Kemp to make a surprise appearance in Milwaukee ahead of GOP debate

Gov. Brian Kemp will be in Milwaukee to serve as a "celebrity guest picker" for the "Ruthless Podcast" as part of its show previewing Wednesday night GOP presidential primary debate. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Gov. Brian Kemp will be in Milwaukee to serve as a "celebrity guest picker" for the "Ruthless Podcast" as part of its show previewing Wednesday night GOP presidential primary debate. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

MILWAUKEE — Gov. Brian Kemp won’t be on stage Wednesday for the first Republican debate of the 2024 campaign, but he’s making a surprise appearance in Milwaukee to take part in a conservative podcast setting up the two-hour showdown.

The second-term Republican joined the “Ruthless Podcast” on Wednesday as a “celebrity guest picker” during the program’s pre-debate show outside the Fiserv Forum. He posted on social media that he was excited about the “big night” ahead for Republicans.

The visit coincides with Kemp’s growing attempts to shape the 2024 field. Kemp has downplayed talk of adding his name to the long list of contenders despite some donors and activists who see him as a “break-the-emergency-glass candidate.”

But he’s encouraged Republicans to focus on a forward-looking message revolving around the economy and public safety — and not Donald Trump’s fixation on his 2020 election loss and the “stupid” distractions of the former president’s growing legal problems.

He’s also been courted by Republican hopefuls competing against Trump, who blamed Kemp for his defeat to Democrat Joe Biden and then unsuccessfully tried to oust him from office. Kemp recently met privately with former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and ex-Vice President Mike Pence in Atlanta.

And Kemp stoked buzz about a possible future GOP ticket by sharing the stage last weekend with Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, another Republican who won office in a politically competitive state.

Kemp is among several prominent Georgia Republicans in Milwaukee. U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is serving as a pro-Trump surrogate. And U.S. Rep. Rich McCormick, who backed DeSantis, is expected to attend the debate.

Kemp’s visit comes as Trump prepares to surrender to Fulton County authorities on charges that he orchestrated a sweeping “criminal enterprise” with 18 allies to subvert the will of Georgia voters. Trump has called the charges a product of a corrupt justice system.

Trump won’t be among the eight contenders on stage at the debate hosted by Fox News. But his legal problems are expected to be a focus of the 9 p.m. event.