The governor is no ally of Trump, who blamed the governor for his 2020 defeat to Democrat Joe Biden in Georgia and then unsuccessfully tried to oust him from office. But Kemp said his criticism of the former president has nothing to do with their tortured history.
“If you’re as good as you say you are, get your ass on there, answer the questions, fight it out. Let’s get it done,” said Kemp.
“That’s just my opinion. I’m not saying that just because I’ve battled with President Trump. Look, he’s been mad at me, I haven’t been mad at him,” Kemp added. “But that’s just the way I think. You get in that prevent defense and all of a sudden, the score tightens.”
Kemp’s surprise visit to Milwaukee, announced early Wednesday, coincides with the two-term governor’s growing attempts to influence the 2024 campaign.
Kemp has downplayed talk of adding his name to the long list of contenders despite some donors and activists who see him as a “break-the-emergency-glass candidate.”
But he’s encouraged Republicans to focus on a forward-looking message revolving around the economy and public safety — and not Trump’s fixation on his 2020 election loss and the “stupid” distractions of the former president’s growing legal problems.
He’s also been courted by Republican hopefuls competing against Trump. Kemp met privately last weekend with former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and ex-Vice President Mike Pence in Atlanta.
And Kemp stoked buzz about a possible future GOP ticket by sharing the stage last weekend with Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, another Republican who won office in a politically competitive state.
He spoke highly of each of the eight candidates appearing at Wednesday’s debate, and was dismissive of Trump’s double-digit advantages in national polls and surveys of early-voting states.
“I don’t think this race is over. I think everyone in that room can catch lightning in a bottle,” the governor said, adding: “Let’s see what happens between now and the next debate.”
Kemp’s visit comes as Trump prepares to surrender to Fulton County authorities Thursday on charges that he orchestrated a sweeping “criminal enterprise” with 18 allies to subvert the will of Georgia voters.
As the contenders prepared to take the stage, Kemp cautioned that Republicans who focus on Trump’s legal peril are playing into Democrats’ hands by “going down that rabbit hole when we need to be talking about how bad Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are.”
He told the podcast hosts that he’d brush off queries about the indictments in Fulton County and four other jurisdictions with this pivot:
“I don’t want to answer questions about some stupid indictment. Let’s talk about what matters to people.”