TN GOP Removed Him From the Ballot, but Congressional Candidate Robby Starbuck Refuses to Back Down

Robby Starbuck with Former DNI Richard Grenell. Credit: Starbuck for Congress website, used with permission.

As RedState reported, three Tennessee candidates for U.S. Congress were removed from the 2022 primary election ballot by the Tennessee Republican Party after their status as “bona fide Republicans” was challenged by other members of the party.


As the Tennessean reported:

The Tennessee Republican Party on Tuesday voted to remove three congressional hopefuls from the primary ballot in the new-look 5th Congressional District, including a Trump-backed candidate whose campaign riled some political insiders in the state.

Morgan Ortagus, Baxter Lee and Robby Starbuck were voted off the primary ballot by the party’s executive committee, Tennessee Republican Chairman Scott Golden confirmed Tuesday

Republican officials last week confirmed official challenges had been filed against the three, which triggered a technical removal from the ballot per party bylaws.

While Ortagus and Lee made some protestations, they chose to accept the committee’s decision. Robby Starbuck is the only candidate who has chosen to fight back. As RedState’s Jennifer Van Laar exclusively reported last week, Starbuck’s attorney, Harmeet Dhillon, issued an evidence preservation notice to 17 members of the Tennessee GOP’s State Executive Committee (SEC) in preparation for potential litigation. That lawsuit has now been filed, and leaks (it seems to be the week for them) to NBC News suggest that the Tennessee GOP State Executive Committee’s actions may not have been on the up-and-up.

“The same 24 hours where they kicked me off the ballot, the SEC approved and amended one congressional candidate, who did not have three out of four primaries, and who had only a couple of vouching letters.

“And that’s it. It’s for a U.S. congressional race, you know. So, it’s the same office, different standards for him.”


The plot thickens. The opinion of the select few who voted to remove Starbuck were leaked as well, and it appears their thoughts do not match up with the opinions of those in the statewide Republican body. Starbuck explains:

“So, a tape leaked out. Apparently, NBC got it. They asked me for comment on it, and one of the things from it that I thought was interesting is like one of the people in the Davidson GOP said to one of the SEC members, ‘Look, I’m not going to lie: Robby has done more for the Republican Party than I ever have, and probably more than any of you have.'”

“And the fact that they’re causing this division within the party is just really terrible, you know, because they also said — in that video, the Young Republicans chair from Nashville said that I had brought more members and more volunteers than anybody ever has to the Young Republicans.

“They went from a group of 16 people to over 100 who are active now at everything, and the [Young Republican chair] is like, we’ve never had anything like that.

“And then the County party said the same thing: they never had as many volunteers or donors as they have now. And they’re like, you’re just, you know, putting all that in jeopardy because of whatever it is you guys decided in that secret meeting and then you want to keep them off the ballot?”


Starbuck hasn’t lived in Tennessee long enough to have voted in three of the last four statewide primaries, which is one of the qualifications in the Tennessee Republican Party bylaws to get on the ballot. However, the bylaws provide for candidates who cannot meet that requirement to prove their “bona fide” status by providing vouching letters from local party officials or officials of affiliated organizations, such as Young Republicans or Republican Women Federated. Along with the lawsuit, Starbuck appealed their decision and petitions were made to the executive committee asking the reasons behind their vote to remove.

Starbuck read me a text response from one executive committee member that suggested their vote to leave him off the ballot was based on a nonexistent residency requirement:

“I voted because of the new state residency law. [Ortagus] nor Starbuck met the new law. And Lee had voted for a Democrat.”

Starbuck also got wind of commentary that because of his past work in the entertainment industry as a director of music video to certain rap groups, that his work did not represent “Republican” values.

“Some of the things that we’ve heard since then have been that — you know, obviously the residency thing came into play, but also that some of the members considered things that are like just wildly inappropriate.

“Some of them apparently watched music videos I directed, and decided that I can’t be a Republican.

“It’s just ludicrous. Like, do we want to lose forever as a party?”


Apparently so. So much for the “Big Tent” party. In Tennessee, litmus and purity tests appear to be an unwritten standard.

This commitment to seasoned fossils who have come up through the party ranks while doing nothing to further republicanism outside of their bubble seem to be just fine with them. The Tennessee GOP is instead undermining fresh faces who bring new energy and new recruits into the party. This is a perfect example of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

But the “good ole boy” antics do not stop there. The original U.S. District Court judge assigned to Starbuck’s lawsuit was William L. Campbell Jr. Judge Campbell had to recuse himself because his mother is Tennessee Republican Party executive committee member Beth Campbell.

The new assigned judge is the Chief Justice of the Middle Tennessee District Court and has a reputation for going by the book. Starbuck says there are procedural requirements the TRP didn’t abide by, and hopes the judge will see that the party’s actions set a bad precedent:

“Everybody we’ve talked to says that he tends to be a stickler for procedure, So, I think that he may look at this and be able to — this is just kind of like reading tea leaves. I think he may look at something like this and see very clearly they didn’t abide by the procedures and the rules here, because they were also supposed to notify me…with a two-day period by certified mail that I had two days to appeal after the vote, and they didn’t do that.

“But I appealed anyway, and they never responded to the appeal. So that, plus the fact that we have evidence of SEC members voting on things that are not in the bylaws, it may lead [the judge] to the perspective: ‘What precedent is this setting?'”


Whatever the outcome, it is the voters who have backed, supported, and championed Starbuck who are ultimately being shafted. Starbuck agrees.

“Because it’s very clear, I mean, you’re disenfranchising thousands of voters here and you’re allowing, you know, an elected group of people to do that.

“I think it’s enraging, you know, honestly, that a group of people would think that they should overrule voters.”

Without any prompting from Starbuck, his supporters took it upon themselves to call the members of the Tennessee Republican Party executive committee to make their displeasure known.

“SEC members have turned their phones off because of phone calls, which is kind of funny.”

“This is just angry people looking up the SEC numbers. I kind of felt like it was not going to be helpful to us if we flooded them with thousands of calls, but apparently they’ve gotten hundreds and hundreds of calls anyway.”

As much as Democrats and Republicans are doing their utmost to game the direction of the midterms, both parties are going to be in for a rude awakening.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece was edited post-publication to reflect that Starbuck is using the vouching letters method to prove his “bona fide Republican” status and to clarify quoted material.)



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