Politics » Politics Feature

Unmasked: Republicans Gather for Two Campaign Events

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The Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, former Ambassador Bill Hagerty, turned up Friday night at the same aircraft hangar in Millington from which then-candidate Donald Trump addressed a throng in February 2016. Though the crowd of Republican faithful who greeted Hagerty was far smaller than Trump's was, some of the same themes were sounded.

Listing out loud "the challenges you and I face," Hagerty mentioned "chaos, rioting, looting, tearing down statues, trying to destroy history," and cautioned: "Make no mistake, this is coming straight out of the Marxist playbook. And if we let them have their way, they're going to push us over the cliff into socialism. We've got to stand up for this, we need leaders that understand it, and have the backbone to deal with it. ... I want to be that leader for Tennessee."

(left to right) Sexton, Kustoff, and Kimberly and Brent Taylor - JACKSON BAKER
  • Jackson Baker
  • (left to right) Sexton, Kustoff, and Kimberly and Brent Taylor

Extolling what he said were President Trump's economic achievements, Hagerty warned, "We can take nothing for granted in Tennessee. ... We can get up and vote in record numbers. We can take away that Democrat talking point that the president didn't win the popular vote."

The GOP rally at Millington, like another, larger one held Monday night in honor of 8th District Congressman David Kustoff at the sprawling Southeast Shelby estate of GOP Election Commissioner Brent Taylor, took place during the period of Trump's momentous hospitalization as a COVID-19 patient. Though a few attendees at the Millington affair wore masks into the event, those were shed as soon as it began, and the same phenomenon occurred at the fundraiser for Kustoff.

The coronavirus problem got its due from Hagerty, but mainly on the level of international statecraft. Hagerty vowed "to stand up to ... the China threat," asserting, "Make no mistake, they've delivered this virus to us. They've devastated our economy. Our president and his family are now suffering from this virus. They need to be held to account."

John DeBerry, the former Democratic state Representative de-balloted by his party for coziness with the GOP and having to run for re-election as an independent, seems to get a shout-out of some sort at every Republican conclave these days, and he doesn't even need to be present to get them. At the Millington hangar on Friday night, he had been a billed guest who didn't show up. In the case of Monday night, Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton, who was down from Crossville as a special guest, quoted the absent DeBerry on the correct mode of political protest: "It changes lives, it changes the direction of America, if it's done right and it's done peacefully, but that's not what we've seen."

Sexton spent much of his speaking time on the controversial "law and order" bill passed by the Tennessee state legislature upon its return from a lengthy COVID break in August. "If you decide to assault a first responder, you go to jail. Pretty simple, right? It becomes a felony. If you want to burn a building, if you want to obstruct, you want to vandalize, you want to tear down statues, you go to jail. If you want to occupy a state property that's not supposed to be for camping, you go to jail."

The Kustoff event involved much milling about in conversation groups, and the Congressman himself in one of them raised the issue of masks, prompting a discussion as to why they were no longer in evidence. It was recalled that when the Republicans opened their local headquarters on Germantown Parkway last summer, everybody present, including Kustoff, was masked. Someone quoted Dr. Anthony Fauci as having said, at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, that masks were ineffective (if so, the nation's chief of infectious disease research has since changed his mind). Someone else said that thinking on the mask issue had "evolved."

The fact remained that, for whatever reasons, masks were not being worn to any great degree these days by Republicans, and the consciousness of that fact became a part of the atmosphere — as obvious, if as largely unspoken, as the October chill that began to settle over the outdoor conclave.

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