Tea Party Takes on Boehner

Conservative groups like the Madison Project are using a candidate’s support for House leaders as a litmus test in the mid-term elections.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty,SAUL LOEB

After House Speaker John Boehner pushed through a series of votes opposed by conservatives, including the Farm Bill, the continuing resolution to fund the federal government, and a bill to increase the nation’s debt ceiling, a national conservative group says it will not support GOP candidates in 2014 who support Boehner for Speaker in the next Congress.

Daniel Horowitz, policy director for the Madison Project, tells the Daily Beast that the group will not endorse or support candidates in the mid-term elections who would vote to keep any of the current House leadership in the next Congress, including Boehner.

“Rubber stamping the omnibus bill, the Farm Bill, and debt ceiling while pushing for Obama’s immigration priorities represents just the latest indication that Boehner would rather fight us than Obama,” Horowitz said. “So getting candidates to commit to change the failed leadership in the party is one of the ways to cut through the talking points and discern whether a candidate will really serve as a game-changer or another status quo Republican.”

Horowitz added that the Madison project’s strategy not to support candidates who support the current congressional leadership simply reflects conservative activists’ own frustrations.

“The base is ubiquitously unhappy with everything they stand for, their associations, and the way they operate,” Horowitz said. “There is no purpose in asking people to walk the neighborhood to canvass for someone who would support the status quo.”

The Madison Project is one of a new breed of powerful outside interest groups that endorse conservative Republican candidates in races against either Democrats or fellow Republicans.

One of those conservative candidates is Georgia State Sen. Barry Loudermilk, who is running in the Republican primary to replace Rep. Phil Gingrey, a Republican congressman running for Georgia’s open Senate seat. Although Gingrey supported Boehner for Speaker, Loudermilk would not.

“Barry is going to support someone who supports the Constitution and is going to fight for the Constitution,” Dan McLagan, Loudermilk’s spokesman, told the Daily Beast. “Right now that does not appear to be John Boehner.” Loudermilk’s toughest opponent in the primary is former Rep. Bob Barr, who was not available Tuesday to comment on Boehner’s future leadership.

While the Madison Project will use a candidate’s support for House leaders as a litmus test in the mid-term elections, other conservative groups say they don’t consider leadership votes as a part of their endorsements for conservative candidates. But that doesn’t mean they’re supporting Boehner or the House leadership.“Ours is a policy-driven process, not personality-driven process,” said Russ Walker, national political director for FreedomWorks for America, the campaign arm of FreedomWorks. Walker said FreedomWorks is looking to expand “the liberty caucus,” by endorsing candidates for the House and Senate with a limited government outlook on issues like health care, federal spending and civil liberties. Will one of their endorsed candidates be John Boehner in his reelection race in Ohio’s 8th congressional district? “Probably not,” said Walker. Like FreedomWorks, the Club for Growth says it won’t use candidate’s support for Boehner and the House leadership as a factor in their endorsements for 2014.“That’s not how we determine candidate endorsements,” said Barney Keller, of the Club for Growth. “We don’t have any control over who the Speaker is. Members of Congress do. We try to stay out of fights we don’t have any control over.” But the Club for Growth does have significant control over how members of Congress vote on individual pieces of legislation, and the Club has key-voted against many of the bills Boehner pushed this year, like the Farm Bill and debt ceiling vote. Republicans who backed Boehner will see it reflected on their Club for Growth scorecards that rate them for their conservative performance and are often used in GOP primary fights as proof of who is the most conservative candidate in the race. Boehner has made no secret of his disdain for the conservative groups, which have worked both behind the scenes and in public to kill support for measures he was pushing as Speaker and undermining his legislative strategy. In December, he unleashed a tirade against them, saying they had “lost all credibility.”"They're using our members and they're using the American people for their own goals," Boehner said in a press conference. “This is ridiculous."While Boehner certainly does not need the groups’ help to win his own reelection in Ohio, he came within six votes last year of being forced to a second ballot in his election as the House Speaker. Of the 220 Republicans who voted for him, 19 have announced they will leave the House at the end of the year. The races to replace many of those 19 Republicans, like Rep. Frank Wolf in Virginia, Rep. Gingrey in Georgia, and Spencer Baucus in Alabama, already feature wide-open Republican primaries where conservative candidates have already spoken out against Boehner. Even Senate candidates’ past support for Boehner has become an issue in Georgia, where Rep. Paul Broun went after Rep. Jack Kingston Tuesday for supporting Boehner’s agenda while he has been Speaker. Unlike Kingston and Rep. Gingrey, the two other House Republicans in the race, Broun was one of 12 House Republicans to oppose Boehner in his second term as Speaker. Broun voted for fellow conservative Rep. Allen West, even though West lost his own re-election to the House two months earlier.