CLARKSVILLE, Tennessee — Former U.S. ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty, the man President Donald Trump wants in the vacant U.S. Senate seat here come November, is seeking to finish off his once-surging opponent in Thursday’s primary.
More than a year ago, Trump endorsed Hagerty—one of his closest allies who would be the first U.S. senator who actually served in his administration and on his campaign and in his transition team—for the job. If Hagerty pulls off the win in the August 6 primary, it would not only give the president a key win in a deep red state as the president remakes the Republican Party in his image. It would also deliver Trump a perfect record in U.S. Senate primaries nationwide this cycle, even after a handful of House primary losses despite a mostly-perfect record. The president asked Hagerty, who served as Trump’s ambassador to Japan at the beginning of the administration, to come back and run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the retiring longtime Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and endorsed him for it ages ago—the first major endorsement the president made this cycle in a primary that was always scheduled for later this year.
The president’s endorsement seemed infallible for nearly a year after he made it, until a string of a few losses in House primaries. U.S. Reps. Denver Riggleman (R-VA) and Scott Tipton (R-CO) lost their reelection bids in a convention and a primary respectively despite the president’s endorsement, and in North Carolina’s 11th congressional district the Trump-backed candidate fell to a rising young conservative outsider in now GOP nominee Madison Cawthorne. But the president rebounded in Alabama where former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville defeated, with Trump’s support, former Attorney General and former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions—stopping Sessions’ comeback bid after he fell out hard with Trump. Despite the string of House losses, Trump has yet to lose a primary in a Senate race since 2017 when Luther Strange lost to Roy Moore in the Alabama GOP Senate primary.
Dr. Manny Sethi, a surgeon who has presented himself as the “true conservative” in the race, has emerged in recent polling as a competitive candidate in this primary in Tennessee. Polling has showed the race tightened six weeks ago, at exactly the right time for Sethi as he was riding high off a series of endorsements from the conservative movement’s old guard. Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) rode in for him, as did former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and radio host Mark Levin.
But Sethi’s narrative began crumbling after a Breitbart News investigation uncovered that his entire senior campaign staff was comprised of Never Trump political consultants. His campaign’s general consultant, his campaign manger, and his campaign chairman—as well as his highest-profile in-state endorsement former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN)—are all devout Never Trumpers. Sethi has never addressed this and refused, with the exception of providing a generic statement to Breitbart News from a low-level press staffer, to cooperate with the story or answer any questions about it.
Meanwhile, Hagerty’s team unloaded a series of vicious attacks that eviscerated Sethi over a video in which the doctor—formerly from Massachusetts before he moved to Tennessee—praised Obamacare. “Massachusetts Manny,” Hagerty’s team branded Sethi as, seems to have stuck in the minds of Tennesseans as the momentum that Sethi had in those polls a little more than a month ago appears to have slowed and Hagerty’s team has the edge again. Sethi has spent the last month plus on defense, fending off the Obamacare allegations and other things like the fact he donated to a Democrat through ActBlue and that he supported gun control. Sethi’s once-strongest argument, that he was a doctor whose foundations have done good for the community, became a negative for him as it was revealed the various partners in his “Healthy Tennessee” program were leftist doctors including one who is running Nashville’s response to the coronavirus pandemic sharply at odds with Trump.
The president and his allies are leaving nothing to chance in Tennessee. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) campaigned with Hagerty a little over a week ago, a trip on which Breitbart News accompanied them and conducted a joint interview that aired on Breitbart News Saturday on SiriusXM 125 the Patriot Channel. Then last weekend, Fox News star and nationally syndicated radio host Sean Hannity endorsed Hagerty calling him the “ONLY Trump conservative” in the race—a huge loss for Hagerty’s opponent whose allies, Breitbart News has learned, incorrectly thought Hannity was going to endorse against the president.
send .@BillHagertyTN to the Senate. He supported .@realDonaldTrump in 2016 & has worked closely with him since.
Bill is the ONLY Trump conservative in the #TNSen race. He has my total support.
– From Sean
— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) July 25, 2020
Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, on Monday named Hagerty his “candidate of the week” drawing focus from the Trump family onto the president’s pick in the primary.
“Bill Hagerty has been a supporter of my father since before it was politically expedient,” Trump Jr. told Breitbart News. “Others like to talk the talk, but Bill has always walked the walk in support of our conservative America First agenda. In the Senate, he’ll stand up to the Democrats and Never Trumpers and will fight to secure the border, hold China accountable and protect our precious constitutional rights.”
I'm not afraid to stand up for our conservative values, even when it's tough. I look forward to representing the great state of Tennessee and fighting for our values everyday.
