We want to introduce very careful vetting of candidates and wherever possible try to find consensus among groups on the right , so that if it’s possible, we avoid damaging primaries.
Geraghty: How will you be vetting candidates?
Law: We’re going to be looking at positions they’ve taken, things they’ve said. We’re going to be looking at fundraising ability. We’re going to be looking at their ability to put together a broad-based campaign, particularly if we’re trying to dislodge a sitting incumbent.
One of the things that has concerned us is that our candidates have lagged significantly behind in being able to support their own campaigns financially.
Geraghty: When I hear you say “vetting,” another phrase that comes to mind is “skeletons in the closet” — things that could very seriously impede a bid for office that an individual thinks will never come to light, that end up coming to light, whether it’s financial or personal behavior. Will you be looking into this, or am I getting the wrong impression?
Law: No, I think that’s true — we want to look into any issues, personal or political, that could significantly diminish an individual’s ability to be competitive in a general election.
I’ll give you a good example. In politics it’s often tough to grasp the obvious. In the Nebraska Senate primary of 2012, the establishment choice and frontrunner Jon Bruning was reported to have very significant ethics questions hanging over how he made his money. There was a very substantial exposé in the Omaha World-Herald. American Crossroads wasn’t involved in primaries at the time, but there was an effort on the part of Repulicans to essentially ignore that and ignore how that could have weakened him in a general election. To the credit of the Club for Growth, they acknowledged that this was a serious issue, that even though he was acceptable in his policy views, he was almost certainly too flawed to be a general-election candidate. Now, the Club for Growth ended up endorsing Don Stenberg, and I think Stenberg was a weak alternative.
But I think evaluating these candidates carefully in terms of their whole package is going to be a very important part of the exercise. Not only will we be conducting this, but we hope others will participate as well.
Geraghty: How do you determine when to oppose someone? How will you know when you’ve found a significantly flawed time bomb of a candidate?
Law: It will require research into the candidates, but also public-opinion research. It will vary on the basis of what the alternatives are, too. Campaigns or primaries where you have at least two equally viable candidates, even if they’re somewhat different ideologically, aren’t ones where we’d support one candidate over another.
I’m thinking of races like the 2012 Texas primary between Ted Cruz and David Dewhurst. Cruz was undeniably the stronger conservative, but either candidate would have been competitive in the general election. Those aren’t the kind of fights we’re interested in being involved in. We want to be in situations where there is someone with significant flaws who may not be competitive and who is not the best possible candidate. And in some cases, we may try to recruit someone who may be stronger and who would be competitive.
Geraghty: I noticed the only candidate mentioned much in the New York Times article was Iowa Republican congressman Steve King, who’s being discussed as a potential Senate candidate.
Law: What I commented on, in regards to the Senate race in Iowa, was only to raise the example of past statements and how they can potentially be a liability for someone. We haven’t ruled anybody in or out for the Iowa Senate race, and we haven’t even determined if we would be involved in that primary.
In fact, we supported Steve King in his last campaign; we spent $400,000 in that race just last year. My point in raising that was simply to say, as an example, that if you’re opining on different issues and saying things inartfully — everybody does that, I certainly do that myself — it is part of the permanent record that we have to evaluate and assess.
Are there things on the public record that are very hard to undo? Does the presence of those things suggest a larger problem that could erupt later on? I don’t have a view on that about Representative King — he ran a good reelection contest, he was very disciplined and on-message throughout that process.