Club for Growth warms to Trump after 2016 fight

Club for Growth warms to Trump after 2016 fight
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The Club for Growth has been strategizing with a top super PAC supporting President TrumpDonald John TrumpDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' EU says it will 'respond in kind' if US slaps tariffs on France Ginsburg again leaves Supreme Court with an uncertain future MORE’s reelection campaign, a sign that the fiscally conservative group is moving closer to the president after fiercely opposing his 2016 presidential bid.

The Club for Growth has not put any money directly behind ads supporting Trump’s reelection bid. 

But Club for Growth President David McIntosh told The Hill that his group coordinated with the America First Action PAC, an outside group supporting Trump, before deciding to put its money behind attack ads targeting the Democratic presidential contenders.

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The closer relationship to Trump World is a stark departure for the free-market group, which mercilessly attacked Trump under McIntosh’s leadership during the 2016 Republican primary and refused to support his general election bid against Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump takes aim at media after 'hereby' ordering US businesses out of China Trump knocks news of CNN hiring ex-FBI official McCabe Taylor Swift says Trump is 'gaslighting the American public' MORE.

“We’re very pleased with how they’re governing,” McIntosh said in a phone interview with The Hill.

The budding relationship between the Trump administration and the Club for Growth was tested this week after the president backed a $320 billion budget deal that has outraged fiscal conservatives.

But McIntosh put the blame for the deal squarely on members of Congress, including Republicans, arguing that the White House had made a good-faith effort to reduce spending but was railroaded by belligerent lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

“The president’s big problem is the Republicans who caved to [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and [Senate Minority Leader Charles] Schumer,” McIntosh said.

“The president is faced with a Congress that is half controlled by Democrats, and then on the Republican side, a large percentage have become big spenders. The White House has done a great job pushing back and urging Congress to cut out the waste, but sadly that hasn’t been accepted at all by appropriators in either party.”

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has estimated that the deal will cost $1.7 trillion over the next 10 years, while adding 5 percentage points to the debt.

Fiscal conservatives are apoplectic over what they view as an increasing willingness by Republicans to ignore the exploding debt and deficit under Trump’s watch.

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Some are taking the president to task for overseeing a $2 trillion increase in debt since taking office.

“This deal comes less than four years after President Trump campaigned to balance the budget by cutting spending and after his administration produced three budgets to move toward fiscal sustainability,” said Heritage Foundation scholar Paul Winfree. 

“If President Trump takes this deal — the worst in a decade — his fiscal legacy will be no different than the Obama and Bush administrations that he has criticized.”

McIntosh has asked Trump to reject the deal, but said the president had “worked hard in his budget to restrain Congress’s unending desire to spend.” The Club for Growth is instead pointing the finger at Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinThe Hill's Morning Report: How will Trump be received at G-7? White House won't move forward with billions in foreign aid cuts Trump says he'll decide on foreign aid cuts within a week MORE, who was the administration’s lead negotiator on the budget deal.

“We ... hope President Trump gives Secretary Mnuchin a copy of ‘The Art of the Deal’ so that he will not be as weak and give in to liberal demands in future negotiations,” McIntosh said.

The Club for Growth joins a string of Republican lawmakers and conservative advocacy groups who were once fiercely critical of Trump but have since warmed to him. Trump is the unquestioned GOP leader, and Republicans who oppose him have been elected out of office, exited Washington of their own accord or seen their fundraising and political influence dry up.

McIntosh does not see a conflict in the change of course, pointing to Trump’s tax cuts and deregulatory efforts as in line with the Club for Growth’s mission.

Still, there was a time when it was impossible to see the two sides reconciling.

The Club for Growth spent millions opposing Trump in the Republican primary in 2016, backing his rivals at every point in the race as he steamrolled to the nomination.

Trump took the feud public, tweeting at one point that McIntosh had demanded a $1 million donation in exchange for his group’s support. The Club for Growth fired back, saying that Trump had attempted to “buy us off.”

“Worst kind of politician,” the Club for Growth tweeted at the time.

That’s ancient history now, as the Club for Growth instead takes aim at Trump’s potential Democratic rivals.

The group went into the field to survey Democrats about the issues that resonate with their primary voters and then released ads attacking the party’s White House hopefuls.

The first ad hit former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) for his “white male privilege” and a second ad went after former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden evokes 1968, asks voters to imagine if Obama had been assassinated Biden blasts Trump's 'embarrassing' actions heading into G-7 summit Steyer calls on DNC to expand polling criteria for debates MORE for “offensive” comments on race and “inappropriate behavior toward women.”

McIntosh said the Club for Growth has not decided yet how it will spend in the general election.

It’s possible that the board of directors could vote to put money behind pro-Trump ads, but likelier that they’ll continue to draw attention to the eventual Democratic nominee’s record.

Either way, McIntosh said they’ve been pleasantly surprised by Trump’s record.

“The economy speaks for itself and we give the president full credit for that,” McIntosh said.