Whistling past the graveyard?

Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty

Club for Growth's Presidential Aspirations

Jeanne Cummings writes on money, lobbying and politics. As political editor for Bloomberg News, she directed coverage of the 2012 and 2014 elections. The 2016 race marks her seventh presidential campaign.
Read More.
a | A

As Republicans gear up to challenge Democrats in 2016, David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth, says he is eager for the party to end its internecine combat. "If we want to try to win the White House, we've got to eliminate the inner-party warfare and find some way of having common ground," he said. That, of course, will require compromise -- at least on someone's part. "The way I'd like to say it is, we convince them to go with our picks and avoid the fight that way."

The Club, which backs the candidacies of Republicans on the most libertarian, free-market edge of the ideological spectrum, can afford not to give in. House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have to worry about members who represent purple districts and states, where the Club's aggressive agenda of sharp tax cuts, regulatory rollbacks and spending cuts can be a difficult sell. The Club, meanwhile, focuses most of its resources on candidates in "safer, Republican red state districts," McIntosh said, "because once they get there, they are likely to stay and have a longer impact." Last year, McIntosh ushered in about a dozen new members to the rebellious right wing of Boehner's House.

A former Republican representative from Indiana, McIntosh is now looking for a Republican presidential candidate who will work with the Club's congressional troops. He sees a presidential field with "a lot of very strong, limited-government, economic-conservative people who can put together the coalition to win the nomination."

Having a Club-friendly president, he said, would make it "easier for us to recruit, identify and support those types of candidates" who can transform the Club's agenda into federal law.

Among potential presidential soulmates are Senators Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. Rubio is co-sponsoring a plan to simplify the tax code by eliminating all deductions except those for mortgage interest and charitable donations. His plan also extends new tax credits to families, reduces business taxes and eliminates taxes on capital gains, dividends and interest. It lowers the top marginal income tax rate to 35 percent from 39 percent (a cut the Club deems too skimpy). Though it's unclear precisely how much such a proposal would add to the national debt, the rough estimates are in trillions.

Paul, meanwhile, in 2013 authored a budget bill that would eliminate the departments of Commerce, Education, Energy, Housing and Urban Development and Transportation. He also called for a 17-percent flat tax on income, and the puts states in charge of running Medicaid. Though the Club endorsed Paul's bill, only 18 of his colleagues supported it.

One common narrative from the 2014 election concerned the triumph of the Chamber of Commerce and other "establishment" forces over more confrontational Republicans, including the Club for Growth, in primaries. It's a narrative that conveniently disregards the House, where McIntosh added to his clout.

Tensions in the House overflowed during this winter's battle over defunding President Barack Obama's executive actions to ease the threat of deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants. Allies of Boehner briefly aired negative television and radio ads against fellow Republicans whose intransigence on immigration -- they refused to vote to fund the Department of Homeland Security, which was slated to carry out Obama's orders -- threatened a partial shutdown. Though the Club doesn't consider immigration a key issue, McIntosh was nonetheless stunned by the friendly fire.

"I fail to understand the strategy of those around the Speaker of isolating and punishing people who disagree with him, because what they've done is grow the number who oppose him from one to two to six to now 30," said McIntosh. "You lose seats in the next election, which is very possible, and those 30 are the ones who are still there. At some point, you reach a critical number where he, as a leader, can't be sustained."

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the editor on this story:
Francis Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net