Why are MAGA types suddenly attacking Kathy Barnette?

Why are MAGA types suddenly attacking Kathy Barnette?
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

So this is interesting.

You would think Trumpers would be pulling for Kathy Barnette in Pennsylvania’s Senate primary, if only by process of elimination. Dr. Oz may be endorsed by Trump but he’s far too squishy and culturally removed from MAGA whereas Dave McCormick is a mega-rich traditional Republican masquerading as a populist. The entire reason Barnette has come out of nowhere to contend for the nomination is that Trump fans are unhappy with the top two choices. The moment seems ripe for her to receive a big push from populist media and MAGA influencers that sends her to a shocking upset victory.


That’s not what I’m seeing today. To the contrary.

Sean Parnell was originally a candidate himself in this race, earning Trump’s endorsement, but dropped out due to scandal. He has MAGA cred, though. And he’s suspicious of Barnette.

Newsmax guy Greg Kelly has spent the last 48 hours tearing into Barnette on his Twitter feed. Just keep scrolling at this link, as he goes on and on. This tweet is representative:

Kelly’s also curious about Barnette’s military service.

Earlier today, Breitbart dropped a hit piece on Barnette flagging anti-Trump tweets she posted in 2015 and early 2016 and noting that she claimed in her book that Trump was her last choice in the 2016 primaries. Which isn’t that interesting in its own right, as J.D. Vance was far harsher towards Trump for far longer than Barnette was and has now become the great MAGA hope in Ohio. But it is interesting that a Trump-aligned site like Breitbart is scrambling to head off her populist momentum.


I linked Salena Zito’s item on Barnette in my earlier post but want to link it again here since it fits with the sense of suspicion that’s spreading. Zito asked Barnette’s campaign to answer some simple questions for a biographical piece:

1. The name of her hometown
2. Where was she an adjunct professor and when?
3. When was she in officer candidate school?
4. What financial institutions did she work at and when?
5. When did she move from Virginia to Pennsylvania? (She says in her book bio from 2018 that she lived in Virginia, so what year did she move to Pennsylvania?)
6. And a confirmation that the college she graduated from was Troy State University.

The campaign responded that “Kathy keeps her early life as private as possible as I am sure you can understand why,” which is downright strange coming from someone who could well be the Republican nominee for Senate in less than a week. Barnette’s private life won’t remain private for long if she advances to the general election. Major newspapers will be all over her, particularly in light of the pick-up opportunity Democrats will have in this race.

The Washington Free Beacon also checked in with Barnette’s campaign today and asked for a copy of her DD214. According to reporter Chuck Ross, her campaign manager hung up on him when he asked when she plans to release the form. Ross also pointed out that Barnette sometimes says she was in the U.S. Army Reserves but has also said she was in the “Armed Forces Reserves,” which isn’t a thing.



Two questions present themselves. One: Is Barnette on the level? Her biography is compelling, “the centerpiece of her campaign,” as Ross says. She was conceived in an act of rape, she claims, then grew up impoverished, then joined the military, then became a businesswoman and commentator, and now stands on the threshold of winning her party’s nomination for Senate. Is all of that true?

Two: Is all of this sudden interest in her from Parnell, Kelly, etc, organic or is it being coordinated behind the scenes? It could be organic. Barnette has made a splash in the polls this past week, she hasn’t been vetted, and so various MAGA personalities have understandably begun to take a closer look at her to see who their new nominee might be.

But there are obvious suspects if you’re inclined to believe there’s a whisper campaign happening to try to take down Barnette before she rises any further. Dave McCormick’s camp is one, as he’s fallen behind her slightly in some polling. McCormick also seems to be regarded by some in populist media as the lesser of two evils compared to Oz so they might be willing to do him a solid. Maybe Team McCormick (which includes various Trump alumni) has reached out to figures like Kelly and said it’s time to put a stop to Barnette-mania.

More obvious suspects, though, are Trump and Oz. Trump made a high stakes bet in Pennsylvania by endorsing a figure like Oz who’s not an easy fit for his base. If his guy ends up losing there to a no-name like Barnette who’s spent next to nothing on advertising, he’ll be embarrassed. “If Barnette is surging, it would show that parts of the MAGA movement have outpaced Trump himself,” Politico put it, pungently. The fact that the Club for Growth is now in her corner gives him even more reason to start mobilizing people against her behind the scenes. He’s annoyed at the Club for trying to thwart J.D. Vance’s victory in Ohio and would hate to see them get the better of him in Pennsylvania.


There’s one more possibility. Republican operatives may know, or suspect, that Barnette has some secret that would make it easy for Democrats to blow her up in the general election and so they’re scrambling to raise doubts about her before she wins the primary. I remember how some Democrats in 2008 wrestled with whether to expose John Edwards’s affair during the primary, not because they were anti-Edwards but because they didn’t want the party anchored to a scandal-ridden nominee in the general who’d be easy for the other party to beat. There may be people who are worried about the same thing with Barnette. Do you want to gamble on a cipher in a winnable race for a Senate seat in a purple state?

Late this afternoon, documents attesting to Barnette’s military service finally began circulating on Twitter. Parnell seemed unimpressed:

It looks like they’re National Guard documents.

Exit question: Barnette will obviously be pressed for clarity on her biography in interviews over the next week. Is her interview schedule about to be scaled back?

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