War: Team Trump clashes with Club for Growth in home stretch of bitter Ohio Senate primary

War: Team Trump clashes with Club for Growth in home stretch of bitter Ohio Senate primary
AP Photo/Joe Maiorana

How bitter is it? As a teaser, just know up front that the phrase “go f*** yourself” will figure later in this post.

Trump and the Club for Growth began as enemies, became friends, and have lately settled into a “frenemy” arrangement. Back in the day before the GOP became a personality cult, the Club’s agenda was all about free markets and deregulation. They spent money to try to stop Trump in 2016 because he threatened that agenda. Once he became president, they did what nearly every other political entity on the American right did: They reconciled themselves to him in the name of maintaining their influence. The Club became a loyal pro-Trump shop and persists in that role to this day.



The group and its leader, David McIntosh, are aligned with him in various Republican primaries this year. But not all, and especially not the barnburner in Ohio. Five candidates have spent months jockeying for position in that race, each of them various shades of MAGA. It’s so competitive that the top vote-getter in Fox News’s new poll is … “undecided.”

For much of the race the battle for the top spot was waged between Josh Mandel and Mike Gibbons with “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance languishing in single digits. But Vance has Peter Thiel money behind him, powerful friends in the form of media figures like Tucker Carlson, and has taken lately to talking like an out-and-out fascist in interviews, which I guess is a plus in today’s GOP. Vance also has a hook that’s irresistible to Trump — namely, he was an outspoken Never Trumper in 2016 who has since followed the same path as the Club by becoming a shameless ass-kisser in the name of gaining power. Trump loves watching guys like that bend the knee.

Thanks to his newfound obsequiousness and his contemptible embrace of authoritarianism, Vance became the lucky winner of the Trump lottery when he earned 45’s endorsement a few weeks ago. They held a rally together in Ohio this past weekend. Endorsing him is a high-stakes political gamble for Trump given how closely divided the field is and the fact that Trump won Ohio easily in 2016 and 2020. He expects to play kingmaker there. And any “friend” of his that jeopardizes that by backing someone other than Vance is apt to find him feeling not so friendly in kind.


Which brings us to this ad, the latest from the Club for Growth — in support of Josh Mandel.

That’s a doozy. Not only does it hurt Vance, it makes Trump look like a clod. Is Trump, who once endorsed Mitt Romney, also too stupid to know that J.D. Vance secretly hates him?

I pause here to repeat a point I made a few days ago, that everything you need to know about the GOP in 2022 lies in the fact that Vance is being attacked by his opponents not for saying fascist-y things about dictatorship and defying court rulings but for taking too long to become an abject Trump toady.


The background to the ad you just watched is that both Donald Trumps, Sr. and Jr., have been in contact with McIntosh behind the scenes warning him to knock it off. Vance is their guy, they need him to win, and they’ll consider it an act of disloyalty if he and the Club don’t stop working against them. McIntosh refuses to back down. The result:


The Club was always an uneasy ally for Trump given his belief in tariffs and their more libertarian bent but the Vance/Mandel conflict is threatening to cause a rupture. Trump Jr. is especially pissed:

It’s funny that both sides are referencing Mitt Romney as a cudgel against the other. Vance also hit back at Mandel and the Club in a statement today:

Vance is right about Mandel being the dictionary definition of an opportunist hack, trading one conservative identity for another over his decade-long career to suit whatever the base’s latest ideological fad happens to be. Outsiders who disdain both of them are forever wrestling with who would be worse in the Senate. Mandel, a chameleon with no beliefs who’ll follow the pack wherever it leads, no matter how terrible the destination? Or Vance, the soulless sellout who’s gone from being anti-Trump to pro-coup in the name of political success?

Meanwhile, the Club is wondering how far it wants to go in alienating Trump:

McIntosh’s swift exile from Trump World has now left some Republican candidates reeling. Meanwhile, four people familiar with the situation said the Club for Growth is grappling with frustrated board members and donors, who worry its influence will plunge if it doesn’t quickly patch things up with Trump…

In recent months, they said, Trump privately complained about an imbalance in the relationship even as the group spent millions to prop up Trump-backed candidates in difficult primaries who have received minimal contributions from Trump himself. While the former President continued to host McIntosh, a former Indiana congressman, at Mar-a-Lago to solicit his advice on different contests and candidates, he simultaneously griped to allies that the Club chief wasn’t fully committed to his 2022 recruits.

Trump has been especially annoyed, one ally said, that the Club has not endorsed or lent assistance to Wyoming congressional hopeful Harriet Hageman, who is challenging incumbent Rep. Liz Cheney in one of the former President’s highest-profile efforts to oust his foes inside the GOP.


It seems silly for the group to have groveled to him once before in order to keep its seat at the table on the right only to squander that seat now in the name of defending … Josh Mandel. Not even a true libertarian or respectable conservative. Josh Mandel!

As for whether he or Vance will end up winning, would you believe there’s a chance that neither will? It’s a small chance. But:

Dolan winning would be a true shocker since he’s the closest thing in the race to an anti-Trumper. He’s pro-Trump, to be sure, to the point where he’s said he’ll vote for Trump again in 2024. But he’s also the only candidate in the race who’s unwilling to say that the 2020 election was stolen. No one thought he had a shot so Mandel, Vance, and Gibbons spent all of their time attacking each other instead of him. Dolan has also spent big money on ads in the home stretch, giving him a boost in name recognition among undecideds who might not be thrilled with their other options. John McCormack has a smart piece today on his dark-horse chances that’s worth your time, as he speculate that having Mike DeWine on the primary ballot this year may be Dolan’s secret weapon. DeWine is strong with non-MAGA Republicans; if he brings those voters out to the polls and they opt for Dolan, suddenly Dolan has a chance.


Vance remains the favorite but his patron may also be worried that a Dolan surge is in progress. I’ll leave you with this.

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John Stossel 6:41 PM on November 28, 2023