Politics » Politics Feature

Roland versus Kustoff? Conflict Over Who’s the Most Trumpian



Before the current week is finished, we'll have an accurate head count of how many members of Congress choose to cast a vote against confirming the election of Joe Biden and, conversely, in favor of the pretense of Donald Trump that he is somehow entitled to remain as president — if not indefinitely, than certainly for the next four years.

Nobody has any doubts that among these loyalists will be David Kustoff, the arch-conservative Congressman from Tennessee's 8th district and one of the state's earliest known Trump enthusiasts.

  • Jackson Baker
  • Kustoff

Well, almost nobody. As of the middle of the week, with Trump's minions in Congress prepared to put their votes where their professed outrage is, Terry Roland, the former county commissioner from Millington and an ur-Trumper nonpareil, the sponsor in fact of Trump's earliest rally in these parts in 2016, has been nursing serious doubts indeed about Kustoff's willingness to keep the faith.

Roland has for some time been bombarding people on his online networks with expressions of doubt that Kustoff will follow through this week on a key action on Trump's behalf, a vote in Congress objecting to the recording of the votes of Electoral College members from the 50 states, showing Biden with a commanding total of 306 votes — well over the threshold of 272 votes required to elect a president.

The hardcore members of Donald Trump's loyalist bloc not only don't accept that arithmetic, they do not believe the repeated reassurances of election commissions and tribunals and various courts that, in fact, their man has lost and Biden is president-elect. They believe instead that the recent presidential election was conducted in an atmosphere of such unrestricted, if as yet unproven, cheating on behalf of the Democrats that the election needs to be rerun, at least in several key battleground states — Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Georgia among them.

In fact, these hardcore Trump true believers regard the presidential contest — now two full months past — as still being in the live, contestable stage and, as Roland does, use such locutions as "if Biden wins," as though the issue were still in doubt.

  • Jackson Baker
  • Roland

And Roland has made it clear, going into this week, that he regards Kustoff's commitment to a Trump continuance to be in doubt, asking in one posted text: "Is David Kustoff part of the Surrender Caucus wing of the Republican Party?" And suggesting the answer in another, which overlaps Kustoff's image with that of 9th District Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen.

All of this is in the absence of any declared intent on Kustoff's part that he will break with the other long-term Trump loyalists and vote this week to accept the evidence of triumph for the Biden-Harris ticket.

So what else, what wonders, might be fueling Roland's suspicion? Asked point-blank if he might be interested in challenging Kustoff for the 8th District seat, Roland declared, "I'm thinking about it."

On the surface, this would seem to be a forbidding undertaking. As the incumbent in the 8th, Kustoff has twice won re-election easily since overcoming George Flinn in a stout challenge for the seat in 2016. Kustoff's strength in that first race was overwhelmingly in the East Memphis part of the district. On the strength of heavy advertising in the 14 mostly rural counties of the sprawling West Tennessee district, Flinn ran him close elsewhere.

Roland, who maintains, "I have a house and farm in Tipton County that's already in the 8th and I'm kin to everyone," thinks he can do better than Flinn did in those rural outreaches, and he also thinks there's a good chance before 2022 that in a post-census reapportionment the legislature might return Millington and north Shelby County to the 8th district, where those precincts were a decade ago.

A Roland-Kustoff race is still in the realm of the hypothetical, and most observers doubt that Kustoff will evince even the smallest sign of falling off the Trump wagon this week, but a contest between the two of them, should it develop, could still reveal fissures in area Republican ranks.

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