In three short weeks Breitbart News reporting drove two of the three leading establishment Republicans in Tennessee out of the state’s 2018 U.S. Senate race.
First up was incumbent Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), who made a surprise announcement on September 26 he would not run for re-election, one day after a Breitbart News report about his sweetheart deal in an Alabama retail center development in which Alabama taxpayers are set to pay him more than $3 million over 20 years in sales tax incentive rebates.
Though his announcement that he would not seek re-election was couched in terms that claimed it had been made “[a]fter much thought, consideration and family discussion over the past year,” its suddenness–and the fact that Corker felt compelled to offer a lame and incomplete explanation for his investment in a deal that epitomizes the swamp in which the political elite thrive–underscores the potency of the Breitbart News report.
Then came Gov. Bill Haslam, like Corker a “moderate” establishment Republican from East Tennessee.
With Corker out of the race, all eyes turned to the scion of the wealthy Haslam family, whose personal $2.5 billion net worth derives from his inherited ownership interest in the Pilot Flying J national truck stop chain.
In nine brief days, Breitbart News turned the bright light of sunshine on Haslam’s political vulnerabilities in a way the compliant and complacent Tennessee media, dominated as it is by the Gannett-owned USA Today Tennessee group–which now owns the Tennessean (in Nashville), the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the Knoxville News-Sentinel, the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle, and the Daily News Journal (Murfreesboro)–has never come close to even attempting. In rapid fire, Breitbart New brought all of these vulnerabilities front and center on the national stage:
- The ongoing investigation and trials of executives at the Haslam family-owned business, Pilot Flying J, on charges of fraud and illegal kickbacks.
- Gov. Haslam’s record as a vocal opponent of President Trump, who called for him to withdraw from the race just one month before his stunning victory over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 general election.
- Questions surrounding potential conflicts of interest involving the governor’s push for a gas tax increase and Pilot Flying J.
- Anti-Trump comments made by brother Jimmy Haslam, owner of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, related to the national anthem protests involving kneeling players.
- Anti-Trump comments by Senator Bob Corker, former college roommate of Jimmy Haslam and a long time political mentor to Gov. Haslam.
- President Trump’s consistent popularity in a state he easily won, 61 percent to 35 percent.
- The rushed announcement of the sale of Pilot Flying J to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway at very favorable terms to the Sage of Omaha.
Haslam knew that if he entered the 2018 U.S. Senate race, Breitbart News would soon be reporting on whether he ever asked his brother, Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam, if the former company president, Mark Hazelwood, who goes on trial for his role in the fraudulent kickback scheme later this month, ever told him about the illegal activity. No one who knows the legendarily hands on management style of Jimmy Haslam could imagine that someone who reports directly to him would be able to conceal such information.
The pages of Breitbart News were poised to consistently pose a slightly different version of the question posed by the late Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee to President Nixon during the Watergate hearings:
What did the governor know, and when did he know it?
On Thursday morning, Gov. Haslam announced that he would not be a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2018.
Later that morning, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN-07), a strong supporter of President Trump in a state the president won resoundingly in 2016 by a 61 percent to 36 margin, announced her own candidacy for the Republican nomination in 2018 to replace Senator Corker in the United States Senate, within hours of Haslam’s announcement he would not run.
With her announcement, Blackburn became the immediate frontrunner in the race.
But the Tennessee Republican establishment cannot forgive Blackburn for scuttling its beloved state income tax back in 2000 and is seeking revenge, even though Corker and Haslam are too damaged politically to secure that revenge directly.
So they’re going to try to do it by proxy.
Tennessee’s establishment Republicans are desperately seeking a candidate to challenger Blackburn, and are turning over every political rock in the state to do so.
Sources tell Breitbart News that the Haslam-Corker-Alexander establishment Republican team has decided to resurrect the damaged political career of former Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN-08) as one part of its plan to derail Blackburn.
“Washington corrupts, and Congressman Stephen Fincher is proof,” The Washington Examiner’s Timothy P. Carney wrote of Fincher in an October 2015 article titled, “Congressman Stephen Fincher: From Tea Partier to corporate welfare champion.”
Carney explained how Fincher transformed himself into a swamp creature over three short terms in Congress:
“I may not be a polished politician,” Fincher said when he announced his first run for Congress in 2010, “but as a lifelong farmer I know that most problems can be solved with a little common sense. When I’m elected, I’ll put that common sense to work for everyday Tennesseans, not the special interests. Trillion-dollar bailouts, bloated budgets and boondoggle spending packages aren’t working, at least for my friends and neighbors …”
It would be an understatement to say Fincher has come to terms with boondoggles and special interests.
Fincher, once an opponent of the Export-Import Bank —a federal agency that subsidizes foreign buyers of U.S.-made goods — now is trying to undermine his party’s leadership by teaming up with Nancy Pelosi and her party in order to reauthorize Ex-Im Bank as President Obama and his big donors in the business lobby have demanded.
The obvious explanation is that Fincher has pulled up his Tennessee roots and is now firmly planted in D.C. Instead of serving Western Tennessee, Fincher, who sits on the Financial Services Committee, now represents Wall Street and K Street.
Sources tell Breitbart News that the Haslam-Corker-Alexander establishment Republican team has committed millions of dollars to a potential Fincher campaign for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in Tennessee in 2018.
But Fincher is not the only candidate being encouraged by the Republican establishment to take on the Trump-supporting, conservative Blackburn.
Another candidate–a self-funding political “blank slate” from Memphis–is said to be considering a run for the Republican nomination, according to a few press reports.
Jeff Webb, founder and former CEO of Varsity Sports, the largest operator of specialty camps in the country, has recently tested the waters.
Sources familiar with West Tennessee Republican politics tell Breitbart News that Webb is completely unknown among the area’s conservative grassroots activists.
With the exception of a $1,000 donation to the political moderate Rep. David Kustoff (R-TN-08), Webb has apparently made no contributions to any federal candidate of either party over the past decade, if ever, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Among the Republican presidential candidates Webb did not support is Donald Trump. Of Trump’s policies, Webb said recently that he “supports President Trump’s ‘general positions,'” though he failed to specify which Trump policies he does and does not support.
Tellingly, Webb’s potential candidacy is largely being encouraged by “Tennessee CEOs,” according to this recent Memphis Business Journal article:
Jeff Webb confirmed to the Memphis Business Journal that CEOs from several Memphis companies (and one from a company in central Tennessee) contacted him Wednesday, September 27, to ask if he would consider running for Bob Corker’s current seat. . .
“I would come in with no baggage,” Webb said. “And, at this stage in my career, [I would] only be interested [in being senator] if I can make a difference in serving the public.” . . .
An overhaul of the tax system and “revisiting” the health care situation are a few issues Webb said would be at the top of his list–if he were to run.
A political science major with an emphasis in foreign relations in college, Webb is very interested in what the U.S. is doing globally and supports President Trump’s “general positions” on improving current trade deals.
One sign that this Memphis Business Journal article’s original source was not someone familiar with the Volunteer State is the use of the term “Central Tennessee,” rather than “Middle Tennessee.”
No one who lives in Tennessee uses the term “Central Tennessee” to describe the counties in the middle of the state.
In fact, the state has three geographical divisions, signified by the three stars on the state flag, which are always referred to as West Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, and East Tennessee.
Whether one or more establishment Republicans choose to enter the race to succeed Senator Bob Corker in the U.S. Senate from Tennessee in 2018, Marsha Blackburn, who is one of, if not the most, reliable supporters of President Trump of anyone running for office in the Volunteer State, will remain the frontrunner.