The Jolt: Why Kemp went to Milwaukee to call Trump a ‘loser’

News and analysis from the AJC politics team
Gov. Brian Kemp made a surprise trip to the site of the first presidential debate in Milwaukee Wednesday, where he hammered former President Donald Trump for skipping the debate. (Hyosub Shin/hyosub.shin@ajc.com)

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Gov. Brian Kemp made a surprise trip to the site of the first presidential debate in Milwaukee Wednesday, where he hammered former President Donald Trump for skipping the debate. (Hyosub Shin/hyosub.shin@ajc.com)

Gov. Brian Kemp has been quick to downplay speculation about a possible run for president in 2024, particularly with the clock ticking toward the Iowa presidential caucuses in January.

But that didn’t keep the Georgia Republican from making a surprise trip Wednesday to the site of the first presidential debate in Milwaukee. Or from hammering former President Donald Trump and his campaign for skipping the debate.

The governor met with Ruthless podcast hosts at last weekend’s Gathering conservative conference in Atlanta. The show taped an episode as part of the event’s program.

During the Atlanta meeting, the hosts asked Kemp to be their “celebrity guest picker” ahead of the debate. The bit mimics the popular feature on ESPN’s College Football Game Day.

The governor came bearing gifts, including a package of his family’s deer meat sticks — namely, deer jerky — and two bags of pork rinds from Rodney Scott’s.

But Kemp really went to Milwaukee to deliver a message. “He wanted to make sure to tout the folks who showed up and got up on stage,” an adviser explained.

“We just have to have a candidate that can win,” Kemp said on the podcast. “I think everybody in that room’s got a shot to catch lightning in a bottle.”

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Candidates raise hands when asked if they would pardon former President Donald Trump, during the first Republican presidential primary debate, at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023. From left: former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Vice President Mike Pence, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, the entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C) and Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota. (Kenny Holston/The New York Times).

Credit: Kenny Holston/The New York Times

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Credit: Kenny Holston/The New York Times

LISTEN UP. The leading GOP White House hopefuls, sans former President Donald Trump, dueled on the debate stage Wednesday night in Milwaukee. On today’s podcast, the Politically Georgia team breaks down their performances and dissects Gov. Brian Kemp’s pre-debate appearance and his “loser” comments about Trump.

Listen and subscribe to our podcast for free at Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts. You can also tell your smart speaker to “play Politically Georgia podcast.”

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GEORGIA RIFT. If the first debate highlighted enduring rifts in the GOP, then the high-profile Georgia Republicans who trekked to Milwaukee underscored the deep divisions among state partisans.

While Gov. Brian Kemp was labeling Donald Trump a “loser” for skipping the debate, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome, sought every microphone she could to stump for the former president and declare him the winner in absentia of the night’s showdown.

U.S. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome, speaks to the news media on July 12th, 2023 in Washington, DC. Yesterday she was in Milwaukee to stump for former President Donald Trump, who did not attend the Republican presidential primary debate there. (Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner for The AJC

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Credit: Nathan Posner for The AJC

Greene said she was denied access to the spin room at Fiserv Forum and mocked the field of candidates as Trump wannabes, political has-beens or worse.

“The debate tonight was so disappointing,” she said on Right Side Broadcasting Network. “I felt like we were sliding backwards in the Republican Party. It felt like it was going back to the Bush Republican Party where we love to go fight foreign wars and we don’t want to say bad things about anyone.”

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HALEY INCOMING. Fresh off her solid GOP debate performance Wednesday night, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley will soon be headed to Atlanta for a fundraiser with prominent Republican supporters.

The Sept. 12 event includes about a dozen hosts, including former Republican statewide candidate Guy Millner, strategist Eric Tanenblatt, executive Jay Davis and real estate mogul Steve Selig.

Entry to the event will cost donors $1,000, while a picture with Haley runs $5,000 a person.

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A trio of Senate Democrats were quoted in a Fox News article praising Republican Lt. Gov. Burt Jones and his willingness to work across the aisle as he faces a potential criminal investigation for his role as a fake GOP elector. (Arvin Temkar/arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

JONESING. A trio of Georgia Senate Democrats were quoted in a Fox News article praising Republican Lt. Gov. Burt Jones and his willingness to work across the aisle during the legislative session. Jones faces a potential criminal investigation for his role as a fake GOP elector.

Their comments, published Wednesday, triggered private grumblings from other Democratic officials. They noted the sharp stance taken by the Georgia Senate Democratic Caucus calling for an investigation of Jones’ role in the “scandal.”

In the Fox News piece, state Sens. Josh McLaurin of Sandy Springs, Derek Mallow of Savannah and Freddie Powell Sims of Dawson raved about Jones’ first legislative session presiding over the Senate.

“We were always able to work together — in spite of political differences — for the good of all Georgians,” said Sims, who has worked with Jones since he joined the Senate and considers him a friend.

State Sen. Josh McLaurin, D-Sandy Springs, says he has been able to work well with Republican Lt. Gov. Burt Jones. (Natrice Miller/ Natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

McLaurin, a first-term senator, told the AJC’s Maya T. Prabhu that he didn’t have control over the story’s headline, which read “Democrat lawmakers defend character of Republican official facing investigation related to Trump-Georgia case.”

