Wealthy donors take aim at GOP leadership
Conservatives express frustration with party’s lack of legislative wins
Republican leaders in the Senate face increasingly vocal pressure from some of the party’s wealthy contributors to chalk up a legislative win by quickly passing tax cuts — or see campaign contributions dwindle or shift to their challengers in next year’s midterm elections.
Donor frustration centers on the GOP’s failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a top target of Republican candidates and leaders since it became law seven years ago. The Senate’s attempts to kill the law faltered this year after defections from several Republicans, including Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Wednesday, the intraparty feuding escalated when a coalition of conservative leaders, including Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin, called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, and his leadership team to step aside, saying they “have done nothing ” this year to advance conservative policies.
Former White House strategist Stephen Bannon leads an insurgency against McConnell. Bannon, who backed former Alabama chief justice Roy Moore’s successful primary win over McConnell-backed Sen. Luther Strange last month, seeks to recruit donors to his cause and is expanding the list of incumbent senators he hopes to topple.
The party infighting could imperil Republicans’ hopes of retaining their four-seat Senate majority in the 2018 midterm elections.
Whit Ayres, a veteran Republican pollster, said he’s seen “nothing in my career that has approached this level of internecine warfare.”
“Everybody’s frustrated,” he said. “The president is frustrated. Senators and congressmen are frustrated. It seems to be very dif- ficult to develop a majority coalition for much of anything so far.”
The drive to pass tax cuts before year’s end will take center stage this week at a retreat in New York where conservative donors aligned with billionaire Charles Koch will gather with top Koch operatives to craft their strategy for the midterms.
Vice President Pence, who has close ties to Koch’s political empire, will deliver the keynote address. Less than two weeks ago, his chief of staff, Nick Ayers, urged another group of Republican contributors to consider funding a “purge” of Republican senators who fail to advance President Trump’s agenda, according to an audio recording obtained by Politico.
Killing the 2010 health care law was “certainly something that activists and the American people anticipated after Republicans ran on repealing Obamacare for multiple cycles,” said James Davis, a spokesman for the Koch network.
“That they haven’t done that puts them under even more pressure to deliver tax reform by the end of this year,” he said.
The Senate is to vote soon on a budget blueprint that would pave the way for the tax overhaul.
Koch groups pledged to spend up to $400 million on policy and political advocacy during the 2018 election cycle and have plowed millions of dollars into a campaign to support a Trump tax blueprint.
Most Koch officials have not attacked Republicans directly, training their firepower on Democratic incumbents. Americans for Prosperity, Koch’s main activist arm, unleashed a $4.5 million advertising campaign on taxes that targets Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.
Some in the Koch network make no secret of their displeasure with the party’s leaders.
“We’re very, very, very dissatisfied with the Senate and with Senate leadership,” said Doug Deason, a Dallas investor.
Deason said McConnell “has no spine” and should lose his position after “no” votes from GOP senators helped sink Obamacare repeal efforts.
Deason was equally blunt in his criticism of McCain, saying the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, should resign from the Senate to focus on his battle with brain cancer. “He is old and tired, and it’s time for him to move on,” Deason said.
An aide to McCain did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and officials in McConnell’s office referred questions to the groups responsible for Senate campaigns. Officials with the National Republican Senatorial Committee declined to comment.
For all the tough talk, Deason said he is not willing to back insurgents who want to take on sitting Republicans, noting that the incumbents who have drawn most of his ire are not on the ballot next year. Instead, he said he is likely to help Republicans working to knock out Democrats, including Josh Mandel, who hopes to topple two-term Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, and Kevin Nicholson, a U.S. Marine veteran seeking to challenge Baldwin.
Art Pope, a North Carolina businessman and one of the state’s most influential Republican donors, said it’s hard to blame McConnell for Congress’ failure to pass major legislation, given the GOP’s slim majority in the Senate and a united wall of opposition from Democrats.
“That they haven’t (repealed Obamacare) puts them under even more pressure to deliver tax reform.” James Davis, Koch network
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., center, speaks at the Capitol, joined by, from left, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas.