Dr. Manny Sethi, a candidate for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate in Tennessee, decided to surround himself with Never Trumpers, including his campaign manager who believes President Donald Trump is a “divisive, short-fingered vulgarian.”
Sethi has presented himself as a “conservative outsider” in the race against the Trump-backed Bill Hagerty, but all the people he has brought into every senior role in his campaign are devout Never Trump political consultants.
His campaign manager Forrest Barnwell-Hagemeyer, for instance, is a former staffer to former Ohio Gov. John Kasich—a Never Trumper expected to endorse 2020 presumptive Democrat presidential nominee Joe Biden. Kasich is so far in for Biden that he is expected to abandon the Republican Party altogether to speak at the Democrat National Convention (DNC), or whatever semblance of a DNC there is, to try to oust Trump. On his Facebook page, Barnwell-Hagemeyer still has a photograph of him wearing a Kasich shirt from April 5, 2016, when the former Ohio governor was trying to stop Trump from winning the GOP nomination.
A couple weeks before that Kasich shirt photo, Barnwell-Hagemeyer in a now-deleted March 23, 2016, Facebook post, attacked then-candidate Trump while hyping a speech then-House Speaker Paul Ryan made attempting to distance Republicans from the man who would become president.
“If you haven’t watched Speaker Ryan’s remarks yet, I highly recommend it,” Barnwell-Hagemeyer wrote. “This is what conservatism is about, this is what the Republican Party stands for, and these are the ideas we must fight for.”
In the next paragraph of the post, Barnwell-Hagemeyer claimed the GOP nomination could be “hijacked” by Donald Trump, a “divisive, short-fingered vulgarian.”
Later, when Trump actually won the GOP nomination and Kasich and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) dropped out of the race, Barnwell-Hagemeyer reposted in another since-deleted Facebook post an open letter that Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) wrote to what he called “MAJORITY AMERICA,” and in which Sasse said of people who genuinely believed either Trump or Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton were “honorable people” that they were “rare souls.”
Barnwell-Hagemeyer in more posts even after Trump won the nomination continued hyping his opposition to Trump. In a June 7, 2016, Facebook comment in response to someone who shared a Los Angeles Times article about how former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger voted for Kasich—his candidate—Barnwell-Hagemeyer wrote, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance?” Kasich had dropped out of the race more than a month beforehand.
Then later, in October 2016, Barnwell-Hagemeyer attacked Trump in a still-public post for saying the election was “rigged,” claiming the man who would become president was engaging in “dangerous” commentary for attacking Clinton in that way. “Elections are not rigged. Period,” he wrote. “To even discuss this dystopian talking point as reality is not only blatantly wrong, it’s dangerous.”
Barnwell-Hagemeyer is not the only Never Trump ideologue on Sethi’s payroll. Sethi’s campaign chairman and senior adviser Chris Devaney in August 2015 tweeted praise for an op-ed that cast doubt on Trump’s promise to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and bashed Trump’s candidacy for the White House. Devaney tweeted that the op-ed, from his “friend” veteran presidential campaign staffer Dean Rice, was “good.”
Good op/ed by my friend Dean Rice, a veteran of two presidential campaigns, on Trump. http://t.co/aJDnPJI9IV
— Chris Devaney (@FormerChairman) August 17, 2015
In the op-ed that Sethi’s campaign chairman praised, Rice accuses Trump of “bombastic macho-ism” and “sleight of rhetorical hand” that he argues “has caused supporters to mistake rudeness for honesty and bad temperament for conviction.”
“Trump is no more honest than the next politician — some are, and some are not, just as in any other segment of American life,” Rice wrote. “He is also just as political as any person in Washington. You don’t have to hold public office to be political.”
Also in the op-ed that Sethi’s top adviser praised, he accuses Trump’s supporters of harboring a “gut-level notion that somehow America was greatest when it was white, male, Christian, and straight”—in other words accusing Trump supporters of being racist, sexist, anti-gay religious bigots.
