President Trump's Team Claims He Was Snookered Into Getting Involved in a Texas Primary Election

Courtesy of Club for Growth

Yesterday, a special runoff election was held in Texas’ 6th Congressional District to fill the seat of Ron Wright, who died of Wuhan virus in February. Twenty-three candidates filed to win the seat that Wright had won by nine points in November 2020. The May 1 primary election didn’t produce an outright winner, so the top two vote-getters faced off last night. They were Texas state representative and former Navy fighter pilot Jake Ellzey and Wright’s widow, Susan.

When the votes were counted, Ellzey had won 53-47. To a great extent, this was not a shock. Ellzey was already well known in the district. He’d run against Ron Wright in 2018 and lost the primary. In this campaign, Ellzey hustled and showed that he wanted the job. Nothing, however, is normal when President Trump is involved.

President Trump endorsed Susan Wright (those familiar with RedState history will note some irony here) on April 26, just days before the primary election.

So Ellzey’s victory last night was painted as a sign that President Trump’s influence in the GOP was over.

For more, read Bonchie’s Trump Endorsed Candidate Loses, Leaving Some Celebrating and Others Asking Questions:

As Bonchie says, there is a real leap of faith to make the conclusion this guy makes. The “low turnout” seems to me to be dishonest. Some 78,374 votes were cast in the May primary. Compare that to 45,785 votes cast in the 2018 primary. 39,116 votes were cast in the runoff, vice 24,433 in the 2018 runoff. So more interest was shown yesterday than in the last comparable election. Wright came out of the primary election in first place. So you can hardly say that Trump couldn’t get Republicans to back Wright or people to the polls. I suspect that a lot of people stayed home for the runoff because they were happy with either candidate. Rick Perry and Dan Crenshaw stumping for Ellzey overpowered a single endorsement and long-distance presence by Trump.

That said, this was a needless own-goal. Wright was not a qualitatively better candidate than Ellzey; in fact, just the opposite. There is nothing about Ellzey that indicates he will be anything other than a conservative member of Congress. President Trump’s staff are not happy with the loss, though, for now, President Trump is being philosophical about it all. Yes, I said that.

Donald Trump’s advisers are angry at David McIntosh, president of the conservative Club for Growth, for persuading the former president to endorse a losing candidate in the special election for Texas’ 6th District.

Why it matters: Susan Wright’s defeat Tuesday in a Republican runoff with Navy veteran Jake Ellzey dealt a blow to Trump’s aura of invincibility as a Republican kingmaker. It’s critical to his 2022 midterm endorsements and continued hold on the GOP.

  • Trump advisers and allies have been ambivalent about the Club’s advice and thought he should stay out of this Republican-on-Republican contest.
  • They take the long view and are protective of his successful record — so far — in GOP primary endorsements.
  • McIntosh did not respond to repeated requests for comment from Axios.

What is significant about this is that Ellzey’s backers were also Trump supporters, and they are also blaming Club for Growth for the needless drama.

What we’re hearing: Trump advisers and allies, including former Texas governor and Trump administration Energy secretary Rick Perry, remain furious at McIntosh.

  • “He [Trump] totally was taken to the cleaners by the Club for Growth,” said Perry, who has a long and close relationship with Ellzey. “There has to be a reckoning for the Club for Growth. …This whole debacle for the president can be centered on the Club for Growth and David McIntosh.”
  • Perry said he called Trump a few months ago — before he’d endorsed Wright — and told him to stay out of the race because he had a great candidate called Ellzey down in Texas. Trump ignored his advice.
  • “For the Club for Growth to have actively tried to destroyed this guy’s reputation, …you’ve gotta be shi—ing me,” said Perry, who called Ellzey an “American hero.”
  • “That’s what I’ve come to understand about David McIntosh and the Club for Growth,” Perry said. “They will say anything, do anything. And they put Donald J. Trump in jeopardy.”
  • “In the state of Texas, Mr. McIntosh, we care about character and we care about the truth,” Perry added, “and we would just as soon the Club for Growth never darken the state of Texas again.”

According to Axios, Club for Growth President David McIntosh had several private conversations with President Trump and made the case that Wright deserved President Trump’s support. McIntosh allegedly told President Trump that Bill Kristol had donated to Ellzey ($250 in 2018); that Ellzey would not join the Freedom Caucus (I have no way of evaluating the truthfulness of that claim yet), that Ellzey was a NeverTrumper, and Wright was Ron Wright’s widow because nothing says populism like inherited offices. McIntosh purportedly told President Trump that internal polling had Wright up by 15 points and was a sure winner.

None of this story is implausible. In fact, it is all too plausible.

To me, Rick Perry’s reaction carries more weight than the damage control by Team Trump, and that tends to back up their side of the story. Whoever let McIntosh talk Trump into this fiasco should be fired. Trump is hard to manage, but this is really sh** staff work. If the story is true, Trump’s advisers need to make Club for Growth persona non grata until the 2022 campaign begins. President Trump should not weigh in on Republican primary candidates unless they are hopelessly compromised. Anything he says to support one GOP candidate in a race where there are two acceptable candidates runs the risk of backfiring in the general election.

Still, defending your boss by claiming he was taken to the cleaners does little to make him look savvy or to make you look competent. We can’t afford the famous indiscipline that characterized the 2016 Trump campaign again. If President Trump is going to continue as a force in Republican politics, he needs a better staff and the self-discipline to listen to the advice they give him and not be made a fool of by outside actors.