The Washington Post

Club for Growth head: If Mourdock had gotten a flat tire ‘he’d be a senator today’

In the eyes of Club for Growth President Chris Chocola, Richard Mourdock would be in the U.S. Senate today if not for controversial comments about rape and pregnancy during a debate in 2012.

"He made an inexcusable mistake, he did," Chocola said at a Wednesday evening debate hosted by the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute. "He went to a debate -- if he'd just gotten a flat tire, he'd be a senator today."

Mourdock defeated six-term incumbent U.S. Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) in a Republican primary in 2012, but lost the general election after saying at a candidate debate that he opposed abortion even if the pregnancy resulted from rape.

Candidate electability was one of many topics over which Chocola sparred with Steve LaTourette, the head of the Main Street Partnership, a moderate Republican group. Chocola, a former congressmen, exchanged blows for an hour, butting heads with LaTourette in a set-to billed as "The Tea Party versus The Establishment." They tussled over the government shutdown, Obamacare and outside spending, occasionally lobbing one-liners that elicited chuckling from the crowd.

"These groups love to engage in a sport called RINO hunting," said LaTourette in reference to the acronym for the term "Republican In Name Only." "You'd think they are on a safari all the time."

LaTourette argued that tea party groups' unwillingness to budge from hard right positions, insistence on challenging Republican incumbents and preemptive warnings that members vote against certain bills have hurt the party and led to infighting that has imperiled its chances of taking back the White House.

"Anybody that believed that because of Sen. [Ted] Cruz's filibuster on the Senate floor that Barack Obama down at the White House was going to go, 'You're right, that Obamacare sucks, let's just get rid of it,'" would have been wrong, said the former Ohio congressman.  "It was a non-winning strategy."

Chocola defended his group's activities, challenging LaTourette to find a position the Club supports that is not in the GOP platform. He said that the country's sharp fiscal challenges explain why his group takes such a hard line.

"We're not the radicals. We're the rational actors," the former Indiana congressman said. He recalled wanting to reform Social Security during the Bush administration only to be rebuffed by House GOP leaders who were fearful of an electoral backlash.

"What good is a majority if you're not going to use it? What good is it being part of the team if the team is the problem?" asked Chocola.

The two disagreed about the result of tension between tea party groups and the GOP establishment. In LaTourette's view, conservative groups' decisions to spend money trying to defeat fellow Republicans in recent elections paved the way for Democrats to have a majority that allowed them to pass the health-care law.

"Do you think something gets more conservative with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid writing the bill?" he asked.

To Chocola, the clash of ideas will restore the Republican Party to its principles not dismantle it.

"I think the friction is going to save us not destroy us," he said.

When the conversation turned to elections, Chocola noted that while the tea party losses by the likes of Sharron Angle and Mourdock are often blamed for the GOP failing to win the Senate majority the past two cycles, establishment Republicans like Rick Berg in North Dakota, Denny Rehberg in Montana and George Allen in Virginia also lost winnable Senate races. He pointed to Club-backed candidates who won, like Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania and Marco Rubio in Florida.

At the conclusion of the debate, LaTourette offered to return all the money his group has raised if the Club would just stop going after Republican incumbents. It is trying to defeat Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) this cycle.

"I decline your offer," responded Chocola.

"Alert the media," joked LaTourette.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Comments
Show Comments
The Republicans debate Saturday night. The New Hampshire primary is on Feb. 9. Get caught up on the race.
Heading into the next debate...
Donald Trump returns to the Republican presidential debate stage Saturday night. Marco Rubio arrives as a sudden star, but fending off ferocious attacks from his rivals. Still glowing from his Iowa victory, Ted Cruz is trying to consolidate conservative support, while Ben Carson is struggling to avoid being typecast as the dead man walking.
Listen
Play Video
New Hampshire polling averages
Donald Trump holds a commanding lead in the next state to vote.
New Hampshire polling averages
Polling in New Hampshire has typically been volatile after Iowa's caucuses, but Bernie Sanders, from its neighboring state Vermont, has been holding a lead over Hillary Clinton.
55% 38%
Listen
Play Video
Upcoming debates
Feb. 6: GOP debate

on ABC News, in Manchester, N.H.

Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Campaign 2016
State of the race

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.