Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff, Nick Ayers, suggested Tuesday that wealthy GOP donors might want to think about bankrolling primary challengers if Republicans refuse to sign on to President Donald Trump's agenda.
According to POLITICO, Ayers made the comments to a closed-door meeting of big money donors on Tuesday, after several donors complained that senior members of the GOP were hampering efforts to make big changes to things like health care and the tax code.
"Just imagine the possibilities of what can happen if our entire party unifies behind him? If — and this sounds crass — we can purge the handful of people who continue to work to defeat him,” Ayers says in an audio recording made of the meeting.
Ayers also warned that if Republicans aren't motivated to pass the president's agenda, that they may be on track to "get shellacked" during next year's mid-term elections; unsatisfied voters are already voicing concerns that a GOP-controlled House, Senate, and White House should be able to work together to pass major reforms, but that some Republicans are actively preventing major bills from moving forward.
Ayers was careful to say that he was speaking only on his own behalf, but that he was serious with his suggestions.
“I’m not speaking on behalf of the president or vice president when I say this,” Ayers said. “But if I were you, I would not only stop donating, I would form a coalition of all the other major donors, and just say two things. We’re definitely not giving to you, No. 1. And No. 2, if you don’t have this done by Dec. 31, we’re going out, we’re recruiting opponents, we’re maxing out to their campaigns, and we’re funding super PACs to defeat all of you.”
Top targets include Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, apparently.
POLITICO is careful to say that it's not clear whether Ayers was making a serious effort to recruit primary challengers and financing donors, or whether he was making a fundraising pitch on behalf of the party.
It could be the latter; primary challenges from the Right haven't always gone the way Republicans have hoped, and both McConnell and Ryan are well-entrenched in their respective districts. Neither is in any danger of being unseated (though younger, less experienced legislators might be). There's also the danger of contributing to Congressional losses. Primary challengers may do well with the base, but could be weaker in a general election — and losing seats in either the House or the Senate would make Donald Trump a lame duck President only two years into his term.