Let’s face it. The Club for Growth had a terrible year in 2014. After a terrible year, they are now shaking up their leadership, with Chris Chocola stepping down in favor of David McIntosh. Both are former Indiana congressmen, but the similarities don’t end there. Both also were defeated in their last bids for public office.
Just how bad a year did they have?
Let’s go through a quick rundown of every campaign they were involved with this year.
Justin Amash: their involvement on this campaign should already discredit them as a “conservative” organization. I’ve written fairly extensively (under a pseudonym, for reasons that aren’t worth going into) about Amash’s “conservatism,” but the crux of my point can be summed up in a few sentences from the article I linked to previously:
“Imagine, for a second, a congressman who votes to close Guantanamo Bay, votes against a Balanced Budget Amendment, votes against the Ryan Plan, votes with Obama 51% of the time, votes “present” on authorizing the Keystone Pipeline, votes against Iran sanctions, votes repeatedly against Israel, and who has an F from AMVETS.
We’re talking about the most liberal member of the House, right? After all, they have a dismal 18% rating from the pro-national security group Center for American Policy, barely scoring higher than Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.
What if I told you that, contrary to this voting record, this member is not in the pocket of the Democratic leadership, but is in fact a Republican?
After the initial shock, what if I told you that groups like Club for Growth are backing his candidacy to the hilt?
If votes against veterans, Israel, Keystone, and everything else in between don’t make someone a RINO (one of the most overused words in the political lexicon), I don’t know what does.
I have just described “conservative stalwart” Justin Amash to you, but from the way he presents himself, you probably wouldn’t have known about many of these votes of his.”
In case it wasn’t clear, I’m not a fan of Amash’s. However, he did win his primary, and the subsequent general election this year. Is that really thanks to Club for Growth? Not at all. Sadly, Amash’s opponent’s campaign never really gained the support from outside groups it needed to gain steam, so they can hardly take credit for his win.
Ben Sasse: the Nebraska senate race was one of the few places where the “establishment” candidate lost. However, since there was no incumbent in the race, this doesn’t really have the same significance that a win against, say, Thad Cochran, would have had (spoiler alert: Cochran won). I will consider this a win for the Club, since they were Sasse’s number one contributor among PACs, however it was far from unexpected.
Chris McDaniel: he won the primary, lost the runoff to Thad Cochran, and hopelessly embarrassed himself in the process, refusing to concede for just about forever. This was the scalp (so to speak) that groups like the Club needed to stay relevant. They lost.
Tom Cotton: Cotton won by 17 points in a state that has now shifted firmly into the Republican column. Cotton also completely cleared the primary field, so there were no alternatives for groups like the Club. Again, Cotton won by 17 points, so I don’t really consider this a win for them.
Bryan Smith: this was the House race where an incumbent was supposed to go down (remember that Eric Cantor was on no one’s radar as an incumbent who would lose), yet it’s an afterthought to just about everyone. He was crushed by Congressman Mike Simpson by over 20 points. For the Club, this was a massive loss, since Smith was recruited off of their own “primary my congressman” website (he graciously nominated himself, as I recall). To make matters worse for the Club, Simpson is a close ally of Boehner, so this was yet another missed opportunity to win an important primary.
Dan Sullivan: I successfully predicted from the start of this race that Sullivan would become the establishment favorite due to then-front runner Mead Treadwell’s weak fundraising. Lo and behold, I was right. I actually view this endorsement as a complete capitulation because they endorsed Joe Miller’s spectacularly failed bid only four years ago, and didn’t endorse him this time around.
John Ratcliffe: I’ll give them this win, because they did manage to successfully primary a congressman. That said, Ralph Hall was also the oldest member of congress, so I’m not sure how much that really says to begin with.
Chad Mathis: came in fourth in a primary field. Pretty obvious loss. They subsequently endorsed Gary Palmer in the runoff, which Palmer won.
Bob Johnson: Johnson lost in the primary, which is just as well, given his statement that “I’d rather see another terrorist attack, truly I would, than to give up my liberty as an American citizen.” Really sound endorsement strategy here…
Mike Pompeo: I approve of their endorsement of a sound national security conservative here.
Marilinda Garcia: Garcia was a solid candidate in the more liberal of New Hampshire’s two congressional districts. Again, they were far from the only group to support her, so even if she had won, I wouldn’t have given them sole credit.
That exhausts every single campaign they invested in this past election cycle. However, a discussion of their ineptitude would be incomplete without addressing two senate races from the 2012 election cycle: Wisconsin and Indiana.
In Wisconsin, Governor Tommy Thompson won a bruising primary (in which the Club endorsed third place finisher, Mark Neumann), and was left with…no money. In the weeks after the primary, Thompson struggled to raise funds to counter ads from Tammy Baldwin, who had won an uncontested Democratic primary. In my assessment, the election was over at this point, because Thompson had already been successfully defined in the eyes of the electorate before he even had time to respond. Of course Obama’s presence at the top of the ticket didn’t help him, and it’s hard to argue that the Club is responsible for Democrats winning this seat.
When turning to Indiana, however, it’s easier to blame the Club for Democrats taking a senate seat. Despite the fact that they proclaim their vetting process to be better than other, similar groups (such as the ones that endorsed Christine O’Donnell), their primary endorsement of Richard Mourdock (pretty much the definition of a flawed candidate, which I had pointed out from the start) and subsequent support for him absolutely contributed to Democrat Joe Donnelly’s victory (as did Mourdock’s comments that pregnancies from rape are “something god intended.”
With all of that said, let’s turn to two final ironies regarding Chocola and McIntosh.
Chocola actually lost his House seat to none other than Joe Donnelly, so it was almost a form of poetic justice to see Donnelly beat him once again in 2012 (in a more figurative sense). McIntosh also ran for congress again in 2012, and just barely lost a primary to now-Congresswoman Susan Brooks. McIntosh is also a close ally of Indiana Governor Mike Pence, yet his group’s support for Mourdock had an extremely negative impact on Pence on the ballot in 2012, as I wrote about here. Brooks is one of the more prominent graduates of the Lugar Series, a program dedicated to helping women forge career paths in politics.
For donors who are looking for an actual return on their investment, the Club is far from the place they want to go. It is painful to think about how many more seats we would have won in the past two election cycles if the group had better thought out where it would invest millions of dollars. Sadly, I don’t think a change of leadership will be able to right their boat.