Interview: The Club For Growth Ascendent

Here's a Q and A with ex-Rep. Chris Chocola, president of the Club for Growth, whose endorsement of Doug Hoffman in New York's 23rd congressional district precipitated Hoffman's quick rise to national prominence. Though the Club lost this race, they scored a coup the next day when Sen. John Cornyn, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said that he would not spend money on behalf of candidates who faced primaries, even those candidates he personally recruited.

What's your 30,000 feet take on Tuesday night?

For conservatives, really, they did not lose anything on Tuesday night because even in Hoffman's loss, if the Club for Growth had done nothing, Hoffman wouldn't have been able to mount a viable campaign. You would had the same type of policymaker in Scozzafava or Owens. Certainly we would have rather had Hoffman win. A victory in itself [when] a guy like John Cornyn [says it's]  his lesson that the competitive primaries are a good thing. It's not good that party bosses tell the voters who they ought to like. So that's a victory in and of itself.

What's the Club for Growth's brand like out there? I ask that because it seems like a lot of folks in the district didn't like how Hoffman became a talisman for a movement that originated outside the district.

Everyone would say that the [Scozzafava] probably wasn't in hindsight the most attractive candidate for the Republicans. If the county chairman had picked a principled conservative from the beginning, they would have probably won rather easily. So, there was a lot of money coming from all sides, and we don't take solace in this, but she ended up being everything that we said she was. I don't buy the argument that this was a struggle within the conservatives. There was no moderate in the race. There may be examples of that in the future, like in Florida.

Is Florida about moderates versus conservatives?

If somebody wants to make that argument, I think they should make that argument, they should use Florida as a better example of New York 23. I also think it's the lesson that John Cornyn learned, which is that the establishment really doesn't need to pick Crist a year before the field is set. It ought to let the primary voters do that, which we're going to. We've got this ad that we release because of Crist's statements today that he never supported the stimulus, when I think it's pretty clear that he did. Our ad makes that pretty clear. That was maybe a little earlier than we were anticipating doing that. But [Marco] Rubio is in a lot of ways a lot different candidate than Hoffman. He's held office before. He's one of the most articulate conservatives in the county right now, able to really deliver a message in a very attractive way. I guess it could be moderates versus conservatives. I don't know if it's a struggle. What we believe in is competition. We try to support candidates who support our issues--strictly economic -- we don't do social issues.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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