Trump’s GOP rivals to make their cases in Atlanta at post-indictment event

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence, . Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, executive Vivek Ramaswamy, U.S. ,Sen. Tim Scott and ex-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence, . Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, executive Vivek Ramaswamy, U.S. ,Sen. Tim Scott and ex-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

Donald Trump’s top Republican rivals arrive in Atlanta this week at a crucial moment in the race for the White House, bringing their campaigns to a must-win 2024 state days after the former president was charged with engineering a sweeping “criminal enterprise” to reverse his Georgia election defeat.

Fulton County’s indictment of Trump and 18 allies Monday puts the former president’s legal problems into sharper focus ahead of the Gathering, a two-day event that begins Friday and includes Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence and four other presidential hopefuls.

Erick Erickson, the News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB host, organized the event to channel attention on a “vision for the future” rather than Trump’s fixation on his 2020 defeat. He pointedly left Trump off his invite list, just as he did in 2015 for a similar event, and has increasingly criticized Republicans who parrot the former president’s conspiracy theories.

“The goal is to have a conversation really about the future of the country and of the conservative movement and for the candidates in particular,” Erickson said of the event, which is closed to the public. “My goal is to never utter the word ‘Trump.’ I really want to find out if they were president, what would they do?”

Even so, the criminal charges leveled against Trump in Atlanta and three other jurisdictions are an unavoidable factor in the race. Trump has long held a steady double-digit lead among likely Republican voters even as polls show he faces glaring vulnerabilities in a general election.

With the first GOP debate set for next week, some of his rivals could use their appearance at the Atlanta event, which is closed to the public, to capitalize on Trump’s cloud of legal problems. Others could continue to skirt the issue or condemn what they describe as a “politicized” judicial system to a crowd of hundreds of Erickson listeners and conservative activists from across the nation.

Gov. Brian Kemp, shown greeting Donald Trump on a visit to Georgia in 2020, now pushes back against the former president, including a rebuke this week over his false claims about the last presidential election. Kemp will speak at the Gathering after contributing $100,00 to co-host the event for non-Trump Republicans and Erick Erickson's listeners on News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

One leading Republican who has not been shy about pushing back on Trump is Gov. Brian Kemp, who donated $100,000 in campaign contributions to co-sponsor the event. After Trump repeated his lie this week that the 2020 election was “rigged,” Kemp flatly rebutted him.

The 2020 election in Georgia was not stolen,” he responded to Trump, a statement that was quickly echoed by Pence and ex-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, another GOP contender who will speak at the event. DeSantis also praised Kemp’s “thumping” reelection win despite Trump’s vow to defeat him.

The governor is expected to use his platform to urge conservative activists, and the visiting White House hopefuls, to focus on economic and public safety messages — and keep Georgia at the center of their 2024 strategies.

Once a Republican stronghold, swing voters fed up with Trump and his allies fueled Georgia’s transformation into one of the nation’s most competitive battlegrounds — and helped Democrat Joe Biden eke out a victory in the 2020 presidential race, along with U.S. Senate wins by Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in 2021 and 2022.

With Trump again the party’s presidential front-runner, some Republicans worry anew that he will alienate the middle-of-the-road voters who were once a reliable bloc of their coalition. And tensions between Trump’s loyalists and mainstream Republicans flared again before the conference.

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, shown with former President Donald Trump during this year's state GOP convention in Columbus, attacked Gov. Brian Kemp this past week for contradicting Trump's false claims that the 2020 election was rigged against him. Instead, she said, Kemp should have expressed opposition to the Fulton County indictment this week that charged Trump with 13 felonies involving efforts to overturn the 2020 race in Georgia. (Natrice Miller/


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U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a potential Trump running mate, said in an interview that she was furious about Kemp’s criticism of the former president — and wouldn’t rule out a potential U.S. Senate bid in 2026, when Kemp could also run for the office.

“His message should have been against this,” Greene said, referring to the Fulton indictment, “not arguing with President Trump about the election and making it about his own ego and pride over Georgia’s election. That’s a bad statement, and I was very upset over it.”

Trump, meanwhile, will be making his own visit to Georgia in the near future. He plans a more detailed rebuttal in New Jersey on Monday to the 41-count indictment, the most sweeping of the four sets of criminal charges leveled against Trump. And he must surrender to Fulton authorities by Aug. 25.

Staff writers Tia Mitchell and Patricia Murphy contributed to this article.

The Gathering

The Gathering will be held Friday and Saturday at the Grand Hyatt Buckhead for non-Trump Republicans and listeners of News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB host Erick Erickson.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence, executive Vivek Ramaswamy and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott are all set to address the Atlanta event.

Among the other speakers are U.S. Sens. Tom Cotton and Jodi Ernst as well as Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin. Gov. Brian Kemp will speak during a Friday slot sandwiched between Scott and Pence.

Everything you need to know about the Gathering, A8

Get complete coverage of the event Friday and Saturday at