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Trump warns: We could lose everything in Georgia this fall if we nominate Brian Kemp

AP Photo/John Bazemore

I read this passage in a WaPo story last week and thought, “Wait, they’re not saying what I think they’re saying, are they?”

Trump has even gone so far as to say he would consider endorsing Abrams if Kemp wins the GOP nomination, though he frequently denigrates her appearance in conversations with top donors. “Stacey, would you like to take his place?” the former president asked at a rally in Perry last September while railing against Kemp. “It’s okay with me.”

Has he been saying privately, in conversation with donors, that he might endorse Abrams? Or is WaPo referring to the joke he told onstage at the September rally?

Because if he’s saying this privately, that suggests he’s serious. And he can’t be serious. I think.

But he really, really hates Kemp. The nightmare scenario for Georgia Republicans is that Kemp beats David Perdue in the primary and Trump reacts by claiming the primary was rigged and/or starts making noises about his voters not turning out for Kemp this fall. Did those noises begin last night? New from the AJC:

In a tele-rally phone call for Perdue, the former president told supporters that a vote for Kemp was a vote for Democrat Stacey Abrams because GOP turnout in November will nosedive if the governor is the party’s nominee.

He added that Kemp’s victory would also hurt Herschel Walker, the Trump-backed former football star who is expected to easily win the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.

“One of the problems also is if Brian Kemp gets in, I think it’s going to be very, very hard for Herschel Walker to win,” he said. “Because I don’t believe Republicans are going to go out and vote for Brian Kemp. And if they’re not voting for Brian Kemp, they’re not going to be able to vote for Herschel Walker.”

Poll after poll now shows Kemp topping 50 percent in the primary, enough to ensure that he’ll win the nomination outright without needing a runoff. A new survey from Insider Advantage has the race 54/38; a different poll from ARW Strategies has it 59.4/21.5, an utter humiliation for Trump and Perdue if it bears out on primary day. Should the polls hold and Kemp goes on to win, at some point this fall a reporter will ask Trump, “Do you endorse Brian Kemp over Stacey Abrams?”

What will he say?

It’s unthinkable, and maybe politically suicidal, that he’d endorse her over Kemp. That would show Republican voters that his top priority isn’t to own the libs, as theirs is, but to settle scores with his enemies on the right. If Abrams ended up winning, Republicans of all stripes would blame him for suppressing GOP turnout and handing the state to a much-loathed progressive. He’d suffer for that in 2024.

But it’s almost as unthinkable that he’d endorse Kemp. How could he after everything he’s said? It seems likely that he’ll end up neutral in a race between a solidly conservative governor and … Stacey farking Abrams. Due to nothing more than spite.

It’s a major mistake, not just by reminding Republican voters that he’s not a team player in a race they care about but by creating space for less Trumpy Republicans to show that they are team players by comparison. Trump’s GOP may want nothing to do with Kemp for refusing to overturn an election but Bush’s GOP is rallying to his side:

Former President George W. Bush will appear at a fundraiser for Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in Texas this month, wading into one of the year’s highest profile primaries to help a Republican targeted for extinction by Donald Trump…

Bush’s intervention in the Georgia primary underscores longstanding tensions between Trump and the Bush family — and the traditionalist wing of the Republican Party that Bush represents. Bush last year appeared at a fundraiser for Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), and he gave money to Cheney and Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Ala.) reelection campaigns, supporting two Republicans who backed impeaching Trump…

Bush, while largely reluctant to criticize Trump directly, implicitly did so last year, when he lamented a modern-day GOP that he said had become “isolationist, protectionist, and to a certain extent, nativist.”

That’s a clever move by Dubya. He looked at the Georgia race, saw who was likely to win, saw how Trump was hurting himself by his petulance towards Kemp, and decided to earn some easy political capital for the pre-Trump establishment by jumping in on the side of the all-but-certain winner of the coming primary. Bush isn’t even the most interesting recent addition to Team Kemp, actually. That distinction goes to Marc Short, who was chief of staff to Mike Pence during Pence’s time as Trump’s VP and is now a senior advisor to Kemp. I’m guessing the fact that Trump is on the other side of this race is more of a feature for Short than a bug, as he was reportedly appalled by what his former boss went through during the insurrection and has cooperated with the January 6 committee. He’s sending a message by taking the side of the man who refused to bend when told to corrupt his state’s election results to benefit Trump.

The fact that Bush and Short are in Kemp’s corner makes me suspect we’ll see Pence himself hit the trail for Kemp this fall, and not just because he’s an old-school party guy inclined to help out a fellow Republican in a big race. Trump’s hostility to Kemp is an opportunity for Pence to draw a contrast between himself and Trump ahead of a possible 2024 primary challenge. Pence will use it to show Republicans that, unlike Trump, he’s willing to put the party’s interests first, just like he was willing to put the country’s interests first on January 6. Stay tuned.

Exit question: Will DeSantis campaign for Kemp as well? He’s looking to build a brand which is (somewhat) distinct from Trump’s and which compares favorably in its distinctions. That would certainly be one way to do it.