Kemp warns 2024 can’t be about ‘who can outlast the other 80-year-old’

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp gives the State of the State speech at the Capitol in Atlanta on Jan. 25, 2023. (Arvin Temkar/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp gives the State of the State speech at the Capitol in Atlanta on Jan. 25, 2023. (Arvin Temkar/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Gov. Brian Kemp sharpened his criticism of his party’s direction at a nationally watched conference, warning Republicans on Saturday that voters will end up the loser if the November race devolves into “a debate about who can outlast the other 80-year-old politician.”

Without mentioning former President Donald Trump, the second-term governor repeated his call for Republicans to focus on “results and not personalities” – and avoid obsessing over lies about widespread election fraud fueled by the far-right.

But in a speech that laid out Kemp’s political philosophy to a broader audience, he also called for voters to look beyond partisan gridlock in Washington and toward conservative governors as a template for how Republicans can burnish their appeal.

“That must be our party’s blueprint this fall,” he told students at Washington and Lee University’s Mock Convention in Lexington. “Our message to voters must be about what we will do for the country if they give us the keys back to the White House.”

To the audience of hundreds at the conference, which sometimes serves as a showcase for potential 2028 contenders, Kemp highlighted contentious GOP initiatives in Georgia to expand school vouchers, overhaul election laws and crack down on violent crime.

But he said lawmakers must go beyond the “theatrics of modern-day partisan politics” to find issues that unite voters. He noted bipartisan efforts he signed into law to stiffen penalties on human trafficking, repeal Civil War-era citizens arrests laws and combat antisemitism.

“In Georgia, Republicans and Democrats disagree on a lot. But we don’t let that get in the way of getting things done for the people who elected us,” said Kemp.

“That may seem like a foreign concept to many of our representatives in Congress. But at the end of the day, it’s what the American people expect from their leaders.”

Kemp spoke at the event with Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a political ally who also passed on a longshot bid for the White House in 2024 but could mount a presidential campaign in four years. Another potential aspirant, Donald Trump Jr., also spoke at the conference.

(L-R) Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp high five at The Gathering conservative political conference in Buckhead on Saturday, August 19, 2023. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

After defeating both a Trump-backed rival and a Democratic star in 2022, Kemp has traveled the nation – and the globe – pressing his vision of a Republican Party that transcends Trump’s MAGA rhetoric. In the last month alone, he’s traveled to an elite Swiss conference and the U.S. border in Texas.

The governor has long been a critic of Trump, who called for his ouster in 2022 after Kemp rebuffed his attempts to overturn the election. Though he has pointedly refused to endorse Trump, Kemp has vowed to back him if he’s the GOP nominee.

His speech Saturday was unsparing in its criticism of President Joe Biden, matching his rhetoric in Georgia. He called the Democrat “incapable of doing the job as president” and accused him of being “asleep at the podium.” Americans, he said, suffer from a “complete lack of presidential leadership.”

But he also took shots at his own party, saying that it’s “pretty clear” that voters aren’t sold on what Republicans would do if they’re able to win in November.

“If Congress and this administration were its own company, it would be bankrupt and the leadership would be fired. If they were running a state like Georgia, I can tell you they would have been run out of office a long time ago,” said Kemp.

“They can’t even pass a budget, much less balance one. Many of them refuse to secure the border. Deficits and the debt keep growing. Our military is underfunded to meet growing threats abroad. And inflation continues to eat away at family bank accounts.”

Kemp said Republicans must “give voters a reason to vote for us” or risk another four years of Democratic control of the White House.

“This election should be about results – not personalities,” he said. “It should be about the future of our country – not a race to the bottom.”

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp speaks at a news conference about border policies, in Shelby Park in Eagle Pass, Texas, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

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Credit: AP