During a rally last week for Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), the leading Republican candidate for the Senate seat being vacated by GOP Sen. Bob Corker, President Donald Trump publicly bashed the leading Democratic candidate in the race, former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen.
But earlier that day, while behind closed doors, Trump showered Bredesen with pseudo-praise and acknowledged the challenge his candidacy poses to the GOP.
What did Trump say publicly?
During the rally, which came after a private fundraising event, Trump said Bredesen, also a former mayor of Nashville, is "very liberal" and "an absolute total tool" for Democratic leaders.
"If Bredesen were ever to get elected, he’d do whatever Chuck [Schumer] and Nancy [Pelosi] want. You have to work with Marsha. We have to get the votes. We need the votes," Trump said.
The president told the crowd of about 5,000 that if they want their communities to remain safe then they need to stick with Republican candidates and "go out and get the Democrats the hell out of office."
Trump also referred to Bredesen as "Phil whatever-the-hell this guy's name is" and "Philbert," as if he did not know who Bredesen is.
But what did Trump say privately?
During the private event, Trump acknowledged Bredesen, who Tennessee voters see as a pragmatic leader with crossover appeal, is a formidable candidate and may flip control of Corker's seat to the Democratic Party.
"It’s close. It’s very close. She was down by a little bit a couple of months ago, now she’s pulled even. We’re in a very even race," Trump said, according to the Tennessean, which obtained audio from the event.
Trump, who spoke for about 15 minutes at the event — which cost between $2,700 and $44,000 to attend — said Bredesen is "tough," but noted his Democratic positions.
"He’s weaker on crime, he’s weaker on borders. He’s always going to vote for the Democrats," Trump said.
TheBlaze has reached out to the Bredesen campaign for comment, but did not receive an immediate reply. A campaign spokeswoman said after last week's public attacks that Bredesen is an "independent thinker" who will put the needs of his constituents ahead of political differences with the president.
What do the polls show?
According to the RealClearPolitics average of polls, Bredesen maintains a 5-point advantage over Blackburn. Each candidate faces several challengers in the primary election, which is scheduled on Aug. 2.