A prominent conservative group is buttressing Donald Trump’s quest to exact revenge on his GOP critics, targeting two Republicans who backed the former president’s impeachment.
The anti-tax Club for Growth is endorsing Max Miller, a former Trump White House aide running to unseat Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, who was one of 10 House Republicans to vote for Trump’s impeachment. The conservative organization is also this week dispatching an official to Wyoming to meet with prospective challengers to GOP Rep. Liz Cheney, another impeachment backer.
Club for Growth President David McIntosh, a Trump ally who’s been in contact with the former president, argued the two members were natural targets because they had strayed ideologically on economic issues and their impeachment votes had made them politically vulnerable.
“This is part of a strategy we’ve got this cycle. Where we see incumbents who are not good on the economic issues … when they stumble and become vulnerable, and there’s a good strong economic conservative on the other side, we’re going to look at that race and get involved in the primaries,” said McIntosh, a former Indiana congressman.
The move adds further pressure to Gonzalez and Cheney, both of whom Trump has targeted since leaving office. Trump singled out Cheney during his recent appearance at February’s Conservative Political Action Conference, deriding her as a “warmonger.” And in endorsing Miller last month, the former president said Gonzalez “should not be representing the people of” his district “because he does not represent their interest or their heart.”
Trump is set to headline a Wednesday fundraiser for Miller at his Mar-a-Lago estate. The event is also expected to be attended by several Senate candidates in Ohio, an illustration of how 2022 hopefuls are trying to align themselves with the president and against those that spurned him.
Nearly each of the 10 House Republicans who backed impeachment have drawn primary opponents, many of them staunch Trump allies. Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois is being challenged by Catalina Lauf, a Trump appointee to the Department of Commerce. Rep. Peter Meijer is facing pro-Trump activist Audra Johnson in Michigan. South Carolina Rep. Tom Rice, meanwhile, is facing a potential fight against conservative TV host and longtime Trump ally Eric Bolling.
Cheney has attracted opposition from a handful of Republican opponents, which could have the reverse effect of dividing the vote and helping her. But the Club is convinced that Cheney, and others, are ripe for ousting. The club is also considering targeting Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, whom Trump has said he will work to defeat in 2022.
“What the impeachment vote does is make them vulnerable to a primary challenger,” McIntosh said.
The Club last week conducted a survey finding the third-term Gonzalez trailing Miller, 39 percent to 30 percent. Just 34 percent said they had a favorable view of Gonzalez, a 36-year-old former NFL player. The poll had a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.
The organization is expected to bundle contributions for Miller, and its affiliated super PAC may also spend money in the primary. The group may take on other Republican incumbents who did not support impeachment, such as Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), whom the Club tried, and failed, to unseat last cycle.
The club spent heavily to defeat Trump in the 2016 primary, running TV ads savaging him as “the worst kind of politician.”
But it has since refashioned itself as a pro-Trump organization, aggressively backing his reelection and targeting his Republican critics, such as Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah. McIntosh has spoken with Trump several times since he left the White House about the organization’s plans to get involved in the 2022 midterm elections.
The Club has a long history of wading into Republican primary contests and taking on those who’ve diverged from its policy agenda. The organization’s willingness to go after incumbents has at times infuriated party leaders.
The Gonzalez team fired back, saying that the Club had “a long history of failing to vet their endorsed candidates and costing Republicans elections.”
“It’s no surprise they would rush into yet another Republican primary without doing their homework,” added Josette Milli, Gonzalez’s campaign manager. “We have no doubt that a fully informed electorate will vote to reelect Anthony Gonzalez to a third term.”
Kevin Seifert, a Cheney political adviser, said the congresswoman "knows the Republican Party is the party of Reagan and must stand for fidelity to the constitution, limited government, low taxes, a strong national defense and competent conservative leadership. Apparently, the Club for Growth has a different agenda.”
Trump’s desire to target impeachment backers has put Republican leaders in a tricky position, forcing them to choose between the former president and their own members. National Republican Congressional Committee Chair Tom Emmer (Minn.) has said the organization won’t engage in primaries. But the Congressional Leadership Fund, the principal pro-House GOP super PAC that defended Granger against the Club-fueled challenge last year, has said it is willing to take part in some primary contests.
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