Who is Morgan Ortagus? – The American Conservative
The Trump-backed candidate for Tennessee has long been restrictive on foreign policy.
When former President Donald Trump endorses a congressional candidate, it’s always interesting to see who cheers. Congratulations came in the case of Morgan Ortagus, the former spokeswoman for then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and now a candidate for Tennessee’s redrawn congressional District 5 Kelly Craftthe former Bush-appointed United Nations representative for US engagement in Africa, and Russia’s hawk Ryan Tully.
Notably missing: all native Tennesseans, except Quincy McKnight, who recently withdrew his Republican bid for the same race. (McKnight, whose past political aspirations earned him a third of the vote in the three-way Republican primary for a Senate seat, drew much attention for his Jan. 6 Twitter slam about Don Lemon’s sexuality.)
Ortagus, who announced her candidacy on February 7, was criticized by a handful of conservatives back in late January after receiving coveted confirmation from Trump. After all, their marriage was officiated by the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and for the 2016 Republican primary, she volunteered for nothing but Jeb Bush (please clap). Twitter personality Daniel Bostic has dedicated a run thread to the other notable achievements of Ortagus.
But for conservatives in Tennessee, the issue of Ortagus’ loyalty is more important than choosing the Supreme Court femme fatale for their registrar. Originally from the Sunshine State, former Miss Florida Citrus moved to Nashville just a year ago. Doubt that the woman who just emerged from the swamp could understand what kind of politics is best for the Volunteer State, despite professing she “loves Tennessee,” is real.
Nashville, a central part of District 5, brings in a lot of transplants like all cities. But even in Davidson County, the state’s largest concentrated Democratic territory except for Steve Cohen’s Memphis, which has consistently voted blue for decades, local loyalties run deep. After serving as U.S. Representative for nearly two decades, Jim Cooper was elected mayor by the city of Nashville in 2019.
After the district map is redrawn, the region Ortagus hopes to represent includes not just Davidson, but half of conservative stronghold Williamson County, as well as rural Lewis, Maury, and Marshall counties. Some Tennesseans, myself included, are skeptical that the redrawn map will actually do Republicans any good in the long run, since it amounts to dividing your bad apples into a handful of baskets. Regardless, Ortagus seems content to accept her endorsement from Trump, and labeling herself an America First candidate will be enough to win over those rural counties. She may be right.
But Ortagus’ track record of foreign policy positions in the Cold War era makes her “America First” for her 2016 endorsement pick. Her service to the blob dates back to the days of the George W. Bush administration, first as a public affairs officer with the United States Agency for International Development under the younger Bush, and then as an intelligence analyst for the US Treasury Department under Obama, covering North Africa and covers the Middle East (yes, that’s a real job). She returned to the private sector for a few years, working as Global Relationship Manager for Asia, Middle East and Africa at Standard Chartered Bank.
Before Pompeo’s 2019 election as State Department spokeswoman, Ortagus was a vocal critic of Trump’s “isolationist” foreign policy. Since 2021, she has criticized the Biden administration for similar reasons and has condemned him for persecution diplomacyfor withdrawing from Afghanistan and for not being pro-Israel enough (She was also supported by David Friedman).
One thing can be said about Ortagus: She is politically savvy. She hired Republican campaign strategist Ward Baker (my husband prefers Baker’s local callsign “McConnell’s Pitbull”) who was behind the successful campaign to put Bill Hagerty in the Senate in 2020 and Marsha Blackburn in 2018. Baker’s own allegiance to Republican values is loose at best, but he certainly knows how to play ball.
Also, Ortagus’ only serious opponent so far is Robby Starbuck, the filmmaker and native Californian. Starbuck has lived in Tennessee for two-and-a-half years, so it fits the local color only slightly better than Ortagus. While he seems to have the support of many grassroots Republican leaders in Williamson County and some national endorsements, including from Rand Paul and Candice Owens, beating a Trump-backed candidate has become quite an uphill battle.
The Tennessee Republican Party requires potential candidates to either have contested three of the last four Republican primaries or have other Republicans in the county they wish to represent vouch for their status. Both Ortagus and Starbuck, pursuing the latter strategy, must have their Republican status approved by a majority in a specially assembled committee of the Tennessee Republican Party’s Executive Committee. The deadline to qualify for the GOP primary is August 2022.
“I’ve never shied away from a fight,” says Ortagus. For foreign policy realists, that is precisely the concern.