At an April 9 rally in North Carolina, the former President appeared delighted with the Club for Growth chief. “He’s a winner. He’s a fighter. We are undefeated when we work together,” Trump said as he welcomed the conservative power broker onstage.
“You are a great man. … I am so proud to partner with you,” McIntosh replied.
Unnerved by McIntosh’s defiance, Trump reportedly asked an intermediary to deliver a curt text message to him.
The two men haven’t spoken since, according to a person close to Trump. On Wednesday, the Club launched a new ad once again targeting Vance for his past criticism of Trump and highlighting Trump’s past endorsement of Mitt Romney’s 2018 Senate campaign in Utah.
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. It’s the latest episode in the former President’s quest for singular influence over the GOP, further underscoring Trump’s expectation that allies either bend to his will or get out of his way.
But even if the Club acquiesced to regain its foothold in Trump’s post-presidency operation, some of his allies plan to urge the former President to keep the group at arm’s length.
“The Club for Growth is the single most destructive force among these outside groups in Republican politics. If you just go down the list of any policy that is at the core of Trump’s economic plan — except for corporate tax cuts — they oppose it,” said former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, whose “War Room” podcast has long been a platform for the Club’s most fervent critics.
“The Club for Globalists is basically one of a class … that basically push this globalist elitist agenda that is night to the day of … Donald Trump and the MAGA movement,” former White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said on one episode of the program.
Another person close to Trump, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, said the group’s firm resistance to protectionist trade and industrial policies doesn’t align with the MAGA platform.
“Trump has been fooled by McIntosh, and I think he’s realizing that,” this person said.
A spokesperson for Trump declined to comment on the situation.
Club for Growth spokesman Joe Kildea said McIntosh and Trump have “worked well together in the past and will in the future,” before declining to respond to further requests for comment.
Kildea also noted that the group intends to continue supporting Mandel and Alabama Senate candidate Mo Brooks, whom Trump rescinded his endorsement for in March over the congressman’s desire to move on from the 2020 election.
“We’re glad to have the Club’s support and it doesn’t change much of what we’re doing here,” Brooks campaign press secretary Will Hampson said.
‘A target on his back’
Some Trump aides and allies said the former President’s relationship with McIntosh was already in trouble before the Club doubled down on its Ohio strategy.
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.
“They spend money when they get Trump to endorse candidates that they want, but they haven’t lifted a finger for the things that just Trump wants,” said the Trump ally.
Two people familiar with the matter said the former President had also recently gotten wind that McIntosh was telling friends and Republican candidates he would be a top candidate for White House chief of staff if Trump runs successfully for president in 2024. Trump, who cycled through four chiefs of staff during his time in office, has been known to grow irritated with people who claim to be closer to him than they actually are.
“(McIntosh) was pushing the narrative that he was the gatekeeper for Trump endorsements, which inevitably got back to Trump, and that put a target on his back,” said one Trump adviser.
In another instance, Trump became annoyed with McIntosh when he arrived for a meeting, with Mandel in tow. Trump, who had not invited the Ohio Senate hopeful to join, was caught off guard, said one of the people close to him.
The Trump Jr. factor
Though the former President has refrained from chastising McIntosh in public so far, his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., has made every effort to turn his father’s supporters against the Club for Growth and is now actively campaigning against Mandel in the final days before Ohio’s primary next week.
Trump has done nothing to stop his son’s public crusade against either the Club or Mandel, who aggressively sought the former President’s endorsement before Trump announced his support of Vance.
In tweets, videos and campaign trail appearances, the younger Trump has cast the Club as dove-ish on China and establishment-friendly — two cardinal sins in the MAGA universe. In the midst of the Club’s refusal to take down its anti-Vance ads last week, Trump Jr. shared a video on Twitter portraying Mandel as cozy with a trio of establishment icons: Romney, former Ohio Gov. John Kasich and the late Arizona Sen. John McCain.
“Ohio friends — Meet the real @JoshMandelOhio. The Club for Chinese Growth backed establishment candidate in the #OHSen race,” he wrote above the clip.
However, this same person said Trump Jr. does not plan to target candidates whom he supports and who previously received Club endorsements — namely US Rep. Ted Budd and venture capitalist Blake Masters, who are running for Senate in North Carolina and Arizona, respectively.
But that hasn’t stopped a flurry of candidates and donors to the Club from voicing concerns about the group’s fractured relationship with the 45th president.
Two people familiar with the matter said one Trump-aligned consultant received calls from multiple GOP candidates, who were concerned that Trump Jr. would come after them because of their affiliation with the Club. One of these people, who works on a high-profile Senate campaign, said their candidate stopped soliciting an endorsement from the Club, seeing it as a potential political liability.
One Club donor, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, said McIntosh should have defused the situation with Trump instead of doubling down with a bigger ad buy against Vance. This donor declined to say whether they had shared their frustrations directly with McIntosh, noting only that they want to see him repair his relationship with the former President.
Long before the Club found itself pitted against Trump in the Ohio Senate primary, it endorsed other candidates competing against Trump-backed opponents.
In addition to sticking by Brooks after Trump withdrew his endorsement of the Alabama Senate hopeful, the group has endorsed former US Rep. Matt Salmon in Arizona’s gubernatorial primary — placing it in direct opposition to former news anchor Kari Lake, who has Trump’s enthusiastic support.
The Club’s PAC also endorsed Texas Rep. Chip Roy in his bid for reelection. Trump, by comparison, denounced Roy’s leadership ambitions last year and has not endorsed the congressman, who voted to certify the 2020 election results on January 6, 2021.
“He has not done a great job and will probably be successfully primaried in his own district,” Trump said of Roy last May while the Texas congressman was weighing a challenge to New York Rep. Elise Stefanik for House GOP conference chair.
The Club previously has drawn the ire of Trump and his advisers after they were left feeling like McIntosh convinced Trump to take the wrong approach in a primary. Despite claiming at his North Carolina rally to be “undefeated” when he has teamed up with the group, Trump endorsee Susan Wright lost the special election runoff for Texas’ 6th Congressional District in July to fellow Republican Jake Ellzey. Trump had been urged by advisers not to wade into the race but moved before the first round of voting to endorse Wright after McIntosh convinced him to do so.
“Trump was totally taken to the cleaners by the Club for Growth,” former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who backed Ellzey, told Axios following the runoff. “They put Donald J. Trump in jeopardy.”