Pick George on Georgia Metro ATL

George on Georgia — Enter the Grift

George Chidi. Photo by Dean Hesse

Editor’s note: George Chidi now publishes a Substack newsletter called “The Atlanta Objective.” If you want to support him directly, sign up for a paying subscription to his newsletter by clicking here.

Decatur, GA — Vernon Jones announced Friday that he’s running for governor.

As one of the two or three journalists in Georgia who has followed his antics closely for years, I am now obligated to remind everyone – again – that Jones is a political grifter who will laugh all the way to the bank, wrapping himself in faux outrage and performative racial grievance.

Jones’ candidacy is a minstrel show in the same vein as Candace Owens’ idiocy, allowing the words of white supremacists to be presented in blackface with the goal not to win Black voters but to irritate them for the amusement of racists.

He is not stupid. He simply presumes other people are stupid enough to give him money to try.

And in this, he is quite correct.

A sane, sober analysis of Republican politics would leave no rationale for Jones’ candidacy. Virtually all of Republican voters fall into one of three categories. Roughly half of white voters without a college degree and a third with a degree score high on measures of racial resentment. That’s 28 percent of the electorate and about 50 percent of Republican primary voters.

About 20 percent of Americans believe abortion should be illegal under all circumstances, according to Gallup polling. When accounting for overlap with the first group, that’s another 10 percent of the electorate and a fifth of Republican primary voters. Roughly half of high-income voters cast votes for Trump simply to protect their financial interests, which reflects another 10 percent of the Republican electorate.

Vernon Jones is a Black politician, with a pro-choice voting record as recently as 2019, who drove Republicans in north DeKalb to incorporate cities as a financial defense from his reign as county CEO.

As Stonecrest digs out of CARES Act financial mismanagement that left its mayor stripped of power and awaiting subpoenas, it’s worth noting that the legislation to protect Stonecrest from this end was stalled by one man: Vernon Jones. Local legislation requires all of the legislators representing a city to agree to it to get out of committee. Jones objected to the changes in the charter which ultimately passed this year, leading to the revelations of mismanagement. After years of fighting against ethics legislation for DeKalb, Jones’ final gift to voters was to block anticorruption measures in Stonecrest.

Literally any other Trumpist seemingly has a better argument to make for their candidacy.

Jones has something others don’t, however. He has a history of pissing off Black Democrats. Jones has become a social media celebrity on the right. He has about 300,000 followers on Twitter. For Republican voters who have essentially abandoned the ballot as a strategy, a troll candidate sends a message about their contempt for elections. It’s Caligula sending his horse Incitatus to the senate as consul, the Monster Raving Loony Party from Britain, Vernon Jones as Vermin Supreme.

A campaign for governor might be also be lucrative. While campaigning, Jones can write off a lot of personal expenses as campaign expenses. Travel, meals, hotel rooms. He can pay people he likes for campaign marketing or “consulting” using other people’s money. This, assuming he reports his campaign finances honestly, which given his history with his U.S. Senate run might be an open question. 

So much of what we see on the right today can be explained as a cash grab. Trump’s fundraising abuses only serve as the capstone for a pattern of ideological machines designed to surgically separate outrage-programmed voters from their money.

The grift begins.

– George Chidi is a political columnist and public policy advocate. He also writes for The Intercept