Republicans who aren’t named Donald Trump see the value in an incumbent.
Just 10 days out from the Republican gubernatorial primaries in Georgia, incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp announced that former Vice President Mike Pence will headline his campaign rally on May 23, the night before the state’s primary elections.
In a statement included in Kemp’s campaign announcement, the former veep pointedly praised Kemp as a friend and one of the “most successful conservative governors in America.”
“He built a safer and stronger Georgia by cutting taxes, empowering parents and investing in teachers, funding law enforcement, and standing strong for the right to life,” Pence said. “Brian Kemp is my friend, a man dedicated to faith, family and the people of Georgia. I am proud to offer my full support for four more years of Brian Kemp as governor of the great state of Georgia!”
Pence joins a trio of prominent current and former Republican governors who have also stepped up in recent day to back Kemp, as the governor faces a Trump-backed primary challenge from former Sen. David Perdue (R-GA). Earlier this week, Kemp’s campaign announced that Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R), Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) would be rallying with Kemp ahead of the primaries.
Former President Trump endorsed Perdue last year, reportedly after having to convince the former senator over several rounds of golf to challenge Kemp in the first place. Kemp has a secure lead in the polls and is expected to win the primary later this month. But, as NPR noted, there’s still a chance that Perdue — especially with Trump’s backing — could get in the way of Kemp earning 50 percent of the vote. If that’s the case, the election will go to a runoff.
While this is a different situation than what we saw play out in January 2021 — when Democrats disappointed Perdue and Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s reelection prospects in the runoff, taking the Senate majority — a runoff would push the intra-Republican Party drama closer to the general election. The primary winner would then have to face the overwhelmingly popular Stacey Abrams.
Kemp has polled slightly better than Perdue in a hypothetical match-up against Abrams, and it seems establishment-y Republican types like Pence, Ducey, Ricketts and Christie see a safe path for their party in backing the incumbent. Trump, however, is a grievance-driven political machine.
Trump sees Kemp as one of his top enemies, believing Kemp’s refusal to subvert the 2020 election results in Georgia is part of what kept him from stealing a second term as president.
Kemp might be, at this point, leaning in to his political resilience to Trump’s ire — after all, what choice does he have? But that’s what makes the Pence move so interesting. The former veep has plenty of reason to break with his ex-boss — Trump not only put his life in danger during the Jan. 6 insurrection, but he’s also made it crystal clear Pence would not be his running mate if he runs again in 2024.
Pence hasn’t always been outspoken about the danger of Trump’s Big Lie, which has riven Georgia’s politics. But he does pick his moments.