Jul 28, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Trump team blames conservative for loser endorsement


Donald Trump at rally in Texas. Photo: Dylan Hollingsworth/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Donald Trump's advisers are angry at David McIntosh, president of the conservative Club for Growth, for persuading the former president to endorse a losing candidate in the special election for Texas' 6th District.

Why it matters: Susan Wright's defeat Tuesday in a Republican runoff with Navy veteran Jake Ellzey dealt a blow to Trump's aura of invincibility as a Republican kingmaker. It's critical to his 2022 midterm endorsements and continued hold on the GOP.

  • Trump advisers and allies have been ambivalent about the Club's advice and thought he should stay out of this Republican-on-Republican contest.
  • They take the long view and are protective of his successful record — so far — in GOP primary endorsements.
  • McIntosh did not respond to repeated requests for comment from Axios.

Trump himself disputed the result had dented his power. In a phone call with Axios on Wednesday, the former president conceded McIntosh had pushed him to support Wright but blamed Democrats — not the Club for Growth — for Ellzey's victory.

  • He also said he actually "won" because Wright had bested Ellzey in the initial primary and the runoff came down to two Republicans he liked.

"I think this is the only race we've lost together," Trump said of McIntosh and the Club for Growth, before catching himself mid-sentence on the word "lost."

  • "This is the only race we've ... this is not a loss, again, I don't want to claim it is a loss, this was a win. …The big thing is, we had two very good people running that were both Republicans. That was the win."
  • Trump is notorious for shifting or refusing to accept blame for any failure, whether as a businessman or a politician.
  • The Club for Growth spent more than $1 million on the run-off, making it easily the top outside spender.

Behind the scenes: In private conversations with Trump, McIntosh pushed the former president hard to throw his weight behind Wright.

  • She's the widow of Rep. Ron Wright (R-Texas), whose death from COVID-19 vacated the seat.
  • In these conversations with Trump, McIntosh painted Ellzey as non-conservative and anti-Trump, according to sources familiar with their conversations.
  • McIntosh appealed to Trump's vendetta-streak by telling him that the Never-Trumper Bill Kristol had previously donated money to Ellzey (it was a paltry $250 in 2018).
  • McIntosh also mentioned to Trump that Ellzey didn't want to join the Freedom Caucus — a group of ultra-conservative House Republicans who are fervently pro-Trump.

Between the lines: The Wright campaign and the Club for Growth also cited internal polling to reassure Team Trump of Wright's strength. The polling proved to be way off.

  • An early June survey from the Wright campaign had her up by 15 points and a survey last week — by the American Viewpoint research company used by the Wright campaign — had her leading Ellzey by 10 points, 44%-34%, according to a source with direct knowledge of the results.
  • The Club for Growth's own polling also had Wright up by double digits, said a source familiar.

What we're hearing: Trump advisers and allies, including former Texas governor and Trump administration Energy secretary Rick Perry, remain furious at McIntosh.

  • "He [Trump] totally was taken to the cleaners by the Club for Growth," said Perry, who has a long and close relationship with Ellzey. "There has to be a reckoning for the Club for Growth. …This whole debacle for the president can be centered on the Club for Growth and David McIntosh."
  • Perry said he called Trump a few months ago — before he'd endorsed Wright — and told him to stay out of the race because he had a great candidate called Ellzey down in Texas. Trump ignored his advice.
  • "For the Club for Growth to have actively tried to destroyed this guy's reputation, …you've gotta be shi—ing me," said Perry, who called Ellzey an "American hero."
  • "That's what I've come to understand about David McIntosh and the Club for Growth," Perry said. "They will say anything, do anything. And they put Donald J. Trump in jeopardy.”
  • "In the state of Texas, Mr. McIntosh, we care about character and we care about the truth," Perry added, "and we would just as soon the Club for Growth never darken the state of Texas again."

Bottom line: A source close to the situation said they think Trump will be more cautious about whose advice he listens to when it comes to intervening in Republican primaries.

  • Other Trump advisers said the episode has damaged the Club for Growth's credibility.
  • They also acknowledged the former president can't afford too many more losses if he wants to preserve his power inside the Republican Party.
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