Around the same time former President Donald Trump hops on a phone call Monday to boost David Perdue’s campaign, his former political patron Mike Pence will headline a rally for Gov. Brian Kemp at a Cobb County airport.
The dueling political events on the eve of Tuesday’s primary show how Georgia’s campaign for governor is also deepening divides within the GOP that could echo throughout the 2024 campaign for the White House.
Pence’s endorsement of Kemp is his most significant break yet with the former president and another signal that he’s laying the groundwork for a presidential run potentially against his former boss.
And Pence’s public proxy war with Trump comes as Kemp threatens to derail the former president’s revenge tour against Republicans who refused to overturn the election results.
Trump has put Kemp atop a lengthy list of GOP officials he blamed for his 2020 defeat to President Joe Biden, and first vowed to unseat the governor even as he was encouraging Republicans to vote in the runoff last year that decided control of the Senate.
After news of the former vice president’s endorsement emerged, Trump disparaged his former ally and nodded toward his decision not to block Biden’s Electoral College certification on Jan. 6, 2021.
“Mike is trying to get involved, and he’s a very nice man, but he really let us all down. He let us down,” Trump told far-right radio show host John Fredericks.
Pence is one of a wave of Trump enemies that have flocked to Kemp’s banner and punish the former president. Once an insurgent outsider, the governor has become an unlikely hero to old-guard Republicans disgusted with Trump’s sway over the GOP.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie traveled the state with him last week. Former President George W. Bush is among the donors to Kemp’s campaign this month.
Trump, meanwhile, maintained his support for Perdue is unwavering despite recent comments downplaying his chances. Perdue trails Kemp by double-digits in the polls and his campaign pulled its ads off air weeks ago.
The tele-rally offers Perdue a final chance to energize Trump First voters who value the former president’s endorsement yet still back Kemp’s campaign.
As for Pence, he pointedly declined to rule out a 2024 run in an interview with The New York Times, adding that “we’ll go where we’re called.“
“I have been very moved traveling around the country how much people have made a point to express appreciation,” he said. “It has been very humbling to me.”
At an early Monday online press conference, Kemp kept to his strategy of avoiding criticism of Trump.
“I’m not mad at him. I think he’s just mad at me. And that’s something that I can’t control,” he said. “But I know this: I’m inviting anybody out there that wants to help my campaign and help us defeat Stacey Abrams.”