Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) has been outstripping the sizable competition in the race to become President Donald Trump’s biggest, and most thoroughly rejected, flunky.
On Monday he mounted his flashiest maneuver yet, announcing that he would fling wide the doors of the state’s gyms, nail salons, barbershops, bowling alleys — bowling alleys — by the end of the week, about three laps ahead of even the cadre of his fellow Trumpy governors.
Never mind that the University of Washington’s IHME model — similar to the one used by the White House — projects that Georgia will still be days out from its peak in daily, COVID-19-related deaths; never mind that the CDC is located in Atlanta, the epicenter of the soon-to-be petri dish.
He was willing to put 10.6 million lives on the line in a pandemic offering for dear leader: a state that’s open for business, a state that’s finally prioritizing economic growth over human suffering, a state that refuses to let the cure be worse than the problem.
But Kemp was left alone on the front porch, clutching his boutonniere, as Trump slammed the front door in his face.
“Would I do that? No. I’d keep them a little longer,” the President said of the social distancing guidelines at his Wednesday press briefing. “I want to protect people’s lives.”
“I’m going to let him make his decision,” he added, of Kemp. “But I told him I totally disagree.”
It was surely not the pat on the head Kemp expected. The governor had been fielding attacks from all sides — “illogical” from the Atlanta mayor, “unbelievable” from a state senator, “dangerous” from a former CDC director — for his pronouncement.
Kemp, unbowed, took to Twitter to ensure that nobody was under the false impression that he’d rethought his loyalties in the face of Trump’s repudiation.
“Earlier today, I discussed Georgia’s plan to reopen shuttered businesses for limited operations with @POTUS,” he wrote. “I appreciate his bold leadership and insight during these difficult times and the framework provided by the White House to safely move states forward.”
But let’s not linger too long under the delusion that Trump smacked down his loyal foot soldier under his own volition. As recently as Tuesday, a source told CNN that he called Kemp to give him a big thumbs up on his decision.
But the honeymoon was shattered by the pesky scientists on the coronavirus task force the next day, before the press briefing.
In a meeting also reported by CNN, they decided that they would not publicly support the reopening.
Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx, whose mannerisms Trump finds “elegant,” was dispatched to change the President’s mind. Trump, never one to agonize much over changing his loyalties, agreed to denounce Kemp at the presser.
And now, Kemp is an island, a man alone, as the moment on Friday approaches when massive swaths of the Georgia economy get the greenlight to open — plus another wave of restaurants and movie theaters Monday.
If Georgians do in fact choose to go back to work — they might not — health experts warn that transmission will likely spike, and Georgians could die or fall sick at a far faster rate.
But Kemp can rest easy in the knowledge that it was all in the name of winning the President’s favor, as he brushes the bus tire tracks off his back.