Kemp’s visit to Texas border in ‘crisis’ highlights his 2022 strategy

Brian Kemp surveys the Rio Grande River during an April 30, 2021 visit.

Credit: Kemp's office

Credit: Kemp's office

Brian Kemp surveys the Rio Grande River during an April 30, 2021 visit.

Gov. Brian Kemp made an unannounced daylong trip to the U.S. border with Mexico — where 300 Georgia National Guard troops are stationed — and he wanted to make sure conservative voters know about it.

His social media accounts on Friday crackled with posts about the trip to Texas, promoting crisp images of the Republican’s boat tour on the Rio Grande, a briefing at a section of a border wall built under Donald Trump’s administration and a chummy video with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

“Since the Vice President won’t visit our nation’s border to witness the crisis we’re facing, I decided to go myself,” Kemp said on social media, a knock on Kamala Harris, who has taken a lead role on immigration policy following spikes of migrants to the border.

It’s no mystery that Republicans hope to turn President Joe Biden’s struggle to keep his promise of a more humane immigration policy into a potent political weapon going into the 2022 midterms, and Kemp’s visit highlights his effort to once again rally the party’s conservative die-hards to his flag.

The governor entered the year damaged by scathing attacks leveled by former President Donald Trump and his allies over his refusal to overturn the election results, winding up squeezed in an ongoing internal GOP feud as ascendant Democrats ready to rally around an expected gubernatorial rematch bid by Stacey Abrams.

And although his support for a state election rewrite has steadied his political footing with Republicans — and helped him so far avoid a top-tier GOP challenger — the fury he recently faced at county GOP meetings reflected the deep Trump-driven schism that complicates his bid for a second term.

It explains why he’s aggressively blasted “cancel culture,” assailed Biden and trekked 1,100 miles to a patch of Texas within the past week.

It wasn’t Kemp’s first visit to the region: He made a far quieter trip in December in the teeth of Georgia’s U.S. Senate runoffs, when his absence didn’t capture much widespread attention during the brutal campaign for control of the chamber.

This trip was a different story, thanks in part to aggressive promoting by Kemp’s office. Pictures of the governor standing under a towering section of the border wall and flanked by National Guard troops on a remote road were splashed on social media — along with a torrent of criticism that made Kemp a trending topic on Twitter.

“I felt like it would be good for me to go back and see our folks and make sure they got everything they need and really learn a little more about what they have going on right now,” Kemp told Channel 2 Action News before his flight.

The cost of the trip wasn’t immediately clear, though Kemp’s office said it was arranged through a Department of Defense program that pairs up officials with pilots in need of more training hours.

Democrats mocked the visit as a naked attempt to pander to his base, and poked fun at pictures of him surveying the Rio Grande instead of, say, the Chattahoochee. Rebecca Galanti of the state Democratic Party called it an “embarrassing political stunt.”

“With an election coming up and his approval ratings plunging,” she said, “Brian Kemp is fanning the fears of his base and clinging to the worst of his party’s far-right wing in a sad attempt to drum up support.”

Kemp’s allies, meanwhile, framed his visit as an acknowledgement of the soldiers striving to protect the border amid Washington’s inaction.

“There are nearly 300 Georgia Guardsmen serving on the border right now. The governor traveled today to thank them and see what they’re up against,” said campaign aide Tate Mitchell. “That’s called leadership.”