ATLANTA — Mounting political strain between Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Donald Trump reached a new phase on Sunday when the president said he was "ashamed" that he endorsed the fellow Republican in a tight race for governor in 2018.
Trump's remarks came during a Fox News interview on his false claims of rampant voter fraud in Georgia, which Joe Biden captured by less than 13,000 votes. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger certified the vote on Nov. 20, refuting Trump's claims, and hours later Kemp signed his approval.
"The governor has done nothing," Trump said. "He's done absolutely nothing. I'm ashamed that I endorsed him."
The criticism marks the nadir of a relationship between Kemp and Trump that has steadily deteriorated since the governor tapped Kelly Loeffler to an open U.S. Senate seat over the president's favored pick of Doug Collins.
It further highlights the fractious Republican infighting in Georgia ahead of Jan. 5 runoffs that will decide control of the U.S. Senate.
And the swipe could haunt Kemp through the 2022 midterms, when he is gearing up to face Stacey Abrams in a likely rematch. It appears increasingly possible that he might first have to survive a primary challenge from a Trump-backed adversary — perhaps Collins, a four-term congressman now leading the president's Georgia recount effort.
Trump has often taken credit for Kemp's narrow 2018 defeat of Abrams. His surprise endorsement of the Republican six days before a runoff contest against then-Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle helped turn what was already likely to be a Kemp win into a runaway rout.
And he visited three days before the general election to energize Republicans with claims that Abrams would make "neighborhoods unsafe and make your jobs disappear like magic" if she won. A vote for Kemp, he told a crowd of thousands of GOP faithful, was the same as a vote for him.
But soon there were signs of fissures between the two Republicans. Shortly after he took office, Kemp appealed to Trump to free up Hurricane Michael relief that stalled in Congress for months. And he went against Trump's wishes by picking Loeffler for the seat held by retiring U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson.
The next major flashpoint came in April, when Trump sharply opposed Kemp's plan to start reopening Georgia's economy during the pandemic. He said repeatedly he "totally disagreed" with Kemp's decision before later falsely asserting he never criticized Kemp.