Kemp backs Trump: ‘He’d be better than Joe Biden.’

‘It’s as simple as that,’ Georgia’s governor adds on his decision to support a former president who has long sparred with him.
Gov. Brian Kemp on Tuesday restated his support for former President Donald Trump in this year's election, even though the two have had a fraught relationship.

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Gov. Brian Kemp on Tuesday restated his support for former President Donald Trump in this year's election, even though the two have had a fraught relationship.

Gov. Brian Kemp had a curt message on the day of the Georgia primary about why he supports former President Donald Trump despite their long, contentious history: “I think he’d be better than Joe Biden. It’s as simple as that.”

But the governor wouldn’t say whether he voted for Trump when he cast an early ballot in the GOP primary on Friday, days after former U.N Ambassador Nikki Haley quit the race. He told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution only that he’s “said for a long time now I’d support the nominee.”

He also declined to say Tuesday whether he’d campaign with Trump or take other steps to proactively support the former president, saying instead that he will focus on helping Republicans keep their solid majorities in the General Assembly.

“That is going to be my main goal between now and November,” Kemp said outside of his Gold Dome office. “My belief is that if we do that well as Republicans and tell people what we’re for and stay focused on the future, we’ll have a great night up and down the ticket.”

The bottom-up approach to November reflects the fraught relationship between the former allies and sometime adversaries. Now they’ve struck an uneasy truce as the election campaign begins in earnest and Republicans aim to recapture Georgia.

Kemp has long said he’ll support the Republican nominee, so his decision to vouch for Trump as GOP voters headed to the polls was no surprise. But their complicated past will factor into Republican efforts to flip Georgia, which Biden narrowly captured in 2020.

The governor hasn’t campaigned with Trump in three years and skipped every one of his rallies in the state since 2021, including the former president’s event Saturday in Rome. And the former president only dropped his vendetta against Kemp after Trump’s hand-picked challenger was humiliated in the 2022 primary.

Brian Kemp, left, and former President Donald Trump were once close allies, especially after Trump endorsed Kemp in the 2018 GOP primary that carried him to the governorship. But they had a break after the 2020 election, when Kemp resisted efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the results of the presidential election. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM


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But both have a common interest in recapturing Georgia. Trump can ill afford to alienate Kemp, who managed to win over the same suburban swing voters who doomed the then-president’s election chances in 2020.

And Kemp delivering his home state back to the GOP column would be a crowning achievement for the governor, who could run for the U.S. Senate in 2026 or president two years later.

Their relationship fell apart when Kemp repeatedly refused Trump’s demand to call a special legislative session in 2020 that could have invalidated Biden’s victory. And he rebuffed other attempts by Trump’s allies to undermine the election when he certified the results.

Trump singled out Kemp for revenge, swearing that the governor would “go down in flames” at the ballot box. His prediction was spectacularly wrong.

After Kemp defeated former Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Stacey Abrams, he warned Trump to ditch his obsession with 2020 and give voters a reason beyond backing “the lesser of two evils” to cast their ballots.

Kemp also shifted from never uttering a bad word about Trump to full-scale broadsides. But as Trump’s campaign for a third consecutive Republican nomination gained steam, Kemp has backed off his direct criticism of the former president.

The governor is far from the only high-profile Trump skeptic in Georgia to tie himself to the former president’s comeback bid. Attorney General Chris Carr and Insurance Commissioner John King, who each also defeated Trump-backed challengers in 2022, both endorsed him this month. (Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, another incumbent who beat back a Trump-supported challenger, is staying neutral in the contest, citing his role as the state’s top election official.)

On Tuesday, Kemp had few words about Trump beyond repeating his commitment to support the former president. But he did have a prediction about a general election campaign in a state that could make or break Republican ambitions to retake the White House.

“People can send a message with their vote today, but the real action is going to be happening here in November,” he said. “I know we’re preparing for that, and it’s going to be a crazy, crazy election season.”