You could feel Republican congressional candidate Todd McMurtry smiling through the phone.
President Donald Trump had just demanded incumbent Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie be expelled from the GOP for doing what the liberty apostle has done best in Congress — say no.
Massie declined to go along with a plan to vote on the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package by a voice vote, rather than a recorded vote. His move could have delayed its passage, and it forced a lot of representatives to travel to Washington during the pandemic.
“President Trump is clearly looking to get Rep. Thomas Massie replaced,” McMurtry told On Politics.
The Northern Kentucky attorney’s campaign has been tallying “Massie mistakes” since January, arguing Trump can’t count on the congressman when it matters.
“I don’t think it was one decision that led President Trump to call him a ‘disaster for America,’ ” McMurtry said. “It is a history of mistakes that put Thomas Massie at odds with President Trump and with the people of Kentucky.”
But never could there have been such a clearer example provided to the McMurtry campaign by the most important political voice in U.S. politics.
Massie, to his credit, remains wedded to the idea that got him elected judge-executive in Lewis County before the tea party movement took him to Washington.
Much like former Congressman Ron Paul — the liberty God — and Sen. Rand Paul — the liberty Christ — Massie has a zeal for defending his view of the Constitution, lowering the national debt and preserving individual freedom even in the face of a global pandemic.
“Most Libertarians think it was a good idea to require a vote,” said Ken Moellman, former chairman of the Libertarian Party of Kentucky.
Moellman, who ran for state treasurer in 2011, said what’s being forgotten is how members of Congress take an oath to uphold the Constitution and work for their constituents — not to serve the president.
“A large segment of the GOP has turned into the cult of Trump, with loyalty to Trump being more important than the Constitution, the national debt or anything else,” he said. “While Trump claimed he was going to ‘drain the swamp’ it appears that he has instead seized it by eminent domain, and wields it for his own use.”
Massie’s belief system will now have to test the limits of Trump’s gravitational pull on the GOP, which explains why many think before crossing the president.
Even after being lambasted as a “third rate grandstander” by the president, Massie continued to poke fun at himself — and the president.
“I’m at least second rate,” Massie told reporters moments after the March 27 vote when asked about Trump’s jab. “Gosh, I get no respect.”
Four days later Massie joined talk radio host Larry Glover Live where he said he had an “excited” and “mostly one-sided” conversation with Trump via telephone.
The talk took place on the morning of March 27, hours before the multi-trillion COVID-19 stimulus vote.
Massie’s office confirmed with On Politics how this phone call took place after Trump’s morning tirade trashing the congressman and demanding his ouster from the GOP.
“He wasn’t aware of tweets when he spoke with the president,” Massie spokesman Joshua Wilson said.
On the radio this week, Massie also alluded to being “offered inducements” and receiving “campaign threats” the day before speaking to Trump. He said he hopes constituents and others will “appreciate I didn’t take any of the bribes.”
Asked if Trump or any White House official were behind the stick and carrot approach the congressman described, Massie’s congressional spokesman said they were not but didn’t elaborate when asked who did offer the bribe.
Massie knows full well how important it is to be on Trump’s good side.
Why else would the congressman’s campaign spend money to run an ad in Florida during Super Bowl weekend when Trump was reportedly staying at his Mar-a-Lago resort.
“We ran it for two days in West Palm Beach, Florida, so President Trump could see exactly how our primary opponent feels about him,” Massie told On Politics in January.
Speaking on the radio this week, he made an overture to Trump supporters by reminding them how in 2017 the president had previously lashed out at the “Freedom Caucus” in Congress led by former Rep. Mark Meadows, of North Carolina, who now serves as White House chief-of-staff.
“The phone call that I received that morning may be the beginning of a good relationship,” Massie said.
Such a pointed presidential personal attack, however, has McMurtry’s people trying to find a way to get his name in front of the president.
“You show me how this benefited me politically,” Massie asked Glover on Tuesday. “I can’t find a way in which it does. I did it for principled reasons.”
Days earlier, however, the Massie campaign bragged how they raised more than $110,000 over that three-day period after Trump attacked him.
“I’m humbled by the hundreds of hard-working Americans who have supported my campaign over the last few days,” Massie said in that news release. “If Congress expects Americans to go to work, bagging groceries, delivering packages and growing food, then congressmen making a $174,000 a year should do their job and show up to vote on the biggest spending bill in the history of mankind.”
Maybe Rand Paul could give Massie some tips about getting back in the president’s good graces. Trump once said Paul reminded him of a “spoiled brat without a properly functioning brain,” but today they are golf buddies.