Editor’s Note: Republican Charlie Dent is a former US congressman from Pennsylvania who served as chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies from 2015 until 2018. He is currently a CNN political commentator and a senior policy adviser at DLA Piper, a global law firm. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
Just when I thought politics could not get any stranger, I turned on the television this weekend. After a week punctuated by daily presidential absurdities – from insulting the Danish prime minister, to escalating the trade war with China, to attacking the Fed Chairman Jerome Powell – an organization I thought would stand in strong opposition to President Donald Trump caved under the weight of his power.
In a Sunday interview with Chuck Todd, David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth, a fiscal conservative organization that donates heavily to congressional campaigns, proclaimed his support of President Donald Trump’s re-election, calling him “a free-market conservative.” For reference, this is the same organization that endorsed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the 2016 presidential election – and not the man who would win the Republican nomination and ultimately the White House.
So, where does one begin to unpack this jaw-dropping hypocrisy? For years, the Club for Growth’s leaders designated themselves the chiefs of the conservative purity police and staunch defenders of free markets, excoriating Republicans deemed insufficiently doctrinaire. In fact, they regularly instigated and launched primary challenges against Republicans of all stripes whom they designated as heretics to their righteous cause.
Their rigid, inflexible views sometimes resulted in the election of Democrats in districts or states that should easily have gone Republican. Take Sharron Angle, who, with Club For Growth support, emerged from relative obscurity as the Republican nominee for Senate in Nevada and then lost miserably to Democratic Sen. Harry Reid.
If the Club for Growth had a motto back then, it would have been this: Purity over victory.
The Club’s political malfeasance when I first ran for Congress in 2004 and in succeeding election cycles cannot be overstated. By actively helping to nominate otherwise unviable candidates in crowded Republican primaries, the Club advanced dangerously weak and often extreme general election candidates in solid Republican districts. This forced the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) to waste precious resources holding these safe Republican districts when these funds would have better been spent supporting swing district incumbent Republicans or supporting Republican candidates challenging vulnerable incumbent Democrats.
As a leader of the Tuesday Group, a collection of center-right Republican members of Congress, I was all too familiar with the Club’s politically destructive behavior and judgments. At times things got so bad with the Club for Growth that I and many other Republicans derisively referred to them as the Club for Democrats. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) had no better ally than the Club for Growth.
Fast forward to today. By endorsing Trump as “a free-market conservative,” the Club for Growth, like too many others, has sacrificed whatever principles they once espoused for the shameful embrace of a man who has very few fixed policy positions. Cruz represented the Club in its purist form, always ready to condemn political blasphemers as RINOs (Republicans in name only) and capitulators. Just like Cruz – who Trump disgracefully attacked, even retweeting an outrageous tweet comparing a glamorous photo of Melania Trump with an awful photo of Heidi Cruz (a decision he later referred to as a mistake) – the Club for Growth melted at the altar of Trump, likely for the sake of political expediency.
The Club’s new motto should be: Principle be damned; it’s all about loyalty to the man.
In defending the Club for Growth’s endorsement of Trump, McIntosh cited the President’s tax and deregulatory policies, while excusing his growth stunting, nakedly protectionist trade policies. What’s more, he defended the President’s incoherent and growth-destroying trade policy with an “art of the deal” bromide and an aspirational “zero-zero” policy, which refers to the administration’s desire, someday, for zero tariffs and zero subsidies.
In fact, Trump has offered just the opposite of zero tariffs, zero subsidies; he imposes tariffs on friend and foe alike and provides subsidies (relief) to proud farmers suffering under Chinese retaliation. I remember a time not long ago when Republicans like me supported free trade and attempted to cut and limit agricultural subsidies, as we were cheered on by the Club for Growth and others who routinely labeled farm subsidies as corporate welfare.
Not anymore. Sycophancy is the order of the moment, as it’s more important to be on the Trump train no matter the offense or wanton cruelty. What a shameful state of affairs this has become for those of us who joined the party of Abraham Lincoln and thought character counted for something.
One thing is for sure: If the Club for Growth continues down this unprincipled path, they may want to change their name to the Club for No Growth.