Big business wants to get more involved in Republican primaries. It does so at its own peril.
On Wednesday, the Club for Growth criticized GOP Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho for accepting the endorsement of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, a business group that recently decided to support expanding Medicaid in the state as part of the Affordable Care Act. Many conservatives consider backing any part of Obamacare heresy, and a spokesman for the free-market group questioned whether Simpson thought the same way.
"Does Mike Simpson support or oppose expanding Medicaid under Obamacare in Idaho, just as his supporters in the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry do?" said Club spokesman Barney Keller. "Medicaid expansion will cost taxpayers billions and stick future generations with the bill. Conservatives across the country are rejecting Obamacare's Medicaid expansion, and Mike Simpson should have to answer if he joins with the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry in supporting Obamacare's Medicaid expansion in Idaho."
The Club has endorsed Simpson's primary opponent, lawyer Bryan Smith, making the state's 2nd District race one of the premier battles between establishment and conservative Republicans. The IACI, meanwhile, has not only announced its support of Simpson, it has formed a super PAC to help him win reelection. After the government shutdown in October, business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said they would begin to aggressively support business-friendly Republicans over tea-party conservatives.
But as Wednesday's episode demonstrates, their increased involvement carries risk for themselves and the candidates they back. Candidates who ally themselves with business risk being seen as the establishment choice, which some conservatives see as synonymous with being too moderate. As the Club did, they will question whether Simpson—who has voted to repeal Obamacare dozens of times in Congress—is OK with Medicaid expansion in Idaho.
In other words, the groups' involvement can hurt more than it helps. It's why some political operatives working with them are deeply skeptical they can do anything to affect the outcome of these primaries.
The Simpson campaign, which was also endorsed by Mitt Romney earlier this week, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.