2022 midterms

2022 Is the Year of the Political Carpetbagger

Have money, will travel. Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer. Photos: Getty Images

There seems to be a small epidemic of political carpetbagging in 2022. Now this is hardly a new phenomenon. Aside from the original carpetbaggers — men from the North who moved to the South after the Civil War to run for and hold offices — there have been famous cases in the past of pols conveniently discovering a new constituency. (In New York, for example, Senators Robert F. Kennedy and Hillary Clinton had few ties to the Empire State before running there, in 1964 and 2000, respectively.)

In some cases, such as Pennsylvania Senate candidate Mehmet Oz, the candidates in question are from far away and at least appear to have found a new home in order to pursue political careers, whatever they say about it. Others, like former Oregon Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nicholas Kristof, Pennsylvania Senate candidate David McCormick, and Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker, have roots in the jurisdiction they hope to represent but haven’t lived there lately, at least until the political itch convulsed them. And still another candidate, North Carolina U.S. House aspirant Bo Hines, conspicuously relocated from one side of his state to another to order to take advantage of a congressional opening.

Some of these carpetbaggers have faced legal challenges to their qualifications to run in their new environs. One, Kristof, was knocked off the Democratic primary ballot after the Oregon Supreme Court upheld a three-year residency requirement that is right there in the state’s constitution. Two others, Tennessee U.S. House candidates Morgan Ortagus and Robby Starbuck, have been tentatively removed from the Republican primary ballot in the Fifth District of Tennessee by the state GOP, which requires candidates to have voted in three of the last four primaries in their district. Oz, McCormick, Walker, and Hines have faced no legal issues. In Hines’s case, it’s relevant to know that the Constitution only requires that House candidates live in the state in which they are running, so candidates like him who move around to respond to redistricting (there are many others around the country who moved shorter distances and thus didn’t attract so much hostile attention) are vulnerable to political blowback but no legal inhibitions.

It is relevant to this year’s surge in carpetbagging that a number of these candidates (Oz, Ortagus, Walker, and Hines) have been endorsed by Donald Trump (all but Oz probably wouldn’t be running without prior encouragement from the 45th president). Trump and his family, of course, are part of that elite cosmopolitan world in which it’s common to own properties in various states (and countries) and move around whenever it’s convenient. From Trump’s point of view, a candidate being from deep in MAGA nation is probably more important than residency in any particular part of it.

While there has been local grumbling about all of Trump’s carpetbag endorsements (particularly that of Oz given the availability of other Trump fans in the field and fellow carpetbagger McCormick’s athletic efforts to surround himself with associates of the former president), it’s grown especially nasty and divisive in Tennessee, where just about every Republican wears a red hat all day long and Trump endorsee Ortagus has zero local ties. As NBC News reports, State Senator Frank Niceley, who backs one of Ortagus’s rivals, not so nicely suggested the endorsement was a Jewish thing:

“I don’t think Trump cares one way or the other,” he said. “I think Jared Kushner — he’s Jewish, she’s Jewish — I think Jared will be upset. Ivanka will be upset. I don’t think Trump cares.”

Anti-Semitism aside, Niceley is likely alluding not just to the candidate’s religion but to her conversion to Judaism from Evangelical Christianity — and particularly her wedding to a Jewish man in the chambers of liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (a vacation-season neighbor of her then-fiancé). Questions of residency aside, this makes Ortagus something of a cultural carpetbagger to the overwhelmingly conservative Evangelical Republicans of the Fifth District of Tennessee.

So part of what is being tested in the GOP primaries of 2022 is whether Trump can make carpetbaggers kosher, so to speak, whenever and wherever he wants. Beyond that, of course, money and celebrity will always matter as much as authentic home cooking.

2022 Is the Year of the Political Carpetbagger