What made Stefanik unique is that she's a member of the George W. Bush alumni club, having served as a domestic-policy adviser in the former president's administration — and she's not the only candidate with connections to the Bush White House to claim special privileges. In Alaska, leading Senate candidate Dan Sullivan won early support from Crossroads, and received a rare televised endorsement from former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a March campaign ad. Sullivan served as Bush's assistant secretary of State for economic, energy, and business affairs. "Crossroads has become a Bush alumni super PAC," said one Republican strategist involved in congressional races.
American Crossroads President Steven Law said the candidates' connections to Bush "are not a factor in our decision-making process." He noted that Ryan was one of Stefanik's biggest champions, encouraging donors and outside groups to get involved for her campaign. (Another Republican campaign official said that the involvement was spurred by top Crossroads donor Paul Singer, who is trying to help elect more Republican women to Congress.) And in the Alaska race, Law said the group endorsed Sullivan because of his fundraising capability, a factor enhanced by his ties to former administration officials. The group hasn't yet spent money or reserved ad time on behalf of Senate nominee Ed Gillespie of Virginia, a former Bush official and Crossroads adviser.
"You have to prioritize where you think you can have the most significant impact. Our primary [campaign] involvement goes through a but-for test — but for our engagement, would we be able to make a meaningful difference in the race?" said Law. The New York race "is one where if there wasn't additional spending on the outside, Doheny would have won the primary and lost again in the general."
To be sure, Crossroads' decisions have proven to be strategically sound, helping stronger candidates prevail through difficult primaries. In Doheny, Stefanik faced a flawed candidate who lost the district twice before and had been photographed making out with one of his fundraising consultants. Sullivan, meanwhile, boasted a compelling resume as a Marine Corps officer, presidential adviser, and statewide officeholder in Alaska. He proved his fundraising viability before Crossroads backed his campaign, while his leading Republican opponent, Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, has struggled to put together a professional operation.
But critics of the group's tactics argue that valuable resources were diverted to an inconsequential House primary, when other Republican establishment groups were fighting to save Sen. Thad Cochran's career in Mississippi, and by extension, the GOP's Senate prospects. After Cochran finished second in the initial primary, Crossroads publicly telegraphed it wasn't doing anything more to help the embattled incumbent for the runoff. Crossroads has also stayed out of other contested Republican primaries where the quality of the nominee made a big difference, like in Georgia and Iowa. By contrast, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has played an outsize role in nominating fights this cycle, aired ads in those races on behalf of Joni Ernst and Rep. Jack Kingston.