In addition to those slurs against Trump supporters, Sethi’s campaign chairman’s “friend” wrote that Trump was lying when he promised to build a wall. “Trump knows well there will never be a physical wall built across our entire border with Mexico,” he wrote, adding that Trump’s promise was “fantasy” not “policy.”
Devaney and Barnwell-Hagemeyer are not alone among Sethi’s senior campaign staff in bashing Trump. Sethi’s general consultant Jordan Gehrke, a longtime political operative who’s also worked with Sasse over in Nebraska, has a history of bashing the president on Twitter.
In several tweets throughout 2015 and 2016, for instance, Gehrke repeatedly tweeted that Trump was a plant by the Democrats in the GOP primary—even calling him a “Manchurian candidate” in one and accusing the now-president of deliberate subterfuge in the GOP primary that would benefit Clinton in another:
Seriously, if I were Hillary Clinton and I were trying to screw up the GOP Primary, I couldn’t do a better job than Trump is right now.
— Jordan Gehrke (@Gehrke) August 5, 2015
More evidence that Trump is the Manchurian Candidate. Had a private call with Bill Clinton right before announcing. http://t.co/hypkGn5oAX
— Jordan Gehrke (@Gehrke) August 5, 2015
In other tweets, Gehkre called Trump a “sleaze who steamrolls the little guy” and mocked Trump’s promise to nominate conservative judges and justices:
Yo, SuperPACS: You won't stop Trump by calling him a fake conservative. Go at his strengths– as a sleaze who steamrolls the little guy.
— Jordan Gehrke (@Gehrke) February 1, 2016
Trump says he knows Two Corinthians, either one of whom would make fantastic judges.
— Jordan Gehrke (@Gehrke) February 14, 2016
He also falsely accused then-Trump campaign manager now senior campaign adviser Corey Lewandowski of assault:
It’s awful that we are this far into the debate & nobody has asked Trump why he hasn’t fired Lewandowski for assaulting @MichelleFields.
— Jordan Gehrke (@Gehrke) March 11, 2016
And just two days before Trump wrapped the GOP nomination in Indiana, Gehrke falsely predicted Trump would lose in November and said anyone who supports Trump is “stained” by him “forever” while urging people not to “sell their soul” by supporting Trump:
NOT true. Anyone who supports Trump is stained by him forever. Don’t sell your soul, kids. He’s gonna lose anyway. https://t.co/b9oVJpwBQ3
— Jordan Gehrke (@Gehrke) May 4, 2016
In his state in Tennessee, Sethi’s highest-profile endorsements, former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp and his son Weston Wamp, both have regularly bashed Trump even after he was president.
Zach Wamp, in August 2017—nearly a year after Trump won the election and months into his presidency—attacked the president claiming he put all Republicans at risk:
Politics is about addition, not subtraction. As President Trump turns on basically everyone, who goes down with him ? The GOP-all at risk.
— Zach Wamp (@IOWamp) August 17, 2017
Weston Wamp, as recently as 2018, was publicly defending now former Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN)—a devout Never Trump senator who regularly undermined Trump:
That’s insulting. I disagree with Corker often, but I won’t let his independence from Trump make him a RINO. After all, Trump isn’t a conservative. I asked for a Senator more principled on the national debt and you sent me ranking by a libertarian think tank.
— Weston Wamp (@westonwamp) September 18, 2018
He also claimed Trump is “not even a conservative”:
I get that. But supporting the President at every juncture is not a conservative litmus test, it’s a loyalty test. As you know and I know, Trump is not even a conservative in the traditional sense.
