In December, four female Republican candidates banded together to form the “Conservative Squad” as the antidote to the quartet of progressive women in the House known by a similar moniker. Four months later, one of those candidates failed to make it out of her primary, and the three other women posted modest fundraising numbers. Today, the group’s website isn’t even live anymore.
The Conservative Squad represents a microcosm of the challenges facing Republicans in the House. GOP challengers in top takeover districts are trailing significantly in available campaign funds, the party has to worry about defending some of its own seats, and Republicans are having a tough time boosting their female ranks on Capitol Hill.
Back in October, Republican lawyer and businesswoman Jessica Taylor announced her campaign for Alabama’s 2nd District and mentioned the need for a counter to New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and some of the other liberal newcomers on the Hill. “Conservatives like us need a squad of our own, and I’ll build it,” Taylor said in her initial video.
Two months later, in mid-December, Taylor rolled out the Conservative Squad on Fox News, joined by Nancy Mace (South Carolina’s 1st), Michelle Fischbach (Minnesota’s 7th) and Beth Van Duyne (Texas’ 24th).
“This is about bringing the conservative message to the people of the United States so the people understand we’re looking at do-nothing Democrats,” Fischbach explained. “They are obsessing over impeachment and not really doing anything for the people of the United States anymore.”
Interested donors could make a contribution via WinRed, the Republicans’ online giving platform, and divide their donation between the Conservative Squad joint fundraising committee (which allocated the money between the four candidates) and funds for the nominees who would challenge the progressive squad members: Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib (Michigan’s 13th), Ilhan Omar (Minnesota’s 5th) and Ayanna S. Pressley (Massachusetts’ 7th).
The Conservative Squad’s mission hit a snag when its leader lost her primary. Taylor finished third in the March 3 primary, about a half of 1 percentage point short of the second runoff slot. (She raised $261,000 in the first quarter and $470,000 overall for her unsuccessful candidacy). The primary result ensures that retiring Rep. Martha Roby, one of 13 Republican women in the House, will be replaced by a man as businessman Jeff Coleman and former state Rep. Barry Moore face off in the runoff scheduled for July 14.
“Some of us are continuing, some of us didn’t win the primary. But the conservative squad idea wasn’t about me or any four people,” Mace said. “It was about the growing number of conservative women who want a new kind of leadership in Congress; a group of female fighters to go against these socialists. There are hundreds of female candidates across the country who subscribe to this notion, and it’s very exciting.”
Mace is taking on freshman Democrat Joe Cunningham, who happened to test positive for the coronavirus last month. South Carolina’s 1st District is one of the GOP’s top takeover opportunities because it backed Trump by 13 points in 2016 but, similar to dozens of other Republican targets around the country, Mace is being lapped in fundraising.
The state representative raised a modest $295,000 in the first three months of the year and $1.2 million since she started her campaign. But she finished March with $806,000 in the bank — approximately one-third of Cunningham’s nearly $2.5 million. And Mace still has to secure the GOP nomination in the primary, which is scheduled for June.
Fischbach is favored to be the GOP nominee against DFL Rep. Collin C. Peterson in a rural district that Trump carried by 31 points in 2016. The longtime congressman had $1.1 million in the bank at the end of March, a meager sum for a vulnerable incumbent. But Fischbach raised just $228,000 in the first three months of the year and had just $312,000 in cash on hand at March 31 — low figures for a challenger in a potentially top-five race. The Minnesota contest is a good example of why just citing the 30 Democrats who represent Trump districts overstates GOP chances of winning back the House.
Van Duyne, a former mayor of Irving and onetime Trump administration official, might have the best chance of all in original Conservative Squad. She raised the most in the first three months of the year ($430,000) and coasted through her primary with 64 percent. Van Duyne also doesn’t have to defeat a Democratic incumbent, since she’s running in a district being vacated by GOP Rep. Kenny Marchant.
Van Duyne had just $242,000 in the bank, but Democrats have yet to select a nominee. Retired Air Force Col. Kim Olson and Carrollton-Farmers Branch school board trustee Candace Valenzuela are facing off in the Democratic runoff scheduled for July 14. Van Duyne will start the general election as the favorite, but the race will be competitive considering Trump carried it with just 51 percent in 2016 and Marchant won narrowly two years later. Republicans may have to devote resources to defending a seat they already hold, and winning the 24th won’t get them any closer to the 18 House seats they need to retake the majority.
In the end, it’s possible that three of the four Conservative Squad members get elected to Congress — or none of the four. Ultimately, though, it looks like they’re on their own to complete a common mission. Even though the WinRed page is still available, the initial website promoted by the group, ConservativeSquad.com, is no longer active and invites the Squarespace owner to log in.