Brian Kemp on why he’ll back Donald Trump if he wins the GOP nod

071520 Atlanta: Georgia Governor Brian Kemp greets President Donald Trump as he visits Georgia to talk about an infrastructure overhaul at the UPS Hapeville hub at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Wednesday July 15, 2020 in Atlanta. The visit focuses on a rule change designed to make it easier to process environmental reviews.  Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

071520 Atlanta: Georgia Governor Brian Kemp greets President Donald Trump as he visits Georgia to talk about an infrastructure overhaul at the UPS Hapeville hub at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Wednesday July 15, 2020 in Atlanta. The visit focuses on a rule change designed to make it easier to process environmental reviews. Curtis Compton

AUSTIN, Texas — Gov. Brian Kemp has reason to hold a grudge against Donald Trump. The former president has threatened, berated and bullied the governor — and sponsored a primary rival who challenged Kemp in last year’s midterm.

Even so, Kemp said he would still support Trump in a rematch against President Joe Biden if he wins the GOP nod. In a Texas Tribune Festival forum, the governor delved into why he’s willing to back his tormentor despite their tortured past.

Over an hourlong conversation with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kemp also urged hardline Republicans in the U.S. House to “pass the damn bill” to fund the government and avoid a shutdown or risk damaging political backlash.

And he endorsed maintaining a robust level of military aid for Ukraine, discussed his decision not to run for president next year and downplayed talk of a 2026 bid for U.S. Senate.

Some of Kemp’s most forceful comments, though, echoed his escalating criticism of Trump. He urged Republicans to look to the future — and warned that Democrats could again carry his home state if Trump continues his fixation with his 2020 loss.

“And there’s no path to a Republican win in the White House if we don’t win Georgia in 2024.”

Here are excerpts from the interview, edited for clarity:

On why he would still back Trump if he’s the GOP nominee:

“Despite all of that, despite all of his other trials and tribulations, he would still be a lot better than Biden. And the people serving in the administration would be a lot better than than Joe Biden. And it has nothing to do with being a coward. It has everything to do with winning and reversing the ridiculous, obscene positions of Joe Biden and this administration that literally, in a lot of ways, are destroying our country.”

On the specific “ridiculous, obscene” positions that Kemp opposes:

“Just look at the border and what’s happening in Texas right now. This is not a hard problem to fix. I signed a letter this week to President Biden and the administration asking for simple things: Who are the people coming across, and where are they going? Why will you not give the governors — Democrats and Republicans - the names and the locations of where people are being dropped off. Even worse than that, why are we even allowing that to happen?”

On whether Republicans have also failed to overhaul immigration policies:

“It’s ridiculous that Congress hasn’t worked on this issue. Both Republicans and Democrats are to blame as much as anybody … This has been going on for 20 or 30 years, so how about just securing the border so that governors aren’t having to deal with fentanyl deaths, human trafficking, people sleeping on the streets creating crime and housing issues? We have enough of a mess trying to take care of our own people versus people coming into our country illegally.”

On whether Trump can win Georgia after losing to Biden in 2020:

“I do think he can win Georgia. Joe Biden’s approval ratings are so bad, his policies have been so bad for so many people in the state of Georgia … So yes, I think he can win. But I also think he stands a very good chance of losing if he continues to talk about the stolen 2020 election. If he continues, like he’s done in the past, to attack other good Republicans who don’t agree with him 100% of the time, there’s a good chance he can lose the election.”

Gov. Brian Kemp. (Arvin Temkar /

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

On what he’s seeking in a GOP presidential candidate:

“I want to back someone who can win, someone who can really lead our country and tackle the serious issues that we’ve got, and figure out ways to work with everybody in Washington regardless of who they represent. … You can be principled in your ideology and everything else. But if you don’t control the pencil in Washington, you don’t get to write the rules and the regulations and the laws. That’s what’s killing us right now. We don’t have the pencil. Regardless of where people are ideology-wise, if they can’t win, it doesn’t matter. You can’t govern if you don’t win.”

