Morgan Ortagus, Trump-Backed Candidate, Accuses GOP Senator of Antisemitism

A Trump-backed Republican candidate for the House of Representatives who was removed from the ballot by the state GOP has accused a fellow Republican who sought her removal of antisemitism.

Former State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus was removed from the August primary ballot on Tuesday along with two other candidates following a vote by the Tennessee Republican Party.

Ortagus, who had been endorsed by former President Donald Trump for Tennessee's 5th district, had faced a long-running effort by several local Republicans to remove her from the ballot because she had only moved to the state recently.

Morgan Ortagus Speaks at a Press Conference
Former State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus is seen during a press conference at the State Department in Washington, DC on June 24, 2020. Ortagus has been removed from the Republican primary ballot for Tennessee's 5th congressional district. MANDEL NGAN/POOL/AFP/Getty Images

The GOP-led legislature recently passed legislation that would have prevented her from running if it had come into effect before the filing deadline on April 7. It did not because Republican Governor Bill Lee did not sign it. But since it wasn't signed or vetoed within 10 days, the bill automatically became law. However, it didn't go into effect until after the filing deadline for candidates.

The law, which does not allow people to run in primary elections unless they have lived in Tennessee for at least three years, was championed by state Senator Frank Niceley. He made reference to the fact that Ortagus is Jewish during a previous interview about removing her from the ballot, according to NBC News.

"I don't think Trump cares one way or the other," Niceley 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."

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, former President Trump's daughter and son-in-law, are Jewish.

When an NBC News report highlighted Niceley's remarks on Tuesday, Ortagus shared the story and a screenshot of the quote on Twitter.

"Anti-Semitism is the oldest and one of the most vile forms of hatred on this earth, and Senator Niceley should be ashamed of his repeated anti-Semitic rhetoric. I am incredibly proud to call myself a part of the Jewish people," Ortagus wrote.

Ortagus added in a later tweet: "I have always called out anti-Semitism when I see it in all of its forms. I will condemn anyone who traffics in this hate-mongering."

"Senator Niceley's repulsive words could not be more clear in disparaging the Jewish people. This racism cannot stand," she said.

In a statement to Newsweek on Wednesday, Niceley said: "In an extended interview with NBC News, a fake news reporter decided to take a small portion of my comments out of context in order to manufacture a controversy to distract people from the fact that Morgan Ortagus was declared ineligible for the ballot by both the Tennessee Republican Party and the General Assembly."

"Let me be clear: I have nothing but respect for the Jewish people and the State of Israel. Attempting to construe my off-hand comments about the Trump family as antisemitism is unfair and inaccurate," Niceley said.

Senator Niceley recently made headlines after he cited Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler as an example of someone who had been homeless but went on to have a productive life, though he also described the dictator's life as "very unproductive."

Ortagus also said she was "deeply disappointed" in the decision to remove her from the primary ballot.

The party's State Executive Committee was able to remove Ortagus and two other candidates from the ballot based on its own authority. Candidates who do not adhere to the party's bylaws can be removed. The Ortagus campaign has said she has followed the bylaws.

"I'm a bonafide Republican by their standards, and frankly, by any metric. I'm further disappointed that the party insiders at the Tennessee Republican Party do not seem to share my commitment to President Trump's America First policies," Ortagus said in a statement.

"As I have said all along, I believe that voters in Middle Tennessee should pick their representative—not establishment party insiders," she said. "Our team is evaluating the options before us."

Newsweek has asked Morgan Ortagus for comment, as well as Trump's office and the Tennessee Republican Party.

Update 04/20/22 10:46 a.m. ET: This article was updated to include a statement from Frank Niceley.