OPINION: A memo to national media - Brian Kemp is no moderate savior

Gov. Brian Kemp speaks before he signed a bill, which will allow permitless carry, at a gun store In Douglasville on Tuesday, April 12, 2022. SB 319 allows a “lawful weapons carrier” to carry a concealed handgun everywhere license holders currently are allowed. (Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com)

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

Gov. Brian Kemp speaks before he signed a bill, which will allow permitless carry, at a gun store In Douglasville on Tuesday, April 12, 2022. SB 319 allows a “lawful weapons carrier” to carry a concealed handgun everywhere license holders currently are allowed. (Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com)

There seems to be a thought among national pundits that Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp could be the superhero they’re looking for to swoop into the 2024 GOP presidential field and defeat Donald Trump.

At the moment, Trump seems destined to win the GOP nomination, but appears incapable of winning the White House again, so who could blame Republicans for looking for someone to save the day?

Apart from the fact that about half of Republicans don’t think they need to be saved from Trump, there are two reasons why Kemp won’t play the moderate savior some are looking for. The first is the simple fact that Kemp is not running for president. Not only has he never campaigned in Iowa, he has never been to Iowa or New Hampshire as governor. That is not the itinerary of a man looking to run for the White House in six months.

That lack of early-state travel could be solved with some fancy scheduling. But an underlying piece of the draft-Kemp calculus seems to be an assumption, or maybe even a hope among news analysts outside of Georgia, that Kemp’s moderate tone and demeanor in public mean he is also moderate in his politics.

But they should know that the Georgia governor is nobody’s moderate. He’s not even close.

Legislatively, Brian Kemp was Ron DeSantis before Ron DeSantis was Ron DeSantis. In fact, for nearly every high-profile and very conservative action DeSantis has taken from the governor’s mansion, with the exception of declaring war on Mickey Mouse, Kemp did it first, and in some cases, years earlier.

The best example is the six-week abortion ban that DeSantis signed in Florida earlier this year. The legislation bans most abortions once cardiac activity is detected, which can actually be as early as four weeks of pregnancy.

Because the law is so unpopular among middle-of-the-road voters nationally, Politico wrote predicted “DeSantis could be walking into a general election trap on abortion,” if he were to win the GOP nomination.

But if it was a trap for DeSantis, it would be that and more for Kemp, who signed a nearly identical bill in Georgia banning most abortions more than four years ago as one of his first acts as governor.

The same goes for the so-called Constitutional Carry bill that DeSantis signed in April, which eliminated the permit required by the state of Florida in order to carry a firearm. Two years before that, Kemp made permitless carry the first piece of legislation he called on lawmakers to pass in 2022, which they did.

But instead of quietly signing the bill in a private ceremony as DeSantis did, Kemp called a press conference and brought along the First Lady and dozens of lawmakers to join him as he signed permitless carry in front of a Douglasville gun store.

Before DeSantis opened Florida for business during COVID, which he brags about to this day, Kemp had already beaten him to the punch with Georgia nail salons, bowling alleys and barber shops, over the very loud objections of Trump.

And before Trump or U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene made “keeping boys out of girls sports” a campaign issue, Kemp had already signed a bill in Georgia to essentially do that. The legislation had been stalled in the Georgia General Assembly in the winter of 2022 until Kemp went to GOP lawmakers after dark on the last day of the legislative session telling them to get something for him to sign before the midnight deadline. He signed a bill this year banning transgender surgeries for minors.

All of this is to say that Brian Kemp is just about as conservative as it gets when it comes to statewide officials anywhere in the country. Former Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan described Kemp’s politics on CNN over the weekend, saying, “Kemp is conservative, but not angry about it.” Except when he is angry about it.

Take the episode in 2021, when Major League Baseball moved the All-Star game from Atlanta to Denver in a last-minute protest of Senate Bill 202, the election overhaul bill that Kemp signed in the wake of the 2020 elections.

After the MLB announcement, Kemp called a rare Saturday press conference to defend the bill and hammer “cancel culture” and Georgia corporations for speaking out against the legislation he’d just signed into law.

The moment provided Kemp with a much-needed boost of GOP unity after he’d gotten Trump’s unrelenting rage for refusing to help to overturn the election the former president had just lost in Georgia. Trump’s anger had cost Kemp among the GOP base, but it also became the secret sauce behind his huge reelection victory in 2022.

Even though many of Kemp’s policies were out-of-synch with the majority of Georgia voters that year, especially on social issues like guns and abortion, moderate voters told us again and again that they appreciated that the governor had stood up to Trump, regardless of his party and his own political future. In fact, many assumed Kemp’s actions would mean he had no political future. But he followed the law anyway — as did Georgia’s equally conservative Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. The fact that Georgia’s economy has been mostly humming since COVID didn’t hurt, either.

So national pundits and moderates , it’s highly unlikely that Brian Kemp will even attempt to rescue you from a Trump nomination. But if he does, know what you’ll be getting: A politically astute, sometimes irrationally brave candidate who is in no way a moderate Republican.

If that’s what you’re looking for, he may be your man. If you could only get him out to Iowa…..