(Ben Sellers, Headline USA) Although former President Donald Trump’s barrages of volatile Truth-storms are rarely shocking anymore, one Feb. 7 post might have caught his followers off-guard.
In it, Trump attacked Club for Growth, a fundraising powerhouse that amassed an impressive track-record for victories in the 2018 and 2020 election cycles, even as Republicans faced hostile tradewinds elsewhere.
Trump called it “an assemblage of political misfits, globalists, and losers [that] fought me incessantly and rather viciously during my presidential run in 2016.”
Yet, the message—which came after Club for Growth’s decision to invite several of Trump’s likely campaign rivals to its annual donor retreat—may have done little more than to underscore the organization’s tremendous clout as a potential kingmaker, both in the GOP’s intra-party battles and in the general election.
Club for Growth remained deeply loyal to Trump during his presidency, and even voiced its unequivocal support following the disputed 2020 election. But according to its president, David McIntosh, the group is eager to at least explore its other options for 2024.
“What we’ve found in the last year is that President Trump, whom we worked with a lot to get good tax policy done, scale back on regulations—a lot of good policy that he did as president—but there’s just a segment of voters out there who will vote for Republicans, but for whatever reason, they don’t like his style,” McIntosh told Headline USA in an exclusive interview Tuesday.
“It’s very personal, but it’s very intense. They won’t vote for him,” he continued. “So what we thought is, ‘Let’s use our big conference to showcase some of the other people that could be alternatives.'”
McIntosh said the motivating factor was being able to promote a healthy dialogue among prospective challengers—including former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, former Vice President Mike Pence and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis—without having Trump’s larger-than-life presence overshadow its focus on policy discussions.
“The way I look at it is, we can’t afford to have four more years of Joe Biden or some other hyper-liberal that the Democrats are going to put up, so let’s make sure we’ve got a candidate who’s a true conservative and who can win,” McIntosh said. “President Trump didn’t like that and … called the Club for Growth all sorts of names.”
However, as far as McIntosh is concerned, the rift already is water under the bridge.
“To me, it’s not personal,” he said.
“If he [Trump] wins the nomination, we’ll be there to support him because he would certainly do a good job as president,” McIntosh continued. “It’ll just be more of an uphill climb to be able to make sure that we can win back the White House.”
In fact, it may soon be necessary for the two former allies to reconcile in order to neutralize what both see as a serious threat within the party from establishment RINOs like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who continues to undermine the GOP’s conservative wing.
HERE COMES THE CAVALRY
As the old media saying goes, “if it bleeds, it leads.” That holds true in particular if the blood happens to be Republican.
From “Trump versus DeSantis” to the intra-party standoff in January between would-be House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and a group of roughly 20 GOP holdouts, the leftist press has lapped up any hint of dissention in party ranks that allows them to tout Democrats’ monolithic groupthink as the pinnacle of a functioning federal government.
For better or worse, McIntosh often finds himself at the center of the scrum, using his leverage as leader of the country’s largest independent super-PAC to advance true conservative values.
“We’re sort of the cavalry when conservative members … fight hard like that,” he said. “If the party starts to punish them, we’re able to come in … and support them and provide them the resources and the money they need to win their election.”
McIntosh mentioned that anyone can get involved with Club for Growth by going onto its website and making a donation, all of which goes directly toward supporting the slate of carefully vetted candidates.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the group’s political arm spent more than $100 million in the 2022 election cycle.
That included $20 million in direct contributions and $81 million in independent expenditures supporting candidates like Sens. Ted Budd of North Carolina and Mike Lee of Utah, both of whom found themselves in uncomfortably tight races that otherwise might have given Democrats another seat-flip.
In some cases, Club for Growth split with Trump in the primaries—the first sign of strain on their relationship. It supported the failed primary runs of ex-Rep. Mo Brooks in Alabama, former state Treasurer Josh Mandel in Ohio, and Kathy Barnette in Pennsylvania.
Although Trump’s pick prevailed in all three primaries and two of the general election races, his endorsement of celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania may have contributed to election night’s biggest loss for Republicans.
Club for Growth also invested in a crop of next-generation Republicans like newly elected Rep. Anna Paulina Luna of Florida, and Bo Hines, a rising star in North Carolina who—like many Republican hopefuls—was broadsided by Democrats’ successful get-out-the-vote strategies in what was expected to be a red-wave election.
