Chamber of Commerce throws down the gauntlet to Tea Party
Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce, gave his annual "State of American Business" speech and didn't pull any punches toward the Tea Party.
Claiming he wasn't "attacking" the Tea Party, going so far as claiming that they agree with many Tea Party positions, Donohue nevertheless made it clear which side of the GOP civil war he's on.
"In primaries and in the general election, we will support candidates who want to work within the legislative process to solve the nation's problems and who understand that business is not the problem, business is a big part of the solution," he said during his annual State of American Business address.
The Chamber is a political juggernaut that spends millions of dollars on television ads, and its endorsements are often decisive in congressional races.
The group reported more than $32 million in independent expenditures during the 2012 election cycle, making it one of the biggest political spenders in the country, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
But while the Chamber has long been an election force, it is looking to be more aggressive in spending money in party primaries.
That's thanks to last year's government shutdown, which exasperated business groups and other traditional allies of the GOP. Now groups like the Chamber are making plans to oppose Tea Party upstarts.
"We probably now have a good half-dozen places that we are looking at in open seats and primaries where people are looking to challenge particularly long-serving and smart-voting people. We'll be there in both the House and the Senate," Donohue said.
Donohue stressed that he has no quarrel with Tea Party groups, noting the Chamber often agrees with their positions, but he said the no-holds-barred tactics favored by the movement have become counterproductive.
"I think they're well-intentioned people, except when they get to Washington, they're not going to do what we believe we need to do, so why should we help them get here? And why don't we protect the people that are here? But don't line me up as attacking the Tea Party because I'm not," Donohue said.
Rob Engstrom, the Chamber's national political director, said the business group has gotten involved in three primaries so far - Rep. Mike Simpson's (Idaho), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) and Alabama's special congressional election last year.
Engstrom said the Chamber would consider participating in more primaries, and he told The Hill he is scheduled to meet with Brian Ellis - a primary challenger to Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) - as part of roughly 150 candidate interviews the Chamber conducts each election cycle.
The die is cast, the Rubicon has been crossed - there's no going back now. Supporting incumbents is one thing. But challenging Amash, a Ron/Rand Paulite and Tea Party favorite steps over the line. The Chamber's goal is nothing less than an attempt to marginalize the Tea Party within the Republican party.What do they now expect to happen? They've just energized the very group they want to sideline.
Along with Karl Rove's American Crossroads PAC and other outside establishment groups who are getting involved in primaries, the Chamber of Commerce and their allies will now seek to dictate to local people who they should be supporting for federal office. Even if successful, the effort will almost certainly backfire. It ups the possibility that the right will form a third party, while at the very least, force many Tea Party supporters to sit at home on election day.
It's a stupid move and could cost the GOP on election day.