On whether he regrets not running for president:

“Will this microphone reach over to the first lady? (Laughter.) I was in a lot different situation than a lot of my colleagues and other friends that are running for president right now. We had to work so hard every single day to get through that primary and then to get through the general election. I didn’t spend my whole reelection thinking about running for president.

“A lot of times, when you’re either in defeat or victory, if you make quick decisions, they’re not always well thought out, good decisions. And I had not had a whole lot of time to think about whether it was something I’d want to consider. By the time I really got calmed down enough to think about that, we had too many candidates in the race. I think it would be detrimental to us winning for any Republican to get in right now — including myself.”

On what he told the Fulton County special grand jury investigating Trump:

“I told the special grand jury the same thing I’ve told everybody else: I followed the law and the Constitution … I’ve got to be very careful about what I’m saying here. But (Trump) called me several times. And I told him what the law was, and what the Constitution said in our state, and that’s the process that we followed.”

On the impact of Democratic-backed clean energy incentives that have helped fuel Georgia’s green energy boom:

“They were going to get that anywhere in the country they went. They’d get them if they went to Texas, they’d get them if they went to Michigan, and they’d get them if they go to Georgia. The key is: Why are they coming to Georgia? Because we created the ecosystem for that well before the IRA (Inflation reduction Act) passed.”

On the pending government shutdown:

“I personally think the Republicans need to keep working, whether it’s a stopgap measure, or getting the whole bill passed. They need to figure out a way to get something done and not shut the government down.”

In this photo from Jan. 7, 2023, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., takes a photo with U.S. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

On hardline Republicans pushing for deeper budget cuts:

“If you’re really hellbent on working on spending and controlling spending, where are their proposals for dealing with that? None of them have enough guts to come out and say anything about that, because they know they’ll get lit up by the other side — or the frontrunner in the presidential race. If they’re going to take that tack, then put your plan out there. How are you going to control spending in Washington - not just 30% of it, all of it? If not, just pass the damn bill and try to get something …

“Why not have some sort of spending bill that would help secure the border even though you’re not getting everything you want? Take the win and show people you know how to govern. I’m calling for them to do something up there. Regardless of what side you’re on, that’s what the American people want.”

On whether he supports maintaining robust military aid to Ukraine:

“I don’t know everything to know about Ukraine and what Congress is dealing with. But I think there’s a way for us to continue to support the country of Ukraine. If I had a say, I would be figuring out the fastest way, with the least amount of money, that we could defeat Russia and Vladimir Putin. It’s imperative for us to do that. … My gut feeling: I would be in the boat of getting them everything they can use to win the war without getting us in one.”

On prominent Georgia Republicans who promote election fraud lies:

“A lot of people believe a lot of different things about what happened in 2020. And my point, especially to Republicans, is that you can believe whatever you want. But you need to start looking forward. Because looking backwards is not going to change what happened, it’s not gonna change what I believe. But the only way we’re going to win is to be focused on the future.”

November 4, 2018 Macon - GOP gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp speaks as President Donald J. Trump looks during President Donald J. Trump’s Make America Great Again Rally to support Brian Kemp at Middle Georgia Regional Airport in MaconSunday, November 4, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM


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On polls that show many Trump loyalists in Georgia also back Kemp despite their differences:

“It’s just a crazy world that we’re living in. I don’t know that polls really can gather what people are really thinking. People want political leaders who are going to fight for them, who are going to get things done for them. I have a record of doing that. A lot of people disagree with Donald Trump’s tactics, but he also has a good record on a lot of issues … That’s just one reason I have just tried to be who I am, and talk about my record.”

On a potential U.S. Senate bid in 2026 against Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff:

“I know everybody’s saying that. But I am focused on 2024. Anybody who says anything different than that, then they are not hearing what I’m saying. I think it is a bad mistake — a bad mistake — for Republicans to be focused on anything other than winning in 2024. Including my colleagues in the state of Georgia. I’ve tried to caution them that we need to stay focused on winning our state. And there’s no path to a Republican win in the White House if we don’t win Georgia in 2024.”

U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., and Republican Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia. (AJC file photos)

Credit: AJC

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Credit: AJC