— Bill Hagerty (@BillHagertyTN) July 31, 2020
Trump Jr. hosted Hagerty on his Triggered podcast last week, too, in which he offered another effusive endorsement for Hagerty. “I know the difference—your opponent, I’ve never heard of him before and most importantly I know he wasn’t there for us like you were in 2016 when we had ‘no chance of winning,’” Trump Jr. told Hagerty in one clip from the appearance that Hagerty tweeted out last week. “He wasn’t vocal about Trump and supporting that agenda throughout. It’s only now when he’s running for Senate, magically he pretends he’s on the team. He wants to do all these things that are Trumpian—but I’ve never heard of the guy before…. Tennessee, get out there and vote between now and next Thursday. Vote for Bill Hagerty for the United States Senate. Bill’s going to be a fighter for us.”
Vice President Mike Pence weighed in to back the president’s pick, Hagerty, for the job.
TN’s @BillHagertyTN is my friend & has been a champion for President @realDonaldTrump’s AMERICA FIRST agenda from Day One. Bill will fight for Conservative values, stand up for Life, Protect 2A Rights & create American jobs. TN & America need Bill Hagerty in the Senate!
— Mike Pence (@Mike_Pence) July 28, 2020
The president himself has also re-upped his endorsement, appearing with Hagerty for a tele-townhall and tweeting to urge Tennesseans to support his pick over Sethi.
.@BillHagertyTN, an outstanding man and one of the best Ambassadors ever (Japan), is running an excellent campaign for the Senate. He loves Tennessee and loves our Country. We need him badly in Washington. He has my Complete and Total Endorsement!https://t.co/VGeHlzYfwy
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 31, 2020
That’s not to mention the critical endorsement of Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the freshman U.S. senator who will next year become the state’s senior senator, who ripped Hagerty’s opponent as she endorsed him for the seat. Blackburn, whose sharp-elbowed hardcore conservatism is a welcome super-charge for the Hagerty team, has been vicious in her critiques of Sethi and unwavering in her support of Hagerty.
“Let me talk about Bill a little bit first,” Blackburn told Breitbart News in an exclusive interview here in Tennessee last week when asked why she weighed in on the race in her state. “I have worked for many, many years with Bill and Chrissy with charities and not-for-profits. Bill has worked with my husband and son and has done a lot for boy scouts. You get to know a lot about people when you look at where they place their time and their energy and so we have seen those charitable and conservative causes are very important to them individually and as a family and also politically. I think that that says so much about an individual. He is the kind of guy—Bill is going there to be of service. He is not going there to put his name in lights. He is not going there to make himself a star. He is going there to work and make himself of service to the people. One of the things I think that is important in understanding that is that Bill is consistently conservative. He grew up in a family with very modest means. He had a mother who is a teacher, he worked very hard, he earned some scholarships, he got a great education and he became very successful. Now, that is what you call living the American dream. That is what parents say ‘I hope my child has the ability to do that.’ That’s what you see in Bill. The fact that he walked that process, he appreciates that process of what it means to work hard and have that ability to succeed. You’re going to get that type of service from him and that appreciation. People are going to feel like they know him. He is soft-spoken, and he is not someone who is going to come across glitz and glam campaigning. He is soft-spoken but he is very solid and here is something I think is important.”
Blackburn paused in the interview, then made the case that Hagerty is critical to fighting the Chinese Communist Party in the U.S. Senate.
“You have been covering my work on China for years,” she said. “As you know, I started on that in 2003—trying to change policy of how we deal with that ASEAN region and how China benefits and how they have made lying, cheating, and stealing their business method instead of innovation which is what we do. Now, Bill has a good solid understanding of that region of the world. He is not going to have to go to school on foreign affairs. He is going to know on day one. There is no issue more critical than China and how we deal with China. We are basically at what I would call a precipice of a cold war with China. You look at what is happening in Xinjiang, you look at how they’re dealing with the Uyghurs, you look at Hong Kong, how they’re aggressive with Taiwan, and what they’re doing in the South China Sea islands and what they’re doing with closing that consulate. We just had one more arrest today of a Chinese national who was here working who was stealing our intellectual property and then fled into the consulate in San Francisco and then was arrested. They ended up arresting him there. So, this is going to be an issue not only of our sovereignty but of our trade practices, of helping our allies. This is going to be something that says we’re going to stand against Marxism and we’re going to stand against socialism. China is an area where we’re going to continue to work on the technology issues and the semiconductor chip issue and the pharmaceutical issues and all the bucket of commerce and trade issues. We have to look at this as a regional impact and realize China has used COVID-19 as an accelerant in their push in their hundred-year marathon in making the 21st century the China century. Bill knows this, having been the ambassador to Japan and having negotiated our trade agreement with Japan. He understands that impact in two different ways and I think this is something that is vitally important: he understands it from the impact of the region but he also understands it from the impact on the states. He knows what it does for Tennessee with auto manufacturing, he knows what it does for our farmers who are trying to sell soy. This is the kind of understanding we need. It’s essential for President Trump to be able to carry out his policies to have people there who get it. You don’t want Joe Biden who wants to be cozy with China and is going to push to be friends with China. We have tried that and it doesn’t work. China does not want to be our friend. They want to be somebody who wants to dominate us and dominate the globe.”
