Nov 29, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Why an anti-Trump group is running some pro-Trump ads

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Well-funded groups connected to the conservative Club for Growth have been spending millions this year to attack Donald Trump — while simultaneously running ads touting their endorsed GOP candidates' ties to Trump.

Why it matters: The pro-Trump ads funded by a group that is opposing him are the latest acknowledgement of the former president's deep appeal among some Republican voters before the 2024 presidential primaries begin.

Driving the news: Through a political action committee named Win It Back, the Club for Growth helped fund more than $6 million in ads in Iowa and South Carolina this year. The ads blasted Trump as a "three-time loser" and accused him of costing the GOP in the 2022 midterms, saying that his endorsements "make you lose."

  • At the same time, however, the Club for Growth and its PAC have funded ads in Kentucky and West Virginia's gubernatorial races touting their preferred candidates' ties to Trump.
  • In Kentucky, for example, the Super PAC known as Club for Growth Action ran a TV ad in the final weeks of the campaign stating: "Trump backs Daniel Cameron. If you stand with Trump, vote Cameron for governor."
  • Cameron, Kentucky's attorney general, lost to Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear (D) in November.

In West Virginia, the Club for Growth funded a PAC that sent out mailers this fall featuring Trump standing with 2024 gubernatorial candidate Patrick Morrisey (R).

  • The mailer quoted Trump — who hasn't endorsed anyone in that race yet — as saying that Morrisey has "got energy and a lot of talent."
  • The mailers were paid for by Black Bear PAC, which gets most of its money through Club for Growth Action, according to campaign finance records.
  • Through the first six months of 2023, $2.1 million of Black Bear's $2,147,500 raised came from Club for Growth Action.
  • The Club for Growth has indicated it will spend millions supporting Morrisey in the crowded GOP primary.
  • The Club for Growth and Morrisey declined to comment. The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Between the lines: The Club for Growth — which spent a combined $150 million on GOP candidates in 2020 and 2022 — has had an on-again off-again relationship with Trump since 2016, when it endorsed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the GOP presidential primary.

  • The relationship warmed during Trump's presidency but has since soured. The group made clear in early 2023 that it wouldn't back Trump in the 2024 primaries.

Since then, however, the Club for Growth has struggled to push GOP voters away from the former president.

  • In a September memo, Club for Growth president David McIntosh wrote that after testing more than 40 ads against Trump from Win it Back PAC, "all attempts to undermine his conservative credentials on specific issues were ineffective," as The New York Times first reported.
  • McIntosh said many conservative voters can be reached only by ads that begin with a nod to Trump.
  • "It is essential to disarm the viewer at the opening of the ad by establishing that the person being interviewed on camera is a Republican who previously supported President Trump," McIntosh said.
  • "Otherwise, the viewer will automatically put their guard up, assuming the messenger is just another Trump-hater whose opinion should be summarily dismissed."
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