Former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, one of the most influential players in the Republican party, is privately battling the Club for Growth.
Last week, at a closed-door retreat in northern Virginia, Barbour told a large gathering of congressional staffers, including several leadership aides, that party officials should discourage donors from funding the high-profile conservative group.
Insiders say Barbour’s comments came during a question-and-answer session at the Ripon Society’s annual symposium, which was held at Mount Vernon, the home of former president George Washington.
Sources say Barbour was asked about the group’s growing influence, and then he urged the aides and strategists to fight back. Many in the audience applauded Barbour for his remarks, according to two sources in the room.
In an interview with National Review Online on Tuesday, Barbour confirmed his appearance at the retreat, and acknowledged his growing frustration with conservative organizations that target Republicans in primaries.
“We kicked away four or five Senate seats in the last two cycles by nominating candidates who did not have the best chance to win,” he says. “We ought to talk to Republican donors now, in the off-season before the primaries, and discourage them from donating to organizations that will attack good Republicans.”
“Republican groups like the Club for Growth should stop spending money to defeat Republicans,” he adds. “Politics can’t be about purity. Unity wins in politics, purity loses.”
Barbour, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, is an adviser to American Crossroads, the Republican super PAC founded by Karl Rove. Crossroads recently started a new program, the Conservative Victory Project, which aims to protect select Republicans in contentious primary battles.
“Twice in my lifetime, Republican presidential candidates have gotten 60 percent of the vote,” Barbour says. “We should manage our coalition and keep our party diverse and large.”