President Donald Trump carried 92 of Tennessee’s 95 counties against Hillary Clinton in 2016 with a 61 percent to 35 percent margin. He retains an extraordinarily high approval rating among Tennessee Republicans, polling consistently above 84 percent. Trump’s support for Marsha Blackburn was a critical factor in her 11 point victory gap over Democrat Phil Bredesen in the 2018 Senate race.
During his primary campaign for Governor, Bill Lee embraced Donald Trump and even ran a television ad that pointed out that Trump has been “so effective” because he’s a “businessman, not a politician.” Trump’s endorsement of Lee in the general election, along with the endorsement of key in-state Trump supporters like former State Senator Mae Beavers, helped Lee to a 20 plus point margin over Karl Dean.
The 2018 Republican Primary for Governor ended up with Lee prevailing over Diane “Too Swamp” Black and Randy “Too Moderate” Boyd because — like Goldilocks selecting a bed — he was “just right” for Christian conservatives and Trump voters in the state. You might think that Governor-elect Lee would be setting the foundations for his policy agenda by appointing those who were ideologically aligned with Candidate Lee to top positions in his Administration. You would be wrong.
As noted earlier in The Tennessee Star, Lee’s pick for heading his transition, filling out his Cabinet and serving as the COO for his Administration is Democrat Butch Eley. Eley donated $1350 to Democrat Bredesen’s campaign earlier this year as he faced Republican Marsha Blackburn in a critical battle for control of the U.S. Senate. Eley’s donation aligned him with other Bredesen donors like liberal Democrats Kamala Harris (D-CA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Mike Bloomberg, and a long list of others. More importantly it put him in step with Bredesen’s anti-Trump views on immigration and tax cuts, which Bredesen termed as mere “crumbs.” Tennessee conservatives really count on Lee’s team to pursue conservative policies when the team is being assembled by someone who opposes those policies?
Lee’s election for Chief of Staff, Alabama-based Republican political consultant Blake Harris has an even more anti-Trump track record. Not only has Harris counted noted anti-Trump Republicans like Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse and Alabama Congresswoman Martha Roby among his clients, his own tweets from the 2016 election cycle reveal his views of President Trump with absolute clarity.
On October 8, 2016 Harris retweeted Roby’s statement that she would not vote for Trump for President, a promise Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam made at the time as well.
A few weeks later, on November 3, Harris commented on a Politico story quoting Trump as praising the bravery of military generals and then saying: “I’m brave in other ways. I’m financially brave.” Harris noted: “Certainly brave to say something so stupid out loud.”
The day before the election between Trump and Clinton, Harris tweeted his assessment of the two candidates: “Well, two years and a billion dollars and we get these two losers. Shame on all of us. Let’s do better next time.”
To emphasize the point Harris tweeted the next day: “Went to the polls today for the first time as an undecided voter. Very strange.”
His early election day criticism of Trump was particularly interesting, having already predicted that Hillary would win by 2.5%: “Killing me: That Trump is so untrustworthy and some Repubs are committed to him ONLY bc of who he SAYS he would appoint to Supreme Court.”
(Have Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh made him more appreciative of Trump?)
And finally, just hours before the polls opened Harris tweeted: “One thing about tomorrow is that either way @realDonaldTrump can stop pretending to be a Republican.”
Harris hasn’t yet tweeted his view of whether the absence of conservative Trump supporters on Team Lee will provide Lee the opportunity to “stop pretending to be a conservative.”
It has been said that “actions speak louder than words.” The words of Lee Chief of Staff Blake Harris about President Trump may simply reflect the reasons for the actions of Lee in ignoring Trump supporters and voters as he has assembled the senior leadership of his Administration. Or, Bill Lee may be ignorant of what is being done by those he has charged with filling out the personnel who will formulate and promote his policy agenda. Neither of which should fill conservative voters with much hope for what the Lee Administration will do.