- Trump’s mood “soured” when Kemp said he had already picked Loeffler for the Senate, per a new book.
- According to AJC reporter Greg Bluestein, Trump met with Kemp and Loeffler in a private DC meeting.
- Kemp’s decision to tap Loeffler for the Senate did not clear the field of Republican candidates.
In November 2019, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia flew on a private plane with businesswoman Kelly Loeffler and presidential confidant Nick Ayers to meet with then-President Donald Trump about the Senate vacancy that would soon be created by then-GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson’s retirement.
Kemp was tasked with selecting a replacement, and he quickly zeroed in on Loeffler for several reasons, largely due to her rural roots, conservatism, and the governor’s belief that she could attract female voters to the GOP in the fast-growing Atlanta suburbs.
Before the group left to meet with Trump in Washington, the governor settled on Loeffler for the appointment, bypassing the conservative favorite, Rep. Doug Collins.
When the then-president met with Kemp and Loeffler and discovered that the governor had already made up his mind, his demeanor became icy, according to a new book by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution political reporter Greg Bluestein.
Trump came into the meeting thinking he was going to be a part of the conservation about the appointment, and Kemp’s decision to keep the selection process outside of the former president’s orbit did not win the governor any favors, as Bluestein detailed in “Flipped: How Georgia Turned Purple and Broke the Monopoly on Republican Power. “
Trump pointed out that Loeffler could be a “star” one day, but pivoted back to Kemp’s spotty level of communication.
“I have not heard a lot from you – is your mind made up?” he asked Kemp during the discussion.
The governor was honest with Trump and said that Loeffler was his pick to join the Senate.
“In an instant, the mood soured,” Bluestein wrote as he described Trump’s reaction. “Kemp made a tactical mistake by not giving Trump reason to believe he had input.”
Trump then reportedly needled Kemp about why he decided to fly to Maryland in the first place.
“If you already made the decision … then why are you even here?” Trump said, according to the book.
Bluestein wrote that the rest of the discussion was described by individuals with knowledge of the talk as a “full-throated confrontation” and a “super-aggressive job interview.”
Trump pressed Kemp about why he did not pick Collins – who had gained prominence as one of the then-president’s staunchest allies on Capitol Hill – and then asked the governor how the party would retain the seat in the upcoming election.
However, Trump was not thrilled with many of Kemp’s responses, according to the book.
“Kemp did his best to answer, but it did not placate the president,” Bluestein wrote. “As the meeting closed, Trump said tersely: ‘Good luck. Good luck, Governor.'”
Insider reached out to representatives of Trump for comment.
In December 2019, Kemp formally announced Loeffler’s appointment to the Senate and sought to reassure conservatives by pointing to her strong support of gun rights and a border wall at the US-Mexico border.
However, divisions at the Georgia State Capitol remained apparent. Many Republicans – including State House Speaker David Ralston – were allies of Collins and wanted to see him compete for the seat.
And Collins himself teased a Senate run that very day while Loeffler was still giving her introductory speech in Atlanta, according to Bluestein.
“From the outset, it was obvious that Loeffler was determined not to give Collins even a smidgeon of an opening to run to her right,” the book said. “Neither her public embrace of Trump nor her promise to dig deep into her bank account scared off the congressman.”
He added: “In the days since Trump’s disastrous meeting with Kemp became public, the pro-Collins crowd had only tried harder to sully the appointee’s image before she had time to shape public opinion.”
Loeffler joined the Senate in January 2020 and Collins launched his Senate bid that same month.
Both candidates went on to compete in a multiparty special election in November 2020; the top-two vote-getters were Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock and Loeffler, who edged out Collins.
Warnock went on to defeat Loeffler in a January 2021 Senate runoff election, winning 51% -49%.