Republicans raise concerns over House campaign arm leadership
GOP lawmakers and strategists are voicing deep concerns about National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Rep. Tom Emmer (Minn.) and his team’s 2020 strategy.
In recent weeks, a number of top Republicans have aired grievances with the House GOP campaign arm’s approach, with some going as far as questioning if Emmer and his operation are in over their heads.
“His team is inept. They have no idea what they’re doing, and their strategy is not putting Republicans in a good position to take back the House,” one disgruntled GOP lawmaker told The Hill.
Members have become more vocal in their complaints after a recent squabble between Emmer and GOP Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney, with the Wyoming Republican telling him that Republicans raised questions about the NRCC’s strategy during a closed-door meeting last week.
Critics also pointed to an NRCC press release, which was later rescinded, that attacked Democrats for pushing lawmaker pay raises. It came at a time when GOP leaders were privately negotiating with Democratic leadership on a deal to boost congressional salaries.
The NRCC also hit Democrats for allowing lobbyists to attend their chiefs of staff retreat, even though Republicans have done the same thing in previous years.
The group’s aggressive messaging tactics — with the NRCC having taken on President Trump’s style of attacking political opponents by using nicknames like Little Max Rose and Fake Nurse Lauren Underwood — has certain factions of the party expressing a sense of unease with the new approach. Some fear it could hinder them from taking back the 20 seats they need to win back control of the House in 2020.
“I think in the larger conversation, what I see is, is just a lack of strategy, and just a series of trolling,” a former Republican National Committee official said. “And that can be fun to do, but not as fun as winning House races.”
Despite the criticism, the NRCC is standing by its strategy, arguing a bold approach is needed if they want to win. The group also said it has support from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
“Leader McCarthy has given us a mandate to be very aggressive this cycle with our approach, so that’s what we’re doing. While it may make some people uncomfortable, we’re not going to win back the majority in just two years by talking about puppy dogs and ice cream,” said NRCC spokesman Chris Pack.
“We have had great success shining a spotlight on the dangerous socialist policies Democrats are proposing, their appetite for anti-Semitism, and enthusiastic support for late-term abortions,” he added. “Our fundraising is exceeding expectations, we have had recruitment meetings with 178 women, 100 veterans and 83 minorities, and we will continue to put the work in to ensure our candidates are in a position to win.”
Pack also shot back at accusations the NRCC doesn’t have a plan for the next elections, arguing they are conserving resources during the off year so they are prepared for 2020.
“The NRCC has been focused on narrative setting, candidate recruitment and fundraising because that is what any competent campaign committee should be doing at this point in an election cycle,” he said. “It would be political malpractice to be spending money on thousands of points of television and hundreds of thousands of dollars on unnecessary polling one year and four months before an election.”
Concerns over the optics of NRCC Recruitment Chairwoman Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) announcing her retirement last week has been the latest in a string of complaints, with some questioning Emmer’s judgment in requesting she take on the role amid rumors she wouldn’t seek another term in the House.
“When Emmer asked Brooks if she would take charge of recruiting new candidates for the House, she told him that she hadn’t decided if she was going to run for reelection herself in 2020, yet she was still named recruitment chair,” one senior Republican said.
“Now she’s officially not seeking reelection, and so it makes this whole recruitment thing a bit awkward. I just think this little anecdote reveals the dysfunction within the NRCC right now. She should have never been named recruitment chair,” the lawmaker added.
Pack said the NRCC is confident Brooks’s decision won’t have a negative impact on recruitment efforts.
“She is staying on in her role as recruitment chair. If anything, it will intensify her recruitment efforts,” Pack said.
With the influx of criticisms, some members said they feel it was a misstep for McCarthy to have pushed for Emmer to take on the role.
“He’s well liked in the conference, but the general feeling is he’s not getting the job done,” one lawmaker said, referring to Emmer. “That is also affecting attitudes toward Kevin, as Tom was his hand-picked guy.”
McCarthy has defended the NRCC’s performance.
“Tom and his team are doing what it takes to win. They’re on offense and not letting Democrats get away with promising their voters action but coming to Washington and conforming to the new Democrat Socialist agenda.” he said in a statement.
Other lawmakers have argued it’s too soon in the cycle for members to cast judgment, noting former chairmen have faced criticism in the past and gone on to win or hold the majority.
“Well, you’ve got to have a philosophy of: Are you going to go on offense or are you going to be on defense? You know, there’s been a change. And the one thing I’ve found no matter what you do as NRCC chair, in the offices, somebody’s not going to be happy,” one member said.
“And what Emmer knows is he’s going to be judged on results — results will matter. He believes this is the right path and he is either going to either sink or swim based on it.”