McCarthy foes face blowback as primary threats grow and GOP donors shut their wallets

Watch CNN’s coverage of the eight House Republicans who voted to oust former Speaker Kevin McCarthy on “Inside Politics Sunday with Manu Raju” at 11 a.m. ET.

Donors no longer want to contribute to their campaigns. Primary opponents are lining up to take them out. And some of them have been ex-communicated from caucuses on Capitol Hill.

The eight House Republicans who took the unprecedented step of removing Kevin McCarthy from the speakership are facing blowback, both in Washington and back home. It’s a sign that even four months after the historic move, emotions are still raw inside a GOP conference that is continuing to reel from McCarthy’s ouster.

Reps. Nancy Mace of South Carolina and Bob Good of Virginia have arguably received the most incoming fire, with both now facing serious primary threats as they gear up for reelection. And Rep. Matt Rosendale, who recently jumped into the US Senate race in Montana, is facing headwinds in GOP circles — in part because of his vote to boot McCarthy — as top Republicans fear he will cost them a pivotal seat.

A well-connected GOP outside spending group is planning to play in the races against Good and Mace, while McCarthy himself is widely expected to get involved as well, according to multiple Republican sources familiar with the matter.

Meanwhile, the Main Street Caucus and Republican Governance Group, two center-right-leaning groups on Capitol Hill, have both quietly dropped Mace from their ranks, multiple sources told CNN. Neither move was publicized, but sources say frustration with the congresswoman had been brewing for months leading up to her McCarthy vote.

“She really wants to be a caucus of one. So we obliged her,” one House Republican told CNN.

For their part, Mace and Good are both downplaying the threats and expressing no regret about their votes. They are also leaning into the image of being Washington outsiders, which they believe will play well with the GOP base in their respective districts.

“I’m too busy working for the Lowcountry and helping elect President Trump to worry about Kevin McCarthy’s puppet,” Mace said of one of her primary opponents. “The DC swamp doesn’t want me back — too bad. I don’t work for them, I work for the people of the 1st Congressional District and no one else.”

Notably, Good still has support from his colleagues in the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, where he was recently elevated to chairman. But his controversial behavior, including his decision to endorse Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over former President Donald Trump for president, still rankled some in the group, as CNN previously reported.

Good said he was not concerned about the impact of his McCarthy vote.

“I think he should bring McCarthy to campaign for him down in the district,” Good said of his primary foe.

Good and Mace aren’t the only ones who find themselves targeted. Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee told CNN some “very wealthy folks” shut their wallets to him in the aftermath of his vote.

“They’ve been very kind to me in the past, and I hope that we can mend the fences,” Burchett said. “I can get them back in the fold. But if I don’t, I’m still friends with them. I’m not vindictive.”

At least one Republican opponent had considered challenging Burchett, though ultimately opted not to last week. Still, Burchett — who said he “caught grief” for initially supporting McCarthy in January 2023 — acknowledged he could face McCarthy-fueled opposition in the August primary.

“He’s got to do something with that $17 million he has, so it’ll be eight of us that probably feel the brunt of that,” Burchett said of McCarthy, who left Congress at the end of last year. “I knew exactly what I was doing. I knew I’d get opposition because of it. I still think it’s the right thing to do.”

And Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, a former Freedom Caucus chairman, also told CNN he has experienced some backlash, including some GOP donors giving him the cold shoulder.

But Biggs said the lawmakers — who have become known as the “Gaetz Eight,” since Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida was their ringleader — were prepared to have a target on their backs after they made their momentous decision to boot McCarthy halfway through the congressional session.

“We knew that that was a risk,” Biggs told CNN. “But I’m gonna be doing everything I can to help Bob and Nancy. You know, Nancy and I don’t agree a lot. But we do agree on other issues. And I think she tries to represent her constituents.”

As the eight have become persona non grata on the Capitol, they are now banding together and vowing to help protect one another. There are also signs that the current Republican leadership team, under Speaker Mike Johnson, will have their backs.

“McCarthy couldn’t beat us in Washington, DC, on his home turf, where he has all the king’s horses and all the king’s men,” Gaetz told CNN. “He thinks he’s going to beat us on away games?”

But while Gaez saw a big fundraising boost in the final quarter of last year — raising $1.8 million, up from $770,000 the previous quarter — others in the group took a hit. Rosendale posted his lowest numbers of the year in the final quarter, raising just $98,000.

Rep. Nancy Mace, a Republican from South Carolina, talks to reporters outside the US Capitol on November 1, 2023. - Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Rep. Nancy Mace, a Republican from South Carolina, talks to reporters outside the US Capitol on November 1, 2023. – Drew Angerer/Getty Images

McCarthy’s revenge tour takes shape

Behind the scenes, McCarthy allies have been quietly working to exact electoral revenge on the Gaetz Eight, attempting to identify strong primary opponents.

