LEXINGTON, Va. — Georgia’s GOP Gov. Brian Kemp, once seen as a potential 2024 presidential rival to former President Donald Trump, on Saturday offered some of his sharpest rhetoric yet against the Republican front-runner.
“This election should be about results, not personalities … because if this general election becomes a debate about who can outlast the other 80 year-old politician, the American people will lose,” Kemp said in a speech to students at Washington and Lee University’s Mock Convention in Lexington, Virginia.
Kemp didn’t explicitly name Trump in his speech before the convention — which every four years seeks to emulate a real presidential nominating convention for the party currently out of the White House — but he spoke about the need for Republicans to offer a positive vision to voters rather than simply running against President Joe Biden’s record.
“Our message to voters must be about what we’re going to do for the country if they give us the keys back to the White House,” he told students.
Without delving into specifics, the Georgia governor also railed against the “fringe elements” of political parties.
“We have leaders unwilling to stand up to the fringe elements of their own parties or because they’re scared of getting called out on prime-time Fox News or MSNBC. Well, I’ll tell you, I’ve been there, folks, and I’ve lived to tell the tale. Because at the end of the day, this election is not about any one person, politician or political issue,” he said.
Kemp also urged members of his party to abandon their focus on the 2020 election, which Trump still falsely claims was stolen from him despite election officials saying votes were secure.
“We have to focus on the future, not looking in the rearview mirror at past elections. The fact is, the voters who will decide this race for the presidency are tired of hearing about 2020,” Kemp said.
“We need to tell the American people what we’re for, what are we going to do to restore the American dream,” Kemp added.
Kemp, who told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last year he would back Trump if he became the GOP nominee because he’s “a lot better than Biden,” has broken with Trump over 2020, tweeting in August, “The 2020 election in Georgia was not stolen.”
His Saturday comments come as Trump is under indictment in Fulton County, Georgia, for his efforts to challenge the results of the 2020 presidential election there. Trump has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
In the aftermath of Trump’s efforts to override the election results in Georgia, Kemp and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger faced criticism from Trump and his allies for failing to help Trump overturn Joe Biden’s win.
“I’m ashamed that I endorsed him,” Trump told Fox News of Kemp at one point in late 2020.
And in 2021, ahead of two crucial Georgia Senate runoff elections, the former president promised to campaign against Kemp in his 2022 re-election race.
Kemp, who defeated a Trump-backed primary challenger in 2022, addressed the crowd on Saturday shortly after Donald Trump Jr., Texas GOP Rep. Wesley Hunt and Virginia GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
Neither Kemp nor Youngkin has explicitly endorsed Trump in the GOP primary, but Youngkin called on Virginia Republicans, who will head to the polls in the Republican primary race on Super Tuesday, to “come together.”
“As Virginians express their choice on March the 5th, we must come together. As Americans across the country make their choice, we must come together. We must come together around a nominee with universal support in order to usher in a new era — not of Republicans versus Democrats, but of an unrivaled America,” he said.
Youngkin named only one elected Republican official in his remarks: Kemp.
“We agreed that we would serve. I know my friend Gov. Brian Kemp, who you will hear from later, would say the exact same thing,” Youngkin said.
Trump holds a wide polling lead over his only remaining major Republican primary rival, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com