In an entirely unsuccessful effort to persuade Kevin McCarthy’s intra-party enemies to lay down arms, two of the biggest Republican super PACs announced a bizarre agreement on Wednesday evening. The terms of the deal—between the Congressional Leadership Fund, which is closely linked to McCarthy and House GOP leadership, and the Club for Growth, which typically butts heads with the establishment—are as follows: CLF says it “will not spend in any open-seat primaries in safe Republican districts” or fund any other groups that would, while the Club agreed to endorse McCarthy’s speakership bid.
Not a single anti-McCarthy rebel switched sides in several more humiliating rounds of voting on Thursday as a result, but what remains to be seen is how CLF interprets the pact. Many far-right Republicans deeply resent the influence that CLF, which spends more money on House races than any other GOP group, wields over primaries. In fact, some of these malcontents expressly raised this issue in a letter to their colleagues last month, arguing, “While organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Club for Growth have a role to play in primaries, Republican leadership does not.”
But CLF seldom plays in safely red seats in the first place (a rare case came in Texas’ 8th District last year). When it does get involved in primaries, it’s almost always desperately trying to save Republicans from themselves by encouraging voters not to nominate fringe candidates who will cough up competitive seats. (A perfect example would be their unsuccessful efforts in North Carolina’s 1st District to thwart Sandy Smith, who was accused of physical abuse by her daughter and not one but two ex-husbands; Smith went on to lose to Democrat Don Davis 52-48.)
Indeed, the PAC emphasized in a joint press release with the Club that it would “continue to support incumbents in primaries as well as challengers in districts that affect the Majority,” which is to say, competitive districts. This deal, therefore, can’t alter CLF’s overall approach all that much—and who gets to determine what a “safe” seat is? Would Colorado’s 3rd count, for instance? This is a district that Donald Trump would have carried by a comfortable 53-45 margin, but the GOP only held on to it by 0.2% in November … all because of a woman named Lauren Boebert. In other words, a safe seat can quickly become unsafe with a disaster candidate on the ballot—a reality CLF understands all too well but one the Club and their ilk refuse to acknowledge.
But if there’s one thing Republicans are supremely good at, it’s clawing one another’s eyes out. We can expect CLF to intervene in reddish seats to avoid future Boebert-type situations, and we can expect for the Club to react furiously. There won’t be anything they can do about it, though, and McCarthy will still have racked up yet another nasty string of losses.
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