— Weston Wamp (@westonwamp) September 18, 2018
Just last year, in 2019, Zach Wamp sent out a number of other tweets attacking Trump and siding with both the late Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and McCain’s daughter Meghan McCain:
@realDonaldTrump Mr. President-this is a loser for you. Pivot back to your core issues. Quit being trivial and punitive with people. You’re the leader of the free world for heavens sake. Please focus on helping people. #prayingforAmerica https://t.co/5yqJnevceQ
— Zach Wamp (@IOWamp) March 21, 2019
It is also bad form, politically dumb, distracting from his agenda, unwise and ….vintage Trump. Having said that, a war between these four and Trump, helps Trump. Both parties have issues. #CountryOverParty https://t.co/6lEA80gHjz
— Zach Wamp (@IOWamp) July 14, 2019
The two Wamps sent out a number of more anti-Trump messages over the course of 2018 and 2019 and even into 2020 while they have been backing Sethi:
No one in DC has any credibility on spending or fiscal responsibility- not President Trump, not Senate Republicans, not House Republicans. Even the think tanks are rudderless. This is generational theft. #WeMustDoBetter
— Zach Wamp (@IOWamp) July 23, 2019
Complete with a Trump typo. As my dad told me, "I'm old enough to remember when people announced their own campaigns."
— Weston Wamp (@westonwamp) July 16, 2019
— Zach Wamp (@IOWamp) August 2, 2019
President Trump is flirting with single handedly tanking a solid economy with great consumer confidence, low unemployment, good earnings and low inflation.
It's exhausting to watch. https://t.co/Mobk6eTLG6
— Weston Wamp (@westonwamp) August 23, 2019
Actually, as someone who has been in GOP leadership at the local and state level since 1980, I respectfully say that most Republicans would disagree with the flawed notion that voting by mail hurts the GOP. SENIORS vote by mail !!!#CountryOverParty https://t.co/NObB6Gowif
— Zach Wamp (@IOWamp) April 8, 2020
Ronald Reagan made a republican out of me. So I have 30 years seniority on @realDonaldTrump in GOP. This is non-sense. We must enhance absentee voting options including mail during the pandemic carried out at the state level. #CountryOverParty https://t.co/qbpxpRJafe
— Zach Wamp (@IOWamp) May 29, 2020
Perhaps most interestingly about this story of Sethi surrounding himself—by choice and with his campaign staff hiring decisions—with Never Trumpers is the fact that Sethi refuses in any respect to address it at all.
After nearly a week of asking about this, his campaign consultant Gehrke sent a statement from campaign spokeswoman Adrienne Walker to Breitbart News that did not address any of the questions sent to Sethi’s campaign about his entire senior staff. The statement simply claims that Sethi supported Trump in the earliest days of the 2016 presidential primary campaign and attacks his opponent Hagerty—who actually did support the president and is endorsed by the president—by asserting that Hagerty supported other Republicans in the primary.
“Dr. Manny supported President Trump from the beginning in the 2016 primary campaign while Bill Hagerty was with Jeb Bush and then Marco Rubio,” Sethi spokeswoman Walker said in the provided statement. “There’s one real conservative in this race: Manny Sethi.”
Through Gehrke, as well, all of the Never Trumpers including himself exposed in this article refused interviews and would not even say if they still hold the views they have expressed against the president over the years. They all—from Gehrke to Barnwell-Hagemeyer to the Wamps to Devaney—refused any questions at all about their Never Trump histories or whether they still hold those views.
What’s even more curious about this case is that Sethi’s campaign had been practically begging Breitbart News for months to feature Sethi in an interview and to highlight his campaign by claiming he was the “real outsider” in the race. They repeatedly claimed that Breitbart News coverage of the Trump-endorsed Hagerty, with whom the president just conducted a virtual town hall and with whom Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) is campaigning in Tennessee later this week, was somehow a betrayal of the base and selling out in some respect. But when Breitbart News accepted the offer to interview Sethi and told the campaign that these Never Trump staffers would be a topic of the interview since Sethi had been portraying himself as an outsider but surrounded himself with political consultants like the above exposed individuals, Sethi’s consultants abruptly pulled back and canceled Sethi’s plans to sit for the interview thereby hiding the candidate and protecting themselves from public scrutiny over their actions.
