A political newcomer who is proudly “ultra-MAGA”
From poverty in the Deep South to success as a conservative commentator and homeschool mom
Kathy Barnette gained national attention in the final few weeks of her campaign in Pennsylvania to earn the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. But her surge in the polls wasn’t quite enough to win against two billionaire candidates: former CEO David McCormick and television celebrity heart surgeon Mehmet Oz, who received an endorsement from former President Donald Trump and clinched the nomination after a close runoff.
She is a former reservist in the U.S. Army Reserve and the National Guard, a political commentator, a corporate financial analyst, and a homeschool mom. She also wrote a book about being black and conservative. During the campaign, she faced scrutiny for past social media posts calling Islam evil and saying it should not be allowed in the United States. Barnette denied posting some and said others were “incomplete thoughts.”
I sat down with Kathy in her home office in the Philadelphia suburbs to chat about her experience.
What got you into politics? I grew up on a little pig farm in southern Alabama in a one-stop-sign town. I grew up below the bottom rung of the economic ladder in a home with no insulation, no running water, and an outhouse out back and a well on the side. I can’t help but to compare and contrast how I grew up in that environment compared to how my babies are growing up today. I am a black woman, married to a black man, raising black babies, and it is very different when I compare how I grew up, truly in dire straits, relative to how my own children are growing up. I don’t recall anyone ever looking at me and saying, “Kathy, you’re black, a woman, and poor. All the odds are against you. You might as well hang it up.”
I grew up understanding the reality of slavery. My great, great, great-grandmother was a slave in that little house that I described. My grandparents listened to the news every night, and I just paid attention. I always had some kind of interest in the world around me and how politics shaped that world, whether or not I knew how to articulate it at the time.
Explain the shift that happened from voting Democrat to becoming a Republican candidate. In my book, I talk about how I was born into the Democratic Party just like I was born into brown skin. No one ever talked about which party you were going to vote for. It was just what you did. I was so excited to finally vote, so excited to take part in this civic opportunity as an American, and I read about the people who were running. And yet, I still walked right in and voted straight Democrat. You don’t even understand the impact of the subliminal messaging that’s going on in your subconscious that you may not necessarily be aware of.
For someone like me, a black woman growing up in the Deep South, the cost that was paid for me to be able to vote gave me a sense of responsibility. But now I was on the cusp of this new realization of understanding what my values were and being determined to vote those things responsibly. And of course, I found that to be more so within the Republican Party than the Democratic Party.
What did you learn from campaigning? We have very few leaders, even on our side of the political aisle, who are incentivized to do the right thing, solely because it’s the right thing. I would often say to people, there is no one coming to save you. There’s no one coming to rescue us, especially those two years living here in Pennsylvania where Governor Tom Wolf was shutting down businesses, shutting down schools, and people being forced to take a jab whether they wanted to or not. And I heard a whole host of other just insidious things that were going on. Most Republicans looked to the Republican Party. They were being suppressed on social media, being called a domestic terrorist solely for speaking up at a school board meeting. And that is very alarming. Our nation is grappling with some very real issues that are going to have immediate consequences on our nation. And so to look at those who have been given the wonderful responsibility to go represent the people and not really be incentivized by the right thing is alarming.
How did the final few weeks before the May primary go? It wasn’t so much the Left who started attacking me, it was Republicans. They weren’t questioning my bona fides as a conservative or my ideas or my policies. The goal was—we cannot let her win. And I felt that they were extremely reckless in their behavior. It was eye-opening. What I began to realize is that many within the Republican establishment treat MAGA conservatives the same way Democrats treat black people: shut up, do as you’re told. They don’t represent our values. We now have red flag laws and Lindsey Graham usurping the will of many of the people on Roe v. Wade by calling for a 15-week ban.
Media sources often called you an “ultra-MAGA” candidate. So why didn’t Trump endorse you? Trump did a tremendous amount of good, I will never knock that. I don’t have anything critical to say about the policies he put in place when he was in office. I agreed with all of them. And yet, he has a tremendous amount of influence. My hope is that he matures and uses it wisely. I don’t believe he, in all cases, has used that influence wisely in making critical endorsements. I believe he is one of those people who is more incentivized to do the right thing than others. My hope is that he protects that voice and that influence because it’s not a given. He’s not our savior. We never aligned with his values, he aligned with ours. And because he aligned with our values, we supported him. That support is not unconditional. We are not robots or automatons. We should expect our leaders to represent us. The moment that they choose not to represent us, we should show them the door.
So what does “ultra-MAGA” mean? To me, it means gas being $1.89 a gallon. Ultra-MAGA means a secure border, that we know who’s coming into our country, where they’re going, how they’re going to take care of themselves if they even like us or not. Ultra-MAGA means my children get to go to school without someone telling them they’re a victim because of the color of their skin, or somehow the color of their skin does not give them privileges that the color of your skin gives you.
So is the Republican Party at odds with conservative values? I am loyal to those values above and beyond a party. But as I qualified earlier, we are a two-party system. So if you want to effect change, I don’t think we have the time to develop another party. So if you want to effect change, this is where we find ourselves. I think we have approached this point where people are not willing to hold their nose any longer and vote for the lesser of two evils. I believe we’re fast approaching that which may spell doom for the Republican Party and some of these races that we have going on.
You’ve been open about your Christian faith. How does it inform your political positions? I believe that God has a role for America. This is where my hope primarily comes from: the fact that I don’t believe that this is the end of this great experiment. Or, as Benjamin Franklin said, “It’s a republic, if you can keep it.” I believe that there is a growing number of Americans who are willing to do what is necessary to keep it, but it’s going to become harder.
I heard a couple of our political leaders say America is an idea. America is not just an idea, America has a border. It’s a location on the map. Traditional American values have made us strong. And so I do not believe that it is hypocrisy, to be able to say I believe that our strength is in our diversity and our openness. I do not believe in Christian nationalism. But at the exact same time, I do believe that there are some traditional American values that we should hold on to and preserve, and that these things are right, and we should fight for them.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
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