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A Misleading Ad in Heated Kansas GOP Senate Primary


In Kansas’ bitterly contested Republican Senate primary, a super PAC supporting Rep. Roger Marshall inaccurately describes Club for Growth as an “anti-Trump organization” in a TV ad attacking Marshall’s rival, Kris Kobach.

The group, called Keep Kansas Great, charges in the ad that “Kobach’s Senate campaign is being bankrolled by an anti-Trump D.C. special interest group.”

It’s true that Club for Growth used to be vehemently opposed to Trump. The conservative pro-business group backed Sen. Ted Cruz in the 2016 Republican presidential primary. But it has had a change of heart toward President Donald Trump.

“We’re very pleased with how they’re governing,” Club for Growth President David McIntosh told The Hill newspaper last year.

In an Aug. 25, 2019, interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” McIntosh, a former Republican congressman from Indiana and friend of Vice President Mike Pence, acknowledged the group’s former antipathy toward Trump and its support for Cruz. He explained the turnabout this way: “[W]hat we base our current position on is the results. President Trump has governed as a free-market conservative, cutting taxes, trying to get rid of Obamacare, deregulating the oil and energy industry, deregulating the internet. And it’s working.”

In February, McIntosh told Vanity Fair, “One of the biggest changes is, and you can label it nationalism or populism, essentially Trump has brought back what we used to call Reagan Democrats — he does it with a theme of ‘Make America Great Again,’ but it’s American populism.”

Club for Growth opposed Trump’s impeachment and supported his tax cuts.

To support the idea that Club for Growth is anti-Trump, the ad misleadingly includes quotes from Trump criticizing the organization during the 2016 primary, when the two were at odds.

First the ad shows text saying, “Trump has called the club ‘pathetic’ and ‘phony,'” citing an article from 2015. Then it uses an April 2016 clip of Trump calling the group “a fraud” and “crooked” in a campaign speech in Milwaukee.

Club for Growth did not respond to a request for comment about the ad.

Kobach, who served as vice chairman of Trump’s vote fraud commission, and Marshall, a two-term congressman, are battling to succeed Sen. Pat Roberts, a veteran Republican legislator who is retiring. Roberts is completing his fourth Senate term after serving eight terms in the House.

Despite Kansas’ history of electing Republicans — it last elected a Democratic U.S. senator in 1932 — the race to fill the open seat is seen as competitive, and is listed as “lean Republican” by the Cook Political Report. State Sen. Barbara Bollier, a retired physician and former Republican, is expected to be the Democratic nominee. The primary is scheduled for Aug. 4.

The current Kansas kerfuffle began in March when Club for Growth ran full-page negative ads in Kansas newspapers attacking Marshall, an obstetrician/gynecologist. The ad featured quotes from women, identified only by their first names, who were critical of the doctor in online reviews for being “insensitive” or “arrogant.”

Club for Growth spent $33,000 on the campaign, which included full-page ads in the Kansas City Star, Wichita Eagle and Topeka Capital-Journal, according to the Washington Times. The campaign also has a digital component, including a website, which says, “Online reviews of his practice suggest poor treatment of women” and urges women to share their own experiences.

When the Kansas City Star asked Club for Growth why it opposes Marshall, spokesman Joe Kilday responded: “It’s spending. That’s the issue.”

In an editorial critical of the ad campaign, the newspaper said that if “the Club for Growth sees Marshall as too big a spender, they should run ads against him on that basis rather than highlighting generic, anonymous complaints that imply he’s guilty of something terrible without ever spelling out what that something is.”

Firing back in an ad that first aired April 28 in the Wichita/Hutchinson market, Keep Kansas Great tries to show there is significant daylight between Kobach, a longtime staunch Trump supporter, and the president. The narrator of the ad says, “Now Kobach’s Senate campaign is being bankrolled by an anti-Trump D.C. special interest group.”

Although his job approval rating has never reached higher than 49% in the Gallup Poll, Trump’s approval among Republicans is 93%. And most GOP candidates are reluctant to appear anything but completely on his side. Trump has yet to make an endorsement in the Kansas primary.

The ad also mentions a 2019 episode when Kobach was under consideration to become the Trump administration’s “immigration czar.” The former Kansas secretary of state submitted a list of conditions for accepting the position, including round-the-clock access to a government jet, a West Wing office and weekends off to spend time with his family, according to the New York Times. He didn’t get the job.

In 2018, Kobach won Trump’s endorsement for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. But Kobach lost the general election to Democrat Laura Kelly, an upset in a state with a deep red political tradition. Some national Republicans are fearful that Kobach would not be a strong candidate in a race many GOP insiders hoped Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would enter. The ad touches on these worries, saying that if Kobach is the nominee, “Kris Kobach will lose again and the liberal radicals will be back in charge.”

While Club for Growth now praises Trump, there is no doubt it was once harshly critical of him. As we have written, the falling out dates back to 2011, when Trump was considering a run for the White House and Club for Growth issued several press releases and an op-ed from its president questioning Trump’s conservative credentials. And, as we wrote, Club for Growth was outspoken in its opposition to Trump’s 2016 presidential candidacy. Its super PAC ran a series of ads depicting Trump as a liberal. 

But that was then. Club for Growth has warmed to the president, and the Keep Kansas Great ad is off-target.

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