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The Battle for TN-5: Trump Defends Ortagus Pick and Suggests Robby Starbuck Voted for Obama… Except He Didn’t?

The former President's latest endorsement has his base wondering who is advising him.

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President Donald J. Trump defended his controversial endorsement of former State Department official Morgan Ortagus on Newsmax this week, going so far as to claim that her opponent in the Republican Primary for Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District, Robby Starbuck, voted for Barack Obama. Except, according to Starbuck, no such thing ever happened.

Trump, who has endorsed a number of former Democrats including ex-Obama donor Kari Lake (AZ), took to the airwaves on Tuesday to offer his thoughts on the decision that has roiled his MAGA base:

“Well, I didn’t know Robby Starbuck; I have known Morgan; she’s been in the administration; she did a good job,” Trump told anchor Rob Schmitt. “I didn’t know Robby Starbuck. I hear good things about him, but I also hear he voted for Obama. If he voted for Obama, then I am very satisfied [with my decision]. I’ve heard he voted for Obama, but maybe he didn’t.”

President Trump added: “I’ve done a lot of things that were somewhat controversial and they’ve worked out… She’s solid.” But critics have pointed to the hiring of characters such as Omarosa Manigault, Anthony Scaramucci, Alyssa Farah, Stephanie Grisham, and others from the executive, candidate endorsement, and campaign sides of his operation as evidence of the contrary: they haven’t always worked out.

Schmidt didn’t appear to push back, though he did place Ortagus on the show immediately after, to accept the further endorsement.

Robby Starbuck – the Marjorie Taylor Greene-backed MAGA candidate – has been fighting in the district for years. He challenged Trump’s claim in a lengthy statement sent to The National Pulse, saying it was erroneously based upon a set of hypothetical tweets during a debate online, and that he albeit still regrettably voted for John McCain in 2008, and Mitt Romney in 2012.

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In the comment, Starbuck said: “President Trump acknowledged in his recent Newsmax interview that his endorsement of Morgan Ortagus was ‘unpopular’ and that he’s been told I was ‘a great guy’ but in this interview he also signaled that someone floated a tweet to him that I ‘maybe’ voted for Obama. Here’s the truth: I regret my 2008 general election vote for President but it was not for Barack Obama — it was for John McCain. I won’t speak ill of the dead but I wasn’t a fan of either of them.”

Starbuck went on to describe how he has only ever registered Republican, and originally supported Ron Paul in 2008.

“If you search my statements over the years about Obama, they’re all negative. It would probably be easier to tell you I did vote for Obama as a protest vote against McCain after what was done to Ron Paul in that election season, but it wouldn’t be the truth and I believe in telling the truth and having transparency,” Starbuck added.

The news comes as the MAGA base weighs Trump’s decision to pre-emptively endorse Ortagus, a friend of his daughter Ivanka Trump, for the seat in Tennessee.

Ortagus has been criticized for her long-standing best friendship with Never Trumper Samantha Vinograd, who was also briefly her business partner. On her last day at the State Department, Ortagus pledged to “faithfully serve the Biden administration” in an e-mail to colleagues, a point not lost on Starbuck:

“After all of the backlash, I think deep down President Trump knows who the America First candidate is in this race. He’s had his biggest supporters, best advisors, many of his endorsed candidates and many of his lawyers come out in support of me after the endorsement of Ortagus. Lastly, I would note that the person he endorsed is on the record having called President Trump ‘disgusting’ and pledging to ‘faithfully serve the Biden Administration.’ That pledge happened AFTER Biden stole the election. I’m much more concerned with that than the way anyone voted in 2008 and I think the voters will agree with me on that!”

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Starbuck pointed to a now-deleted Twitter debate he was having as the source of the erroneous Obama-voting claim.

“…let me explain the tweet they’re referencing — I was in a hypothetical conversation with someone I was attempting to flip over to vote Republican and the nature of the hypothetical required me to make the case for voters to switch from Obama to Trump. I’ve done a similar hypothetical explanation on video in teaching people how to persuade voters by giving them examples of people ‘seeing the light,’ leaving the Democratic Party and voting Republican. Coming from a family who escaped Marxism in Cuba, I have a deep rooted disdain for Barack Obama because he’s worked to usher in Marxism in America and he supported the vile communist regime in Cuba. Barack Obama is a failure and a part of what I consider a plot to destroy freedom in America.”

Ms. Ortagus did not respond to a request for comment on the original story.


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The National Pulse is a part of the American Principles Project.