A Trump vs. Kemp proxy war deepens in Georgia after new endorsement

As runoff nears, Trump complicates GOP case by demanding that Kemp resign

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As runoff nears, Trump complicates GOP case by demanding that Kemp resign

Donald Trump dipped deep down into Georgia’s ballot to endorse a little-known GOP candidate for insurance commissioner who only entered the race against an incumbent backed by Gov. Brian Kemp last week.

It was yet another sign of the former president’s escalating grudge against Kemp, who appointed John King to the post in 2019 after Commissioner Jim Beck was charged with stealing $2 million from a former employer to help finance his campaign.

Trump has essentially declared a proxy war on Kemp and his top allies after the governor refused to overturn his 2020 election defeat, something Kemp has no authority to do. King, who is Georgia’s first Hispanic statewide constitutional officer, becomes collateral damage.

The recipient of Trump’s blessing is Patrick Witt, who until last week was a candidate for an open U.S. House seat in northeast Georgia. Witt quit the race on Tuesday to run for state insurance commissioner, endorsing former Democrat Vernon Jones on his way out.

Witt is an ex-Trump administration official who helped the former president’s failed legal effort to overturn his defeat. He has not worked in the insurance industry but he said he helped manage a federal agency that oversaw employee benefits for federal workers. That experience in government, Witt said, exposed him to the “inefficiency and incompetence” of bureaucracies.

King had no direct experience in insurance when Kemp tapped him to the role about three years ago.

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Insurance Commissioner John King kicks off his election campaign.

Insurance Commissioner John King kicks off his election campaign.

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Insurance Commissioner John King kicks off his election campaign.

A former Atlanta beat cop, King later served as Doraville police chief and is a longtime Georgia National Guard general. He dropped the “interim” tag in December after Beck was convicted of federal fraud charges and sentenced to seven years in prison. He’s now running for a full four-year term.

Since his appointment, King has become one of Kemp’s most trusted allies. He often stands at Kemp’s side during significant announcements and the governor has praised King for a “remarkable job at restoring the public’s trust in the office and safeguarding consumers.”

The endorsement came as no surprise to King or his aides. Earlier last week, King’s allies tried to stave off the decision by leaking a poll that showed King with a 26-point advantage over Witt.

In an email blast shortly after Trump’s endorsement, King‘s campaign invoked the poll and called the commissioner a politician who “always puts Georgia consumers — and not the special interests — first.“

Three Democrats are also in the mix: Raphael Baker, an insurance staffer; Janice Laws Robinson, the Democratic nominee for the post in 2018; and state Rep. Matthew Wilson of Brookhaven. Ben Cowart, a Republican developer, has also qualified to run.

Trump’s endorsement of Witt is the sixth he’s doled out to Georgia candidates, an indication of his obsession with ousting state GOP officials he claims were insufficiently loyal to his cause. Trump is set to feature the pro-Trump slate at a rally on March 26 in Commerce.

He also backs former U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s campaign to unseat Kemp, Herschel Walker’s U.S. Senate bid and U.S. Rep. Jody Hice’s challenge to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who famously refused Trump’s demand to “find” enough votes to reverse his loss.

And Trump is intervening in two lower-profile Georgia races. He’s behind state Sen. Burt Jones’ run for lieutenant governor and has endorsed Vernon Jones, who was most recently a Democratic state legislator, for the 10th District seat that Hice is vacating.

Before running for office, Witt might have been best known for his decision in 2011 while he was Yale University’s star quarterback to withdraw a Rhodes scholarship application so he could play in the annual grudge match against Harvard.

But The New York Times later reported that Witt was no longer a contender for the prestigious scholarship because the organizers learned he had been accused of sexual misconduct by a fellow student.

Witt’s lawyer has said the woman who initially approached Yale officials decided not to pursue the charges. And Witt criticized the school’s policy of allowing secretive “informal complaints,” saying the fallout “nearly ruined my life.”

Trump might not be done with his endorsements in Georgia. Several others are pleading for Trump’s endorsement to help them defeat Kemp loyalists, including John Gordon, a lawyer who challenged Attorney General Chris Carr last week.

The governor hasn’t directly hit back at Trump, wary of antagonizing his supporters and further ostracizing the former president.

Kemp quipped last week that he’s addressed questions about Trump’s wrath “about 500,000 times” over the last two years. Per usual, he didn’t utter a negative word about Trump, instead saying he was powerless to change the dynamic.

“I can’t control what other people are doing in politics, whether it’s my opponent, whether it’s people that are endorsing him,” Kemp said. “I’m focused on doing what Georgians want.”