Apr 26, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Why Trump went off on Brian Kemp

Brian Kemp

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

One of the more surprising recent political moments was when President Trump publicly lambasted Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. It's rare — and politically damaging — for a Republican official to get steamrolled the way Kemp did last week.

Why it matters: Trump was encouraging governors to "liberate" their states, which anti-lockdown protesters saw as an endorsement. He offered guidelines for reopening the economy safely but said he'd leave it up to the governors to decide what was right for their states.

  • Kemp moved more aggressively than Trump recommended, green-lighting the opening of hair salons, spas, tattoo parlors and bowling alleys in Georgia.
  • Trump, in general terms, had offered support to Kemp in their previous phone calls, leading Kemp to believe the president had his back on his plan.
  • But in a Tuesday phone call, Trump told Kemp he disagreed with those moves and thought he was going too fast on some of those communal businesses. 

Behind the scenes: Two sources who've discussed Kemp with Trump told me there's more to it than a simple policy disagreement.

  • "You've got to understand, Trump feels he made Brian Kemp, and he's right," one said. "Kemp would not be governor without Trump. Would it hurt him to be a little bit grateful and to take his advice once in a while?"
  • In response to Axios' reporting, Kemp's press secretary Cody Hall said in a statement: "Governor Kemp is grateful for President Trump's leadership in the fight against COVID-19 and values his insight as our state takes measured steps forward that will protect the lives — and livelihoods — of all Georgians."

Between the lines: Both sources who spoke to Trump about Kemp said the president remained irritated by Kemp's earlier decision to ignore Trump's recommendation to appoint Rep. Doug Collins to the vacant Senate seat in Georgia.

  • Kemp instead appointed Kelly Loeffler. And Trump has watched with alarm as Loeffler has since been hammered for stock trades she made during the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, including buying stock in a company that makes videoconferencing software.
  • Trump has paid close attention to Loeffler's weak polling numbers (an internal poll from the Collins campaign showed Collins with more than twice as much support as Loeffler).
  • Sources close to Trump doubt he'll endorse Loeffler in her race against Collins, even though Senate Republican leadership backs her. But Trump hasn’t decided yet.
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