Brian O. Walsh, a GOP political consultant and McCarthy ally, has been leading the effort to recruit potential challengers, according to GOP sources familiar with the matter. Politico was the first to report Walsh’s involvement.

While McCarthy himself is not yet directly involved, multiple Republicans expect the former speaker — who is still connected to a wealthy network of donors — to channel his powerful resources against Mace and Good.

“If I’m those folks, one of the things that would scare the crap out of me more than anything else is an unhinged McCarthy,” one GOP lawmaker told CNN. “The guy’s the most prolific fundraiser, you’ve got a massive group of donors across the country that are pissed off about what’s happening, and you’ve got these boneheads that have caused it.”

Among the most promising candidates: Catherine Templeton, an attorney and businesswoman who recently announced a bid against Mace, and John McGuire, a Navy SEAL and state representative who is challenging Good. Sources close to both of them, however, say they have not met with McCarthy and insisted they entered their races for other reasons.

Still, there’s interest in McCarthy world in helping them succeed: Jeff Miller, a longtime friend and adviser to McCarthy, has donated to McGuire’s campaign, a source familiar with the effort said.

And Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, a McCarthy ally, has formally endorsed McGuire, as well as Tim Sheehy, whom Rosendale will face in the Montana Senate primary.

When asked whether he’s worried about McCarthy or his allies coming after him, Rosendale told CNN: “I’m not worried about anybody from California coming out to Montana to campaign.”

In other cases, though, the recruitment effort has been less successful. Some of McCarthy’s associates have inquired about whether Mark Lamb, who is running for Senate in Arizona, would challenge Rep. Eli Crane, a member of the Gaetz Eight. But Lamb is close to Crane and Gaetz, and is uninterested in taking on Crane, according to a GOP source close to the situation.

Crane told CNN he hasn’t seen any backlash from his Arizona constituents, saying: “My voters are very supportive of it.”

But he also said he’s losing donors because of his vote, even as he said he mostly relies on small donors to help build his campaign.

“Yeah, that’s definitely a reality,” Crane told CNN of losing donors. “And I think that anybody that participated in that knew that going forward.“

Crane, however, said he had no regrets. “I didn’t come here to play it safe or become a chairman of a committee,” the freshman Republican said. “I came here to make change. And when you do that, sometimes it means the runway’s going to be a little shorter and you might go home. But we need people up here right now who have courage.”

Sources said there’s also been an effort to find a veteran to take on Gaetz in his Florida district, which has a heavy military population, but an interested candidate has yet to emerge. Plus, McCarthy’s camp sees Gaetz as more difficult to defeat.

However, Mace — who has taken other controversial moves and has experienced a high level of staff turnover in recent months — is seen as easier to topple. McCarthy, who spent significant money to help Mace get elected, felt particularly burned by the congresswoman’s vote to depose him, according to sources close to the former speaker.

McCarthy has left the door open to backing primary challengers against the Gaetz Eight, and has talked highly of McGuire in public appearances. In an interview with CNN following his ouster, McCarthy unloaded on his foes, saying there needs to be “consequences” and arguing Mace doesn’t deserve to be reelected. He echoed a similar sentiment to reporters last week at Trump’s Nevada caucuses watch party in Las Vegas.

“If you’ve watched, just her philosophy and the flip-flopping, I don’t believe she wins reelection,” McCarthy told CNN. “I don’t think she’ll probably have earned the right to get reelected.”

Rep. Bob Good, a Republican from Virginia, conducts a television interview in Washington, DC, on May 30, 2023. - Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc/Getty Images

Rep. Bob Good, a Republican from Virginia, conducts a television interview in Washington, DC, on May 30, 2023. – Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc/Getty Images

The Gaetz Eight get back up

Johnson, however, has shown no animosity toward the McCarthy rebels, and is expected to support their reelection races. On Friday, the speaker even held a fundraiser for Burchett in his district, according to the Tennessee Republican, amid a broader swing through the state.

Republicans think part of Johnson’s strategy is rooted in member management: Not only does he want to heal the wounds inside the conference, but doling out valuable chits to these members could help prevent them from acting out.

To that end, Johnson announced last week that he plans to donate to Rosendale’s Senate campaign, though he is not making any endorsement after facing blowback for his initial plans to do so. Notably, Rosendale supported an Israel aid package on the floor last week, even as other members of the Freedom Caucus railed against it because it was not paid for.

“The speaker has committed to sending a contribution to Congressman Rosendale, as he has for other House colleagues and friends, but he has not made any endorsements in Senate races,” said Greg Steele, the communications director for Johnson’s political team.

Meanwhile, the House GOP’s campaign arm has a policy of protecting the conference’s members. And the Gaetz Eight are no exception.

“We are an incumbent-driven organization and support all House Republican incumbents call,” said a spokesman for the National Republican Campaign Committee.

CNN’s David Wright, Sam Fossum and Morgan Rimmer contributed to this report.

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