Gov. Brian Kemp took pains to avoid saying anything negative about Donald Trump for years even as he became a favorite punching bag of the former president. Now the governor’s gloves are coming off.
In a viral social media post, the Georgia Republican blasted Trump for congratulating North Korea’s despotic leader for the Communist nation’s admission to the World Health Organization’s executive board.
“Taking our country back from Joe Biden does not start with congratulating North Korea’s murderous dictator,” wrote Kemp over a screenshot of Trump’s praise for Kim Jong Un.
Kemp’s jab was the most significant shot he has ever taken at Trump, and it landed a week before the former president is set to return to Georgia to headline the state GOP convention.
Kemp announced he would skip the event long before organizers announced Trump would attend, a no-show that serves as a reminder of the ongoing rift dividing Republicans.
Trump, for his part, has hardly held back his attacks on Kemp. He has accused the governor of being disloyal, phony and inept. He backed David Perdue’s failed GOP challenge. Once, Trump even said he’d rather see Democrat Stacey Abrams in Georgia’s top job than Kemp.
A Kemp-Trump saga
For Kemp, the barbed attacks punctuated a new chapter in a saga that has shaped Georgia politics over much of the last decade.
The Athens Republican opened his bid for governor in 2017 by borrowing themes from Trump, such as a “Georgia first” philosophy. Trump’s surprise endorsement a year later fueled Kemp’s runaway runoff victory over then-Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
But their relationship soured in 2019, when Trump griped about being left out of Kemp’s decision to tap Kelly Loeffler to a U.S. Senate seat. A few months later, Trump slammed Kemp for lifting economic restrictions early in the pandemic.
After Trump narrowly lost Georgia in the 2020 race for the White House, he pressured Kemp and other state leaders to call a special legislative session to overturn his defeat.
When Kemp balked at the illegal attempt to reverse his loss, Trump vowed to oust him from office - and held rallies in Georgia to marshal his forces against the incumbent. Kemp got the last laugh, defeating Perdue by 52 points.
But throughout the campaign, Kemp carefully avoided feuding with Trump and boasted that he had “never said a bad word” about the ex-president. Amid a tough rematch with Abrams, he didn’t want to alienate Trump’s core supporters and distract attention from his campaign.
That began to change on the night of Kemp’s election victory, when he took a veiled swipe at Trump. Since then, Kemp has increasingly urged the GOP to move on from Trump - without mentioning the ex-president by name.
That is, until Friday, when Kemp took his criticism of Trump to a new, more confrontational level. As Kemp tries to stay in the 2024 mix — and promises to deliver Georgia to the GOP next year — his barbed post targeting Trump could be a preview of what’s to come.