How Brian Kemp wrote a playbook to subdue Trump’s electoral rage

Conservative radio host Eric Erickson tweeted Tuesday evening before taking the podium to chair Kemp’s victory gala: “Every time ‘stop the robbery,’ Georgia Republicans refuse tonight ‘almost.’ The message is that voters want to move forward, not settle Trump’s complaints for him.”

But over the past 18 months, Trump’s vendetta against Kemp has become personal, threatening the governor’s ability to maintain support from a Republican Party base still very fond of the former president. Trump publicly criticized and insulted Kemp, calling him a “Republican in name only” and “the worst governor in America.” He has publicly sought out a formidable primary challenger to Kemp and has even suggested that Stacey Abrams, Kemp’s Democratic opponent in 2018 and whom he will challenge again in November, would be a better arbiter.

From the start of the cycle, people close to Kemp’s campaign told CNN the governor’s battle plan was simple: ignore attacks from Trump, promote his current record, run as an unabashed conservative and emphasize the future.

The team surrounding Kemp honed this strategy as early as January 2021, when it became clear that Trump’s ruthless attacks on the governor after the presidential election would not stop.

“When it became clear to us that he wasn’t going ahead, we decided that if we wanted to win the election, we’d have to have people who love us like Trump too,” said one of Kemp’s aide. CNN. We had to give Trump supporters permission to like them.

In a few words at Tuesday night’s Victory Gala, Kemp summed up his approach.

He told his college supporters, “Even in the middle of a tough primaries, conservatives across our state didn’t listen to the noise. They didn’t get distracted. They knew our fight-and-win record for hard-working Georgians.” Football Hall of Fame in downtown Atlanta. “Georgia’s Republicans went to the polls and overwhelmingly supported four more years of our vision for this great country.”

Kemp’s example could provide a guideline for Republicans who find themselves in Trump’s crosshairs, particularly in a potential primary match with the former president if he runs for the White House in 2024.

“I think it’s a recipe for others to focus on your record and the problems you’re going to solve,” said Mark Short, a Kemp campaign adviser who was former Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff.

An early lesson from Virginia

Last fall, Kemp was already predicting that Purdue would soon jump into the race with the full force of the Trump political machine behind the former US senator.

Kemp’s team found inspiration to tackle Trump in the 2021 Virginia governor’s race, when Republican candidate Glenn Yongkin won a state that Trump lost a year earlier by more than 10 points. Yongkin ran as a forward-looking conservative who had Trump’s endorsement but kept the former president away.

To Kemp’s advisors, Yongkin never embraced the idea of ​​a “stolen election” that captured the most ardent parts of the Republican grassroots at the time.

“It shows that ‘stop the robbery’ is not the winning formula for the purple states,” Kemp’s aide told CNN in November as Virginia’s results approached. And that’s what Purdue has to embrace.”

Kemp had none of the support from Trump that Yongkin enjoyed to keep MAGA voters in the fold, but he had what the Virginia Republican lacked: a record, and he gave Republicans plenty to love.

“Brian had the added challenge of wanting the president to make this race a focal point, but the governor didn’t focus on those attacks and instead focused on one conservative achievement after another,” Short said.

As the current governor, Kemp pushed through conservative agenda items in a legislative session that ended 50 days before the primary. In the final leg of the race, Kemp could point to a significant income tax cut, easing of restrictions on concealed carry of firearms, and a ban on the teaching of “divisive concepts” regarding race in public schools — all new laws in addition to previous achievements on his terms.
Short said Kemp was one of the first Republican governors to stand up to “awakening” corporations that opposed GOP policies, in some cases years before Florida. Ron DeSantis confronted Disney over its objection to the state’s recent ban on certain instructions about sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom.
In 2019, Kemp signed a law banning abortions upon detection of a fetal heartbeat, prompting Hollywood film and television companies to threaten to pull production out of Georgia. And in 2021, Kemp helped enact a new election law that was criticized as restrictive by many, including Major League Baseball, which moved the All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver in protest.

“Even when they pulled us out for the All-Star Game, I didn’t hesitate, as I told you I wouldn’t,” Kemp said Monday at an election eve rally in Kennesaw.

On the way, Kemp also noted his approach to dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, boasting that Georgia was among the first countries to end initial lockdowns and resist the imposition of masks and vaccines.

“(We’re starting to) push to be one of the first states in the country to get our kids back into the classroom,” Kemp said Monday in Kennesaw.

Stacy Abrams worker

The effect has been to create a wealth of goodwill among Republican voters for Kemp, including those who tend to anger him for Trump’s failure to comply with the overturning of the 2020 election. Even committed Purdue supporters said before the primaries that they would support Kemp if he won the re-nomination.

“I should vote for him,” said Kelly, a Watkinsville voter who declined to give her last name when she spoke to CNN earlier this month.

That illustrates something else Kemp boosted in the primaries: the prospect of Abrams becoming governor. Her narrow defeat in 2018 raised fears among Georgia’s Republicans that their grip on the state was loosening. Joe Biden’s victory in 2020, followed by two double-digit Democratic victories in the US Senate run-off in January 2021, raise those concerns.

So when Trump rallied in Georgia last September, in the midst of the Kemp controversy, he said he’d prefer Abrams to be governor, but the state’s Republicans backed down.

Stacy Abrams Playbook Faces New Test in the Georgia Governor's Second Round

“Going the Abrams way helped Kemp … solidify support for the Republican elect,” Kemp’s aide told CNN earlier this year. “It would have been incorrect for Stacey Abrams to be a better arbiter than Kemp.”

She also noted that Trump’s interests in Georgia — that is, revenge on Kemp — do not align with those of Republican voters in the state.

“I think the former president has no influence in the game in Georgia,” Carol Williams, an Athens realtor and Republican voter, told CNN at Kemp’s event on Saturday. “He doesn’t understand what’s best for our state. We’ve stayed open. We’ve done the right thing here at Covid. His approvals should stay more than that in Florida.”

While Kemp’s victory over Trump via Purdue is crucial, it remains to be seen whether Republicans who might challenge Trump’s hegemony over the GOP more directly—for example, in the presidential primary—could be equally successful using the same strategy. .

But the future of the Republican Party and Trump’s role in it have been a largely central topic of comments by Pence, who campaigned for Kemp in Georgia on Monday and is preparing for a possible White House dossier.

“When you say yes to Governor Brian Kemp tomorrow, you will send a deafening message across America that the Republican Party is the party of the future,” Pence said.

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