Trademark political moves from Gehrke’s and Barnwell-Hagemeyer’s previous campaigns are on display in this race. Sasse’s 2014 U.S. Senate primary, for instance, was one where he portrayed himself—just like Sethi is doing—as the “conservative outsider” in the race. When Breitbart News approached Gehrke back then with questions regarding Sasse’s position on immigration levels to the United States, he had promised to answer them and provide quotes from Sasse or his team on the matter. Then, after several days went by, Gehrke ended up finally giving a quote that did not fully answer the question and left open the possibility that Sasse would support increases in legal immigration—all while Gehkre lined up endorsements from senators like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) for Sasse in the final days of the campaign. Interestingly, on Wednesday, Cruz just endorsed Sethi in Tennessee—just like he did for Sasse—despite all of these career consultants around him.
But one of the other topics that Sethi refuses to discuss—again, in addition to the Never Trump consultants around him, this is one topic that Breitbart News had said it wanted to ask him about that instead led to Sethi’s team pulling back its aggressive requests for a Breitbart News interview with the candidate—was simply whether Sethi approves of the way Sasse has handled himself as a senator since winning that primary and later the general election in 2014. Sasse has, during the Trump presidency, regularly attacked the president and criticized the way Trump has governed. The two seem to have mostly buried the hatchet, at least for now, with the president endorsing his reelection. But Sasse has, alongside now former Sens. Corker and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) as well as now Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), been a thorn in Trump’s side on important matters repeatedly attacking him and lending the credibility of a so-called self-proclaimed “conservative” to anti-Trump narratives from the left and establishment media.
In addition to his work for Kasich, Barnwell-Hagemeyer previously worked for now Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee in 2018. A pollster connected to Gehrke, JMC Analytics, conducted a survey in that primary showing Lee ahead of his opponent by six percent shortly before the primary. The JMC poll, local outlets reported at the time, gave Lee a surge in energy in the final weeks and he ended up winning the primary. The polling firm insisted it was acting independently, but Gehrke has a stake in Victory Phones—a company that JMC has used for auto-dialing to conduct polling in some races. Similarly, in this race, JMC Analytics has released a poll this week in the U.S. Senate primary showing Hagerty leading by just four percent over Sethi. There have been a number of recent polls in the primary, but this one was the best news yet for Sethi—if it were true. It seems to be what enticed Cruz, who has endorsed other Gehrke clients like Sasse in the past, into the race.
What’s different between the 2018 race when this tactic—the release of a poll showing momentum that turned into actual campaign momentum—worked and this time, however, is the JMC poll did not even show Sethi in the lead like the 2018 poll did for Lee.
— Political Polls (@Politics_Polls) July 21, 2020
The fact that Sethi has made a campaign decision to refuse to address any of this—and instead is just counter-attacking his opponent Hagerty claiming Hagerty is an establishment Republican while claiming he is the “real conservative” despite mounting evidence to the contrary—lends credence to the Hagerty criticisms of Sethi as a fraud who is falsely claiming to be an outsider, much like Sasse did when he ran as such in 2014 then got to Washington and incessantly stabbed Trump in the back. Hagerty’s team highlighted Sethi’s history as a bureaucratic doctor in Massachusetts—where he lived before he moved to Tennessee—and his prior support for Obamacare.
A new television ad that Hagerty’s team launched this week claims conservatives cannot trust Sethi, citing his history of serving on the board of a Massachusetts medical group that supported Obamacare and that shows unearthed video of Sethi defending Obamacare. “Some people call that Obamacare,” Sethi says in the video footage. “Don’t say that in public circles because that’s a very political statement. It’s the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”
Hagerty’s team also rolled out a website called “Massachusetts Manny” that claims he is “too liberal for Tennessee,” including much of what’s in the new ad and more including that Sethi made a small contribution to ActBlue—the political fundraising arm of the Democrat Party—when he lived in Massachusetts. Sethi also, documents contained on the Hagerty team’s website unveil, applied for a job in former President Barack Obama’s administration before he later moved to Tennessee.