Ride or die.
Support The Bulwark.
  Join Now

Kelly Loeffler: Lifestyles of the Rich and Classless

The trials and tribulations of a fake populist.
October 16, 2020
Featured Image
Georgia Republican House candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene endorses Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) (L) during a press conference October 15, 2020 in Dallas, Georgia. Greene has been the subject of some controversy recently due to her support for the right-wing conspiracy group QAnon. (Photo by Dustin Chambers/Getty Images)

Senator Kelly Loeffler is worth roughly $500 million. Her husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, is the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange. Yet, Loeffler spends her time duct-taping herself to President Trump, slumming around for an endorsement from QAnon candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene (and support from the Georgia militia), styling herself as a modern-day Atilla the Hun, and pretending to be a populist tribune of the people.

As ways to spend your fortune, this does not seem like a ton of fun.

Then again, Kelly Loeffler is not your average rich person.

Once upon a time—back before she spent her days and nights trafficking in conspiracies and hob-nobbing with dangerous cranks—Loeffler was supposed to be Republican savior-ess who would help the GOP win back college-educated suburban women. That was the public sell, anyway.

In September of 2019, Georgia governor Brian Kemp staged a bizarre stunt to pretend that he was conducting a transparent search process to fill Johnny Isakson’s seat: He rolled out an online application process for candidates to compete for the appointment. Nearly 200 applications were submitted. Loeffler, who had never held public office before, jumped to the top of the list. Why? Well, there was the giant rift with college educated suburban women that nearly cost Kemp his election. He needed to shore up their support. And, there was the money: Loeffler promised to spend $20 million of her own money on her 2020 special election.

Trumplandia was skeptical— President Trump wanted Kemp to appoint Rep. Doug Collins. Kemp resisted. Because once someone starts talking about how much money they’d like to spend on campaigns, other politicians start dreaming about how she could help them out. Kemp would be up for re-election in 2022 and as a sage once said, a Senate seat is “a fucking valuable thing.” Loeffler, in theory, could bring more women to the party. Along with her checkbook. Done.

Still, the populist distrust of Loeffler ran so deep that even her fortune didn’t ward off a Republican challenger. Shortly after Loeffler was appointed, Collins jumped into the race. But you can at least say this for Loeffler: She’s a quick study. Just a few months into the job she was conducting herself like a true Republican senator: Endlessly puffing up Trump, catering to alt-right shitposters, and churning out stupid memes. All in an attempt to convince the base that she, not the arch-conservative Navy Chaplain-turned Tea Partier-turned Trump crusader Doug Collins, was the real conservative.

She understood, quite intuitively, what Republican campaigns are about in the age of Trump.


There were some hiccups.

For instance, last December, the Center for Responsive Politics reported that Loeffler and her husband had given $3.2 million to various campaigns and committees, including a whopping $1.5 million to Restore Our Future, a Super PAC that supported Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. People were beginning to get the idea why Loeffler was popular among the Kemps and the McConnells of the GOP.

So, in January she tried to signal her true allegiance to Trump. She knifed Romney for, supposedly, wanting to “appease the left.” All because Romney voted to call witnesses during impeachment. The traitor.

Then, there were the stock trades. Loeffler was privy to private Senate briefings about coronavirus and—by total coincidence—she dumped millions of dollars worth of stocks before the coronavirus tanked the markets. Several Republicans distanced themselves from her; Tucker Carlson said she should resign if she knew anything about the trades. Loeffler pleaded ignorance, liquidated her stocks, and said she was the victim of a “socialist attack.” Behind the scenes, her husband cut a $1 million check to the Trump Super PAC America First Action. And all was forgiven.


Her Senate seat still isn’t a lock. Incredibly, Trump has stayed out of the race so far, refusing to endorse anyone. The special election puts Loeffler, Collins, and Democrat Raphael Warnock on the same ballot, as well 19 other candidates who aren’t considered serious contenders. If none of them gets to 50 percent of the vote, then the top two will face a runoff in January.

In recent polling, Warnock, pastor of Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist church where Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. once led a congregation, is the frontrunner, but not near the 50 percent threshold. Loeffler and Collins are neck-and-neck. If she can edge out Collins, she’ll be the favorite to retain her seat in a one-on-one January matchup.

