An influential Republican has dubbed Donald Trump the “weakest candidate for president,” widening the GOP split ahead of what is shaping up to be an ugly primary.
David McIntosh, the president of the Club for Growth — the mega-donors’ anti-tax super PAC — said the party should break away from the former president if it has any chance of winning in 2024.
The highest-spending group, which competes with the MAGA-hosted Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), has already begun pouring millions into rival campaigns to prevent former Mr Trump from winning the GOP nomination .
Mr McIntosh, who believes Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has a better chance of beating Democrats, said Republicans need a fresh face if they expect to get the White House back.
Although Mr. DeSantis has not yet officially announced that he plans to run for office in 2024, he is widely expected to do so this summer and was on a book tour this week in Iowa, the first state to vote in the Republican primary .
“I am convinced that our weakest candidate for victory in the White House is Donald Trump,” McIntosh told the Washington Examiner. “And that’s because we lost 18, 20 and 22.
“The majority of people[are saying]it’s time for a new standard bearer who believes in free market principles and will fight for them,” he said.
Mr Trump was turned away from a Club for Growth retreat held this month on the same weekend as CPAC, which he chaired.
Mr McIntosh estimated that the club, which has proven to be very influential in deciding congressional primaries and races, may spend eight figures on the presidential primary, adding: “We will put together a budget that will be in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina (Caucuses) to make sure we have a great candidate.”
The struggle for the Republican Party’s future is a conflict between the interests of its major donors and the interests of grassroots voters. While a poll of CPAC activists had Mr. Trump ahead, a Club for Growth poll found Mr. DeSantis leading the 76-year-old former president by 49-40 percent in a hypothetical head-to-head primary match.
Mr Trump may need to court high earners in a way he hasn’t in previous presidential bids.
While he maintains a strong network of pocket change donors, his fundraising slowed in the final months of 2022. Several big names such as Blackstone Group’s Stephen Schwarzman and the Kochs have already distanced themselves from him.
Meanwhile, at the state level, Mr DeSantis’ political action committee put in about $70m (£58m) at the end of the year, which could be used towards a prospective 2024 campaign.
Mr. McIntosh, a former congressman from Indiana, said Republicans underperformed in last November’s midterm elections in part because of abortion concerns, but also in part because Mr. Trump was effectively on the ballot.
“Republicans saw DeSantis win decisively (double digits) and felt that Trump had been an obstacle to the Republican victory. There was a realization that when he’s either on the ballot himself or an issue in the campaign, the Democratic base comes out and that ends up hurting you,” McIntosh told the Washington Examiner.
In recent weeks, Mr. Trump has attacked Mr. McIntosh and the club, calling them “The Club for NO Growth” and claiming they are “a collection of political misfits, globalists and losers”.
Mr. DeSantis has attracted the attention of the party’s activist base by focusing on polarizing social issues from his position as governor of a key battleground state.
In his main seat at the Club for Growth behind-closed-door donor retreat held on Mr. Trump’s doorstep in Palm Beach last week, Mr. DeSantis addressed the 120-strong crowd.
He has criticized CEOs as “weak” for giving in to what he called a “woke mob” that pushes environmental, social and corporate governance policies, among other “left” issues.
Introducing Mr DeSantis, Mr McIntosh said: “I think everyone here is hoping that he will be a candidate in 2024 and based on the response I think he got the message that there are a lot of people in the audience who are.” would like to see him run.”