“They asked my opinion about Burt’s work as lieutenant governor and I answered honestly: Georgia voters sent him to the Senate, and they sent me, too,” McLaurin said. “I want to do the best job I can, and that means we work together for as long as we’re both here.”

A judge barred District Attorney Fani Willis from investigating Jones because she participated in a fundraiser for his rival, shifting the probe to the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council. At least eight fake electors took immunity deals, while three others were indicted last week.

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Nine defendants indicted along with former President Donald Trump had been booked into the Fulton County jail by August 23. Top row, left to right: Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis, Ray Smith III, Sidney Powell. Bottom row, left to right: Cathy Latham, John Eastman, Kenneth Chesebro, Scott Hall, David Shafer. (File photos)

Credit: File photos

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Credit: File photos

KEEP UP. Former President Donald Trump plans to turn himself in at the Fulton County Jail today. Other co-defendants, including Trump lawyer and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, have already surrendered and posted bond.

With all the moving parts, we’ll keep you updated every morning with the latest developments. Our AJC colleagues filed these stories Wednesday:

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Members of the House Freedom Caucus, including U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, announced this week that they will oppose legislation to temporarily fund the government unless it includes language championing their conservative causes. (Kenny Holston/The New York Times)

Credit: Kenny Holston/The New York Times

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Credit: Kenny Holston/The New York Times

POSSIBLE SHUTDOWN. Members of the House Freedom Caucus, including U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Athens, said this week they will oppose legislation to temporarily fund the government unless the measure includes language championing their conservative causes. The threat increases the likelihood of a federal shutdown at the end of September as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., works to reach an agreement with Democrats.

In a letter to constituents, Clyde said the Freedom Caucus will insist the spending bill “secure the border, address the weaponization of the Department of Justice, and end the woke policies that continue to undermine our military” as well as “oppose any blank check for Ukraine.”

He added: “Ultimately, we strongly believe that it’s time to use the power of the purse to defund Joe Biden’s reckless, woke, and bloated agenda.”

McCarthy holds a slim majority in the House and can’t afford to lose more than a handful of Republican votes if he wants to pass legislation without the help of Democrats. Finding Democratic support for the Freedom Caucus’ priorities is unlikely.

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome, is no longer a member of the Freedom Caucus, but at a recent town in Gordon County she echoed calls to return federal spending to pre-COVID-19 levels. She opposes a “continuing resolution” that keeps funding at levels implemented when Democrats were in the majority.

“Do y’all care if the government shuts down?” she asked the crowd.

The crowd enthusiastically responded, “No.”

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TODAY IN WASHINGTON:

  • President Joe Biden is on vacation in Lake Tahoe and has no public events scheduled.
  • The U.S. House and Senate continue their August recess.

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The Biden administration on Wednesday announced that Emory University would be the lead recipient on a grant for as much as $24 million for scientists researching mRNA technology for possible future use against cancer and other dangerous illnesses. (Anthony Behar/Sipa USA/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

CANCER MOONSHOT. The Biden administration has named Emory University the lead recipient on a research grant aimed at using mRNA technology to fight cancer and other dangerous illnesses.

The AJC’s Ariel Hart and Helena Oliviero got the scoop on the grant, worth as much as $24 million. The money is the first awarded from a new federal fund meant to foster innovative health research.

Most COVID-19 vaccines are built upon mRNA technology. The grant will fund research that also explores using the body’s own immune system to fight cancer.

The work at Emory may not lead to an immediate cure or treatments, but researchers say the grant could help reach that goal.

“It’s life-changing, game-changing,” said Philip Santangelo, professor of biomedical engineering at Emory University and Georgia Tech.

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PERSONNEL FILE. The Democratic Party of Georgia has hired Tolulope Kevin Olasanoye as its new executive director.

Olasanoye most recently served as national political and organizing director for The Collective PAC, which focuses on building Black political power. His resume also includes stints as executive director and senior adviser to the New Jersey Democratic State Committee and as executive director of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, where he was the first Black person to hold that position.

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Rooney Key is named for the late grumpy-faced but lovable broadcaster Andy Rooney. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

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Credit: Courtesy photo

DOG OF THE DAY. You can’t judge a book by its cover and just because a dog like Rooney Key looks grumpy doesn’t mean he is.

The sourpuss-faced pooch is named after the late Andy Rooney, the equally grumpy-looking, but lovable, broadcaster. He calls longtime AJC subscriber Charlie Key his person, and they both call Mableton home.

A reliable source tells us that Rooney is a mixed breed dog who adopted his people when he showed up at their house and refused to leave — a dog tale sweet enough to make anyone smile.

Send us your dogs of any political persuasion and location, and cats on a cat-by-cat basis, to patricia.murphy@ajc.com, or DM us at @MurphyAJC.

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AS ALWAYS, Jolt readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to adam.vanbrimmer@ajc.com, patricia.murphy@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com and greg.bluestein@ajc.com.