WASHINGTON — The Club for Growth, a conservative anti-tax group that spent nearly $150 million in the past two election cycles, has invited a half-dozen potential Republican presidential candidates to its annual donor retreat next month — but not Donald J. Trump.
In a meeting with reporters on Monday, David McIntosh, president of the group, said that Republican chances of winning back the White House next year would be diminished if Mr. Trump were once again at the top of the ticket and that he hoped to introduce Republican donors to other possibilities.
“The party should be open to another candidate,” Mr. McIntosh said, suggesting that Republicans had already lost too many elections with Mr. Trump as the face of the party.
Mr. Trump and the Club for Growth, which is based in Washington, were frequent foils during the 2022 midterms, backing opposing candidates in some high-profile primary contests, including Senate races in Ohio and Pennsylvania. When the group started campaigning last year against J.D. Vance, Mr. Trump’s pick in Ohio, the former president ordered an aide to text Mr. McIntosh a vulgar message.
On the eve of Mr. Trump’s presidential announcement in November, the group publicized internal polling that showed the former president trailing Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida with Republican primary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. (Mr. Trump is so far the only declared candidate in the race, but President Biden is expected to seek re-election.)
Mr. McIntosh insisted that there was no personal animosity guiding the group’s interest in seeking another option for the 2024 nomination. Instead, he said that Mr. Trump had proved to be toxic among general election voters, adding that Republicans had lost elections in 2018, 2020 and 2022 on the former president’s watch.
Mr. Trump’s standing among Republicans dipped in public opinion polls in November and December. In addition to being largely blamed for the Republicans’ disappointing midterm season, he was also roundly criticized after hosting a private dinner — a week after his campaign announcement — with Kanye West, who has been denounced for making antisemitic statements, and Nick Fuentes, an outspoken antisemite and prominent young white supremacist.
He reported a less-than-stellar fund-raising haul in his first campaign finance report last week, yet another signal that his hold on some conservatives might be loosening. And the donor network created by the billionaire industrialist brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch is preparing to get involved in the presidential primaries in 2024, with the aim of turning the page on Mr. Trump.
Still, Mr. Trump remains the front-runner for his party’s presidential nomination, and his typical fund-raising strength is in small-dollar donors. And, if he were to capture his third consecutive nomination, Mr. McIntosh said his group would support Mr. Trump against Mr. Biden in 2024. In Mr. Trump’s presidential bid in 2016, the Club for Growth initially opposed him, but eventually got on board.
A spokesman for Mr. Trump declined to comment and instead pointed to three social media posts two weeks ago in which the former president repeatedly attacked the club, including one that referred to both the group and to Mr. DeSantis as “globalists.”
On Monday, Mr. McIntosh spoke highly of Mr. DeSantis and provided reporters with internal polling that showed the Florida governor beating Mr. Trump in a head-to-head primary matchup, but trailing when the poll included a wider, hypothetical field of seven candidates. Mr. DeSantis, who won re-election last year, has not said whether he will run for president in 2024.
Mr. McIntosh said that Mr. DeSantis had been invited to his group’s donor retreat, along with the other five non-Trump potential candidates in his group’s poll: former Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina and Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia.
Mr. McIntosh declined to say whether any other contenders had accepted invitations to the retreat, which is set to be held in Florida, home to both Mr. Trump and Mr. DeSantis.
Mr. McIntosh said Republicans had underperformed last year in part because of abortion issues, but also in part because of Mr. Trump. He said the former president’s insistence on promoting candidates who repeated his lies about the 2020 election had unnerved voters, who viewed Republican candidates as “future Trumps.”
“Trump was on the ballot,” Mr. McIntosh said. “So I worry that when we get into a general election, if Trump is the nominee, they’re going to be able to take a chunk of Republican votes.”
Asked if he thought Mr. Trump could beat Mr. Biden, Mr. McIntosh said, “Anything is possible.”
“The last three elections show he’s lost,” he added.
The post Club for Growth Distances Itself Further From Trump appeared first on New York Times.