Georgia Governor Brian Kemp is not running for president in 2024. He is taking steps to influence Republican politics, though, on a national level. He seeks a more prominent role in the Republican Governors Association. And, he hired two national fundraisers for his newly formed political action committee (PAC) which shows a growing ambition to shape federal politics. Over the weekend, there was an interesting piece about Kemp in the Wall Street Journal that makes the case that it was Kemp who was the first governor to take on the cancel culture wars in a bold way, not Florida Governor DeSantis. Surprised? Let’s take a look back at how it all started.
Kemp got an early jump on cancel culture battles in Georgia thanks to his early insistence on re-opening Georgia businesses even before Florida re-opened its businesses. Both states bucked President Trump and the CDC by deciding the right thing to do for their states was to allow business owners to decide whether or not to open during the pandemic. Trump likes to now say that DeSantis was a bad governor because he closed up Florida but the truth is that both Kemp and DeSantis received angry phone calls from Trump demanding they keep businesses closed.
In April 2020, businesses in Georgia were shuttered by government decree as in most of the rest of the country. Mr. Kemp was hearing from desperate entrepreneurs: “ ‘Look man, we’re losing everything we’ve got. We can’t keep doing this.’ And I really felt like there was a lot of people fixin’ to revolt against the government.”
The Trump administration “had that damn graph or matrix or whatever that you had to fit into to be able to do certain things,” Mr. Kemp recalls. “Your cases had to be going down and whatever. Well, we felt like we met the matrix, and so I decided to move forward and open up.” He alerted Vice President Mike Pence, who headed the White House’s coronavirus task force, before publicly announcing his intentions on April 20.
That afternoon Mr. Trump called Mr. Kemp, “and he was furious.” Mr. Kemp recounts the conversation as follows:
“Look, the national media’s all over me about letting you do this,” Mr. Trump said. “And they’re saying you don’t meet whatever.”
Mr. Kemp replied: “Well, Mr. President, we sent your team everything, and they knew what we were doing. You’ve been saying the whole pandemic you trust the governors because we’re closest to the people. Just tell them you may not like what I’m doing, but you’re trusting me because I’m the governor of Georgia and leave it at that. I’ll take the heat.”
Trump went on to tell Kemp that hair salons and bowling alleys and tattoo parlors weren’t essential businesses. Kemp argued that those business owners were his (Trump’s) voters and Kemp’s voters, too. They would lose everything if they had to remain closed. Then, Kemp said, the next day Trump went on television during the daily press briefing on the coronavirus pandemic and trashed Kemp’s decision to protect business owners. We forget about that, right? We think of DeSantis when we look back at bucking the CDC and Trump on closing down states because DeSantis was a louder public voice. He embraced the publicity while Kemp’s management style is more reserved, and quieter. DeSantis began to re-open Florida nine days after Kemp re-opened Georgia.
DeSantis even visited the White House and complimented Trump on how he was handling the pandemic. In return, three years later, Trump is lying about DeSantis’s record.
Three years later, here’s the thanks Mr. DeSantis gets: This Wednesday Mr. Trump issued a statement excoriating “Ron DeSanctimonious” as “a big Lockdown Governor on the China Virus.” As Mr. Trump now tells the tale, “other Republican Governors did MUCH BETTER than Ron and, because I allowed them this ‘freedom,’ never closed their States. Remember, I left that decision up to the Governors!”
While DeSantis has famously battled woke corporations, most notably Disney, in Florida, three years earlier, Kemp was battling Hollywood. Movie studios film in Georgia. Some in Hollywood decided to boycott working in the state during Georgia’s fetal heartbeat bill – legislation that restricts abortions after a heartbeat is detected in a baby. Coastal liberals demand unrestricted abortion access up to the time of delivery. So for a while, the threat of boycotts was a thing. The law didn’t go into effect until last year but the boycott threats continued. Kemp stood firm. He considers that the first cancel culture battle and he was the governor fighting it.
In 2021 there was a battle over the Election Integrity Act in Georgia. Democrats lost their minds when Kemp and Georgia’s Republican legislators passed the election integrity reforms to guarantee free and fair elections in the state. Remember Joe Biden and other Democrats labeling the legislation as Jim Crow 2.0? Stacey Abrams milked the controversy for all it was worth. Mixed in with all of that was the controversy of Trump’s infamous phone call to Georgia’s Secretary of State after the counting of the 2020 presidential election ballots was completed and Trump came up short. Joe Biden was declared the winner in Georgia. That whole kerfuffle is still going on with Trump facing possible indictment by a special grand jury in Fulton County. Kemp didn’t cave to Trump’s demands, nor did the secretary of state. Trump sought revenge by not supporting Kemp’s re-election campaign. Kemp won by an overwhelming majority of votes anyway.
Major corporations declared boycotts of Georgia over the Election Integrity Act. The CEOs of Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines publicly criticized Kemp. Major League Baseball moved the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver. It was all crazy but that’s what woke looks like. In the end, karma was on Kemp’s side – the Atlanta Braves went to the World Series so games were played in Atlanta.
For the first time last weekend, Kemp definitively stated he is not going to run for president in 2024. He said he has good relationships with the Republican candidates and potential candidates, with one exception. There was no mention of Trump.
” I have a great relationship with Pence and a really good relationship with DeSantis. Chris Christie came and campaigned for us multiple times, along with a lot of other governors. I know Tim Scott real well. Nikki Haley came and campaigned for us. I’ve known her over the years, and I’ve gotten to meet [Mike] Pompeo a couple of times. So I’m kind of like everybody else, I’m just seeing how things are playing out and keeping an open mind.”
Kemp is being talked about as a potential candidate for senator in 2026 as a GOP challenger to Democrat Senator Jon Ossoff. Even though it isn’t until 2026, Trump is already stirring the pot against Kemp. He is encouraging Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene to run for the seat. She is currently following Trump around like a puppy dog, likely hoping to be considered as his vice presidential choice if he is the GOP nominee. She was at the Trump kick-off campaign rally in Waco, Texas last weekend, as was Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz. Trump suggested she run for the Senate seat then and said he’d campaign for her. His record in picking candidates in Geogia, though, isn’t good. He backed David Perdue to run for governor, Herschel Walker to run for Senate, and Jody Hice for secretary of state. All failed miserably.
It looks like Kemp is more in touch with the voters in Georgia. His quiet style of leadership and ability to stand his ground to benefit Georgia residents seems to be working.