In fact, while campaigning with Cotton here in Clarksville a couple weeks ago, Hagerty made his expertise on bringing manufacturing back to the United States from China clear. Just down the road from Fort Campbell, the home of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division—the Screaming Eagles—Cotton and Hagerty toured some local shops in downtown Clarksville.
Cotton was, when he served in the Army, a member of the Screaming Eagles and based out of Clarksville’s Fort Campbell, so in addition to a trip down memory lane for the senator this trip served as an opportunity for both to hear directly from business owners about their needs in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
In one store, Hagerty asked the shop owner how much of what she sells is made in America—and how much of that stuff is made in Tennessee. She said almost everything in her store was made in America, and nearly half of everything was made in Tennessee. “We’re talking about making ‘made in the USA’ the theme of America again,” Hagerty said.
All of this and more, Cotton laid out in his speeches during his trip campaigning with Hagerty here, is why Cotton sees Hagerty as a “battle buddy” in the Senate when it comes to fighting for the president’s America First agenda.
“I certainly think over the last four years and looking forward to the next four and beyond, one of the president’s lasting legacies will be turning opinion in the Republican Party in ways I think were necessary especially when it comes to China, especially when it comes to trade issues,” Cotton told Breitbart News in his joint interview with Hagerty here. “I got to say, a lot of Republicans in Washington for the longest time were pretty bad on China. They’ve represented the views of large multinational corporations that wanted access to cheap Chinese labor, sometimes slave labor, and they were willing to tolerate anything in exchange for access to China’s 1.3 billion consumers. More and more over the last three years we’ve seen more Republicans being elected to the Senate recognizing the threat that China poses. Likewise on immigration, in 2013 the Senate passed a terrible immigration bill. That was a very bad gang. It would have driven down wages for working class Americans. I would include first generation legal immigrant Americans who have had their wages driven down. It wouldn’t have secured the border. It would have been just a massive amnesty that would have encouraged more illegal immigration. Now, not only are we building a wall on the southern border, not only are we fixing our immigration laws, but we also recognize the need as Bill talks about buying American and hiring American as well—especially at a time when we have millions and millions of Americans out of work. We need to give those Americans the first cut at jobs as the jobs come back online. We definitely don’t need millions of guest workers coming to our country indiscriminately without evaluating the economic need for those workers. And again that’s where I’ve been from the beginning of my time in public life and I think President Trump has opened the eyes of—a lot of Republican voters have those views as well, but a lot of Republican officeholders before President Trump didn’t seem to realize what their own voters wanted.”
LISTEN TO TOM COTTON AND BILL HAGERTY ON BREITBART NEWS SATURDAY:
For all the above reasons, it seems like Hagerty’s team has—along with the president’s team and those like Cotton and Blackburn—successfully framed this race much like the 2016 presidential primary between Trump and Cruz rather than grassroots anti-establishment versus establishment fights of years prior.
But for good measure, Blackburn, in her exclusive interview with Breitbart News, took another fatal stab at Sethi just to be sure—offering as proof for her case she does not trust him alongside her in the U.S. Senate that Sethi stood down while his organizational partners attacked her on behalf of Democrat Phil Bredesen in the 2018 U.S. Senate race.
“The thing that has been so interesting is after the information came out that it was his board members who were involved in those horrific ads that were untruthful, the fact that he never called and never denounced them or their actions,” Blackburn said of Sethi’s pals helping the Democrats attack her. “So, it leads one to believe that he approved of their actions because he did nothing about it. He never came and said before he started this race ‘these were people on my board and I didn’t do something, I should have done something.’ He never tried to make amends for that. I will tell you, that is very disappointing to me. Setting the record straight many times, that shows a strength of character. I’ll tell you, if he can’t defend me against something like that, how is he going to stand back and fight against Chuck Schumer? How is he going to stand up and fight back against the left? How is he going to craft that argument if he can’t defend me—who is a conservative? I don’t see how he is going to be able to make that argument if he can’t defend the Republican nominee in one of the hottest Senate races in the country. I wouldn’t want to be in a foxhole with him, I’ll say that.”