Two Dons and a Marsha

Betty BeanKnox Scene

Marsha Blackburn wants to be vice president. This is not news to anyone who’s halfway paying attention to politics – nobody takes winter junkets to New Hampshire and Iowa or spends long weekends in Mar-a-Lago flirting with Donald Trump just for the fun of it.

The senior senator from Tennessee* has always had that yearning, burning feeling inside of her that she was meant for great things, and this hasn’t changed as she approaches her 70th birthday. The key to her success is the 45th POTUS. And this will remain so until his polling numbers take a nosedive.

(*Sorry, old-timers. I know it gives you heartburn to hear her called that, but Blackburn’s popular with the young bloods who’ve recently moved here from New Jersey and California and don’t give a fig about Howard Henry or Fred or Lamar or anybody named Bill or Bob. Plus, they think you’re all RINOs.)

Meanwhile, Blackburn hasn’t put a foot wrong while playing to the Trump base, although the rat’s nest bouffant she sported while attempting to match wits with Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson might have been a wee bit much for Old ’45, who is famously critical of the way women ought to look. Being the 1970 Cantaloupe Queen will only take a girl so far.

But The Donald, as he was famously christened by his first wife, would be well-served to acquaint himself with the fate of the first Don who mentored Marsha Blackburn, a Mississippi native who took her talents to Nashville where she parlayed her beauty pageant bona fides and her home economics degree into a high-profile marketing job at Castner Knott department store that left her with lots of free time to get active in Williamson County Republican politics. Link to interview.

Ad for Marsha Blackburn as image consultant

Blackburn made a lot of friends within the GOP while as she worked her way up, but nobody was more crucial to her start than Gov. Don Sundquist, who was being leaned on by Williamson County GOP leaders to help her raise her statewide profile. He obliged them in 1995 by appointing her executive director of the Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music Commission, where she made many connections in the entertainment industry, particularly in the music sector. To this day, she touts these ties as her greatest strengths.

I haven’t asked her, but I’d bet a bunch that she does not count Sundquist as a mentor. That relationship went sour after the governor declined to pay the high-dollar invoice she submitted for expenses incurred on a prospecting trip to Los Angeles, where she stayed at a five-star hotel and hired a limousine to ferry her around the city.


Blackburn took great exception to being asked to pay her own extravagant way and demonstrated her displeasure by burning the invoice and mailing the ashes back to the governor’s office. The story got out, of course, but clearly didn’t hurt her. Marsha Blackburn expenses

She was elected to the state Senate on the strength of her anti-tax stand and became even more popular with the right wing of her party when she jumped out in front of the parade opposing Sundquist’s tax reform initiative, which was doomed to tank and left him in GOP purgatory for acting on good intentions and sound fiscal advice. Marsha, of course, kicked him to the curb.

Longtime Republicans still shake their heads over the way she treated Republican Leader Ben Atchley, whose stock-in-trade was working collaboratively across the aisle and whose nickname was “Gentleman Ben.”

“Anybody who couldn’t get along with Ben Atchley…” said one lifelong Republican.

Blackburn moved up to the House of Representatives and was buoyed by the Tea Party movement after Barack Obama was elected in 2008.

Ask Republicans who have served with her to describe her, and the word you’ll hear most often is “ruthless.” So, if Donald Trump (the Second Don for the purpose of this column) finds himself on a downward slide – which appears to be happening – he’d better not depend on the likes of Marsha Blackburn to rescue him. The first Don could set him straight on that one.

Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for

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  1. Pingback: A look at four Republicans who could be vying for the vice presidency – The News Beyond Detroit

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