There are few things more coveted in Republican politics than Donald Trump’s endorsement, but we now know at least one circumstance where even that’s not enough.
Republicans in Tennessee voted on Tuesday to remove former State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus from the ballot in a crowded August primary to represent the state’s 5th Congressional District, currently held by retiring Democrat Jim Cooper. Ortagus, as a former Trump administration employee, entered the race with the former president’s “complete and total endorsement” locked up, but there was just one problem: she had barely lived in Tennessee.
See, Ortagus moved to the state just last year, filing to run for Congress in February, and only moved to the actual district she was running to represent in March. This is a rushed campaign even by normal carpetbagger standards, which have always been pretty lax in Washington (former Congressman Devin Nunes, for instance, ran on his bona fides as a California dairy farmer, despite the fact that the farm was in Iowa).
Ortagus didn’t even appear to have done any research about the place she was trying to represent. In a radio interview shortly after filing her candidacy, she whiffed on a couple of softball, extremely basic questions like “name one highway that goes through your district,” and floundered when asked for more specific Tennessee knowledge – probably because she had just moved there a few months before. The audio is particularly painful:
The state party wasn’t having it. The State Executive Committee dumped Ortagus and two other candidates, Robby Starbuck and Baxter Lee, for failing to adhere to the party’s bylaws, which state that candidates must have voted in three of the last four GOP primaries and take an active role in state or local GOP politics.
“I am deeply disappointed in the SEC’s decision,” Ortagus said in a statement. “I’m a bonafide Republican by their standards, and frankly, by any metric. I’m further disappointed that the party insiders at the Tennessee Republican Party do not seem to share my commitment to President Trump’s America First policies. As I have said all along, I believe that voters in Middle Tennessee should pick their representative — not establishment party insiders.”
The last line is a bit rich coming from someone with Trump’s endorsement. The further you go in this story, though, the weirder it gets. It appears the GOP-controlled state legislature was laying groundwork to keep Ortagus-like candidates out for months, as it recently passed a law that would formally require candidates to have lived in the state for at least three years.
Then you get into the anti-Semitism. Ortagus is Jewish, and, well, many of the movers and shakers in the Tennessee GOP are … not. Republican Rep. Frank Niceley, who spearheaded the residential requirement legislation and immediately cast doubt on Ortagus’ endorsement from Trump by jumping right into the Jewish angle. “I don’t think Trump cares one way or the other,” Niceley said, according to NBC News. “I think Jared Kushner — he’s Jewish, she’s Jewish — I think Jared will be upset. Ivanka will be upset. I don’t think Trump cares.”
The Tennessee SEC also, at least partially, justified its decision to boot Ortagus inflating rumors that Trump wouldn’t care if she won or not. Trump’s camp, for their part, pushed back on this rumor strongly. “That is a dirty lie, which should not surprise anyone, given there are RINOs in Tennessee trying to quietly pull strings and illegally remove President Trump’s endorsed candidate, Morgan Ortagus, from the ballot,” Trump spokesperson Taylor Budowich told The Tennessean.
Niceley, it’s worth mentioning, was in the news earlier this month because he said that homeless people should look to Adolf Hitler for inspiration on how to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and “get in the history books.” Regardless of the reasons for his animus toward Ortagus, it doesn’t appear as if Trump’s preferred candidate will be getting on a ballot, let alone “the history books,” anytime soon.
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