That’s not going to be easy. Loeffler remains stuck in the low 20s, defined by her money and her desperate attempts to pretend that she’s the real Trumpkin. As a result, her campaign resembles something that a bunch of flailing consultants compiled from scraps of Judge Jeanine Pirro’s Fox News show.

For instance, Loeffler recently tweeted a chart showing how she believes she, Collins, and Trump stack up against each other. Among other things, the chart described herself and Trump as “wildly successful” business people, who donate their salaries, are largely self-funded, are “hated by fake news media,” and who both “oppose” Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams.

By comparison, Collins is a “do-nothing career politician,” who collects a government salary, and needs the financial support from “PACS, lobbyists, and Big Tech,” is “beloved by Fake News Media” and is a “good friend” of Stacey Abrams. (She also claims that Collins, who has an A rating from the Susan B. Anthony List is not pro-life. But that’s almost beside the point.)

It’s not subtle. Loeffler thinks she can win the GOP vote by virtue of her wealth, belligerence, and hostility to black Democrats.

It worked for Trump, right?

One of Loeffler’s liabilities with the kind of voters she’s fighting with Collins over is that she not only owns a WNBA team—which is basically viewed as a diverse, icky league of feminist woke culture among the MAGA set—but the team she owns is the Atlanta Dream. Whose name is taken from Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. These are both considered fouls in the Trump Office of Personnel and Management for anyone whose first name is not “Ivanka.”

In July, the team wanted to honor the Black Lives Matter movement by wearing warmups with the BLM logo. Eager to separate herself, Loeffler fired off a letter to the WNBA commissioner to blast BLM. Players retaliated by wearing black T-shirts with “Vote Warnock” on them. When confronted by the revolt from players, Loeffler gleefully tweeted she had been “canceled” and issued a statement claiming, “This is just more proof that the out of control cancel culture wants to shut out anyone who disagrees with them. It’s clear that the league is more concerned with playing politics than basketball.”

Because only millionaire dilettantes who bought their Senate appointments should talk about politics. As if.

The point is, Loeffler needed to buff up her MAGA cred and she was happy to triangulate against her own business to do it.

But wait, there’s more. Her shamelessness gets even better, or worse, depending on how you look at it.

Loeffler was one of Trump’s special loyal subjects who attended the White House superspreader event to announce Amy Coney Barrett. There, she went the extra mile by conspicuously socializing—maskless—with Trump and others at an indoor event. All while she simultaneously claimed that she was following medical guidelines and practicing social distancing. If that kind of double talk doesn’t prove her gaslighting skills to Trump voters, what will?

She wasn’t done yet, though.

When it became public that Trump had contracted coronavirus, Loeffler tweeted “Remember: China gave this virus to our President @realDonaldTrump and First Lady @FLOTUS. WE MUST HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE.” As if it had been secret Chinese agents breathing COVID germs all over the president, and not eager Trump sycophants. Like herself.

Who knew Loeffler was such a boss 4D chessmaster? She should share notes with South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem.


Today, Loeffler probably only has an even-money chance to hold onto her seat. She’s within the margin of error against Collins. If she finishes second, it’s possible that the Senate majority could hinge on her January runoff against Warnock.

What would that race look like?

If the money that has poured into South Carolina Democrat Jaime Harrison’s Senate campaign for the purpose of taking out Trump’s golf caddy Lindsey Graham is any indication, Warnock would be exceptionally well funded. The race would come down to a fight for MLK’s legacy versus the woman who turned her back on her own MLK-inspired team. Just think for a moment about how that would hit under the glare of national spotlight, especially if control of the Senate were at stake.

It’s entirely possible that Loeffler could spend many more of her millions, only to lose it all come 2021. And what would happen then? Loeffler would be forced to retreat to her $10.5 million, 15,000-square-foot mansion. Pour one out for the poor rich lady.

But maybe it’ll all work out for her. Maybe the Qanons she’s courted will go Quazy for Quelly. Maybe the good old boys in the militia will march to the polls for Loeffler and scare everyone else away. Maybe they’ll believe she is really one of them.

In a way, she is. If the Age of Trump is about anything, it’s about the triumph of plutocratic faux populism in the Republican party.

Kelly Loeffler has made herself into a real fake populist. She is Trump’s true heir. They’re political fam now, their fates inextricably tied. She wanted this.

Amanda Carpenter

Bulwark political columnist Amanda Carpenter is a CNN contributor, author, and former communications director to Sen. Ted Cruz and speechwriter to Sen. Jim DeMint.