It's Time for Georgia's Brian Kemp to Put up or Shut Up

AP Photo/John Bazemore

Following its dramatic blue shift during the 2020 election (and the 2021 runoffs that handed Democrats control of the Senate), Georgia remains a hotly contested state going into 2022. Sen. Raphael Warnock is up for re-election after just two years in office, and Gov. Brian Kemp also faces a tough road to re-election against the political machine of Stacey Abrams.

In the midst of those political concerns is another battle going on over the COVID-19 response in schools. Multiple Georgia counties have announced a return to remote learning coming out of the Christmas break. Mask mandates are also still prevalent in many districts.

My reaction to that news was simple: If Brian Kemp wants to remain the Governor of Georgia, he has to lead on this issue. But instead of leadership, weak excuses are being made, and to be frank, they aren’t going to do anything to help Kemp’s chances when Election Day rolls around.

Here are a few examples to set things up.

The problem with both of those responses from Erick Erickson to the criticism of Kemp is that they assume the governor is just a bystander in all this. He’s not, and he can’t afford to operate as one, even if that means stretching the limits of his power.

Imagine if Ron DeSantis had just thrown his hands up and said “welp, nothing I can do” and left things up to the legislature and state superintendent? How many commentators on the right insisted that DeSantis’ executive orders on masks and keeping schools open wouldn’t survive the courts? Yet, here we are, with the Florida governor having enjoyed multiple legal victories over the last two years and his schools open for business. In short, you can not win a fight if you forfeit.

But even if we accept the premise that there’s nothing Kemp can do via the power of his office, shouldn’t he still be the one leading these fights? Why is it up to parents, who have no inroads or connections, to get a bill proposed somehow? How about Kemp go to the GOP-controlled legislature and demand action? How about showing up in Fulton County and rallying with concerned parents to put pressure on the school board?

That’s what DeSantis did. That’s also what Glenn Youngkin did, even in deep blue Loudoun County, and it led him to a massive victory in Virginia’s gubernatorial race. At the very least, Kemp should be releasing daily statements slamming the decision to return to remote learning and threatening legal action if mask mandates aren’t removed.

Instead, we are being told there’s just nothing he can do, as if he has no role to play in any of this. That’s not gonna fly if Kemp’s goal is to get re-elected. The smart set can call it unfair and blame the rubes for wanting a governor who fights for them, but that’s the reality of the situation. It’s put up or shut up time for Kemp. He has to get out there and be the face of the movement or he will lose in 2022, and that’s if he makes it out of the primary.

In the end, no amount of whining or blaming Donald Trump is going to change that dynamic. Those are the options. Fight or be defeated — make a choice.