Club for Growth on sequestration, Mitt Romney, and Lindsey Graham

Chris Chocola -- Club for Growth

Over the last several years, the Club for Growth has made its presence known in the GOP, supporting insurgent, fiscally conservative primary challengers over establishment-backed incumbents and candidates. Their message has been simple — Congress needs to cut spending, keep taxes low, and reduce regulations that are roadblock to a vibrant and prosperous economy.

Yesterday, Chris Chocola, President of the Club for Growth, weighed on a few different issues during a meeting with reporters. With the budget deficit over $1 trillion for the fourth consecutive year, Chocola said that his organization is welcoming sequestration, which is part of the debt deal reached by Congress last year:

“We don’t care where they get the cuts,” Chocola said at a Thursday breakfast with reporters. “We just think there’s a number they said they would save and they should do it.”

While the chorus urging an alternative to the cuts slated for next year grows louder by the day, Chocola and his conservative organization join a small group of voices advocating that Congress stick to its guns.
“Sequestration is really hard, but [Congress] said they’d do it,” Chocola said. “And they made a promise to the American people that if we raise the debt ceiling we’ll achieve these savings and we just think they need to do that.”

This isn’t surprising given the Club’s principled stances on spending, but it puts the group at odds with Republicans in Congress, including many they’ve endorsed in the past and even this year.

Earlier this year, the Club for Growth released a series of white papers on Republican presidential candidates. Perhaps the most interesting of the series was on Mitt Romney, detailing many of the position he’s taken that are at odds with limited government. When asked about Romney during the meeting, Chocola said that he was “uncertain”:

“It’s a mixed bag with Romney and that’s his problem, and people don’t really know,” Chocola said. “You don’t really know how he’ll serve. I think that’s why he hasn’t — there’s always a question, because of how he has served in the past, it gives you some uncertainty as how he will serve in the future. And so our expectations are, uncertainty.”

Chocola pointed to Romney’s record of restraining spending in Massachusetts as a plus, but also said the Club was troubled by his anti-China rhetoric when it comes to trade.
“We don’t have any great concerns about him and his candidacy, but we think our role, if he’s elected, is to hold him and the Congress accountable. And so our role in the presidential race is kind of, none, right now,” he said.

Chocola speculated that some of Romney’s challenges in the presidential election are familiar ones for a businessman-turned candidate.

“Business guys don’t really want to talk about themselves. They don’t want to convince you that I’m great. They want to say, look at all this stuff I did,” Chocola said. “Business guys have a hard time understanding why the results don’t speaking for themselves, and why do I have to tell people how great I am?”

And on potential primary challenges in 2014, Chocola didn’t hide his organization’s desire to go after Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who is frequently unwilling to cut the size and scope of government in order to wheel-and-deal with the other side of the aisle:

“If you’re looking to the horizon of 2014,” Chocola said, “the sun may rise over South Carolina.”

Chocola, a former Indiana congressman, said the Club’s level of involvement in the race would ultimately depend on who emerges to challenge Graham in the GOP primary. He hinted that the Club is not the only organization preparing to oppose Graham’s renomination.

“Lindsey Graham has not fared well on our score card,” Chocola said. “But we’ll see what the race is. … There’s interest beyond our group in that race.”

Graham is now pushing a deal with Senate Democrats to avoid sequestration, and he’s more than open to the idea of tax hikes to reach an agreement. He’d better be careful. Along side other groups, the Club played a prominent role in the ousting of Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) in 2010 and Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN) this year. They also made it known that they were unhappy with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), but they didn’t go all in during his primary challenge from Dan Liljenquist.

There is no doubt that they will continue to hold the Republican establishment accountable. They were in a minority during the Bush presidency, but they didn’t hide their contempt for his big spending ways. If Romney does win and Republicans manage to take the Senate, the Club for Growth will work to keep them accountable.

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