McIntosh chalked up the Left’s success in the midterms to its focus on abortion, its vilification of Republicans as a threat to democracy, and its emphasis on early voting and ballot-harvesting.
“In many places, over half the vote was already cast before Election Day and Republicans were way behind in it, so we had to make sure we had a huge turnout on Election Day just to come back to be competitive,” he said.
A GROWTH MINDSET
Some of Club for Growth’s picks, such as would-be senators Adam Laxalt in Nevada and Blake Masters in Arizona, fell in close elections due to mail-in voting—something McIntosh said it was high time for Republicans to lean into.
“One way to think of it is those elections are no longer about who has the best ideas, the right ideas for the country,” he said.
“They’re no longer about the personality of the candidates—‘Are they a good candidate or not?’,” he continued. “It’s all about who can harvest the most ballots and turnout, and we lost that.”
After two election cycles that Republicans have largely spent trying to resist the reckless push toward mass mail-in voting, McIntosh said it may now be necessary to beat the Left at its own game in order to avoid becoming the permanent minority party.
“We don’t like the rule changes,” he said. “We think that it’s open to fraud. But until we convince people to go to more secure balloting … we have to compete with the rules the way they are.”
It also was incumbent upon Republicans in office to demonstrate clear and decisive leadership that puts conservatism front and center.
McIntosh faulted the party for lacking a “coherent plan of where they would lead the country,” which contributed in no small part to the losses that cost Republicans a shot at reclaiming the Senate majority.
Although Club for Growth sees the 2024 field as one largely favorable to the GOP—including vulnerable Democrats in states like West Virginia, Montana and Arizona—it could prove to be another fiasco if feckless leaders like Mitch McConnell put their own special interests ahead of what is best for the broader cause.
McIntosh, himself a former congressman and Indiana gubernatorial candidate, slammed McConnell for having recently joined Democrats to smear Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who also is likely to face a tough re-election in 2024.
“I’m starting to raise the question: Is Mitch McConnell really able to lead us back to a majority, or is he so focused on his own internecine fighting with another member of the Senate that he’s he’s taken his eye off the ball in terms of making sure Republicans can win the majority there?” McIntosh said. “… It was very disturbing to us to see that type of inappropriate leadership.”
CLEANING UP THE HOUSE
Their mutual distrust of McConnell may be one area where McIntosh and Trump still see eye to eye.
Trump has remained a vocal critic of the “Old Crow” McConnell and questioned the senator’s ties to China via his wife, former Trump Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, the scion of a major U.S. shipping company that does buiness with the Chinese communist government.
“President Trump keeps raising that question—and we look at the spending bills, where [McConnell] teams up with the Democrats to give us these huge omnibus bills that lead to inflation and a lot of the economic problems we have, and scratch our heads, ‘Why is the Republican leader cutting those kind of deals?'” McIntosh said.
Club for Growth does not, however, share Trump’s affinity for McCarthy, the current House speaker, whom the former president has dubbed “my Kevin.”
McIntosh noted that the standoff between McCarthy and several GOP lawmakers, led members of the House Freedom Caucus, ahead of McCarthy’s election as speaker was an absolutely necessary conflict, even though it allowed Democrats to relish in the spectacle.
“Kevin McCarthy has always been suspicious of conservatives,” McIntosh said. “He’s not a conservative himself—and so, they wanted to make sure that the core of the party, the conservatives, would be in leadership positions and would be able to have a voice at the table and help steer the Republican majority.”
After a multi-day saga that included 15 rounds of voting with no decisive result, Club for Growth stepped in to help bring the negotiations back into focus, along the way securing many of the conservatives’ priorities as concessions.
“Thankfully, the margin was small enough that they could use that speaker election as a leverage point, and that the things they negotiated for will make the Republican House much better, much more democratic,” McIntosh said.
“It will make Kevin McCarthy a better speaker,” he added. “I think he’s starting to see that and embrace it now.”
As part of the deal, Club for Growth also persuaded McCarthy not to unleash his super-PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, against conservative candidates in critical primary races.
“That’s a huge change, because he had spent about $40 million in primaries—that group did—that could have been used in the fall to win more seats,” McIntosh said.
“So, they’ve agreed to that and we’ve agreed that we’ll continue to be able to get the best conservative into those primaries,” he added. “And it will make it a stronger Republican House.”
Ben Sellers is the editor of Headline USA. Follow him at twitter.com/realbensellers.