GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.

GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.

WASHINGTON – According to the headlines, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and GOP party leaders have buried the hatchet and are working toward a common goal, as exemplified by the candidate’s endorsement of such establishment figures as House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

But there is growing evidence of a civil war between the establishment and the conservatives in the Republican Party, and it’s raging beneath the media’s radar.

A key Capitol Hill aide told WND, “There’s a concerted effort by establishment Republicans and D.C. special-interest groups to defeat conservatives in key races this cycle.”

“This is all in hopes of stacking the next Congress with individuals who support amnesty and a crony capitalist agenda.”

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The pattern is becoming familiar: A GOP establishment candidate tries to take out a conservative rival by painting the outsider as an insider.

The latest example plays out on Tuesday, during the GOP primary election in Florida’s 2nd Congressional District.

Mary Thomas, GOP congressional candidate in Florida's 2nd district

Mary Thomas, GOP congressional candidate in Florida’s 2nd district

That’s the race in which a spokesman for her opponent claimed conservative candidate Mary Thomas has an “embarrassing record as a (former Florida governor) Charlie Crist appointee” and “worked to advance the liberal Crist climate change agenda.”

But a look at Thomas’ campaign website shows she is actually calling for the elimination of the entire Environmental Protection Agency.

Hardly sounding like a climate-change zealot, she appears to be just the opposite.

So, what’s going on here?

Why is the opposition calling her a liberal and trying to join her at the hip with the centrist-Republican-turned-Democrat Crist?

A closer look reveals that it seems to be the same deceitful strategy used to take out conservative Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., in his primary election defeat in August, as reported by WND.

Not only that, the same group that targeted Huelskamp is targeting Thomas: the ESA Fund.

Last month, WND reported the Kansas paper Lawrence Journal-World identified the big money funding advertising against Huelskamp as coming from the ESA Fund.

And who was the critic calling Thomas a liberal appointee of Crist? It was attorney Charles Spies of the Clark Hill law firm, writing “on behalf of the ESA Fund.”

And what is the ESA fund?

It’s a super PAC that targets usually targets Democrats, but, as Huelskamp told WND, “They just don’t like conservatives. I’d say they probably hate conservatives.”

The Lawrence Journal-World described the ESA Fund as “made up of a handful of billionaire investors and hedge fund managers that includes the family that owns the Chicago Cubs and the family that turned World Wrestling Entertainment into a multibillion dollar international entertainment business.”

Marlene Ricketts, wife of T.D. Ameritrade founder J. Joseph Ricketts, contributed $850,000 to the PAC this election cycle. Their son, Tom, led the family bid to try to purchase the Cubs, and another son, Peter, is the Republican governor of Nebraska.

Rep Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., with his wife Angela and their four adopted children. (Photo courtesy of Huelskamp family)

Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., with his wife Angela and their four adopted children. (Photo courtesy of Huelskamp family)

Another contributor to the super PAC is the wife of WWE kingpin Vince McMahon, Linda. “The largest donor to the ESA Fund is billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer of New York, who Forbes magazine estimates has a net worth of $2.2 billion,” according to the paper. Other hedge fund managers have also contributed.

“They ran super PAC adds in Iowa to help Hillary and they also ran ads going after Trump,” Huelskamp told WND.

“So, this is an establishment PAC trying to send a message. Not just to me, but to all conservatives in Congress, that, ‘Hey you either do what we say or were going to go after you.'”

The letter on behalf of the ESA Fund from Spies, sent to the “Saint Peters” politics blog, made two points attacking Thomas: that she was a Crist appointee and had a liberal agenda. Both claims appear demonstrably false.

Spies was defending an ESA Fund campaign ad containing a graphic that read, “Mary Thomas – Charlie Crist – Appointee.”

Attorney Craig Engle, acting on behalf of Thomas, wrote to the blog, “Official records and Florida state law show that Ms. Thomas has never been an appointee of Charlie Crist. Therefore, it would be contrary to the public duty of a television station to continue to broadcast this commercial to its viewers.”

As the blog noted, Crist’s “conversion from the Republican to the Democratic Party has made him anathema among conservatives like Thomas.” So, is Thomas a Crist-supporting liberal? A glance at her policy positions posted on her campaign website would strongly indicate just the opposite.

A sampling shows it reads like a conservative’s wish list:

  • Eliminate the IRS, Department of Education and the EPA.
  • Pause immigration from states that sponsor, harbor or support terrorism or terrorists, and completely overhaul the current visa and immigration policy.
  • Secure the border.
  • Identify those here illegally that are in our jails and on our governmental roles and repatriate them.
  • Stop employers from knowingly employing illegal workers.
  • End funding for sanctuary cities and ensure that federal laws are enforced.
  • Cut taxes. Adopt a flat (14.5 percent) or FairTax.
  • Reduce and eliminate burdensome regulations.
  • Balance the budget by 2019 and reduce spending by $7.5 trillion over 10 years.
  • Immediately repeal Obamacare.
  • Replace it with HR 2300, a patient-centered, market-driven approach that covers the same number of uninsured, while saving $2.34 trillion in its first decade alone, while reducing premium costs.
  • End taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood.
  • Pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act to protect unborn children 20 weeks old or older.
  • Stop Common Core.
  • Allow veterans to choose their health care providers.
  • Adopt term limits for all members of Congress.

She has also started a petition to keep Syrian refugees out of North Florida, saying, “We cannot allow liberals to put their ideology above the security of the United States.”

Not exactly a liberal manifesto.

Thomas on the campaign trail

Thomas on the campaign trail

The campaign website of her GOP primary opponent, surgeon Neal Dunn, says, “He will bring a dose of common sense we desperately need in Washington.” A look at his stance on the issues reveals 10 generally conservative-sounding positions, but with nothing approximating the specificity, or sweeping scope, outlined by Thomas. For instance, he does call for the repeal of Obamacare, but comes nowhere near to calling for the elimination of entire government agencies.

Thomas is a state government attorney for Florida Gov. Rick Scott and oversees the legal department of an agency that administers a $900 million budget.

A woman and an ethic minority (she is a first-generation American whose parents arrived from India in 1972), Thomas seems like just the kind of candidate GOP leaders have been wanting to broaden the party’s appeal:

  • “There has to be a degree of diversity on the ballot. Now, whether it be a diversity of age, or whether it be a diversity of gender, or ethnic background, somehow or another, diversity is important in some respects,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in May.
  • “We’re going to be announcing a $10 million initiative just this year which will include hundreds of people, paid, across the country, from coast to coast, in Hispanic, African-American, Asian communities, talking about our party, talking about our brand, talking about what we believe in,” Priebus also said in May.
  • National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden said in January that one of his priorities would be reaching out to minorities, acknowledging Republicans have not done that well.
  • Two years ago, the GOP announced it planned to spend $60 million to court black voters, “because,” said Rep. Ryan at the time, “we’re trying to break barriers that have existed for many years.”
  • Three years ago, the GOP launched Project GROW (Growing Republican Opportunities for Women) to try to elect more GOP women to Congress. Republican State Leadership chairman Ed Gillespie said the goal was to “foster up-and-coming diverse voices, and to get new women to the table from the state level.”

But, despite all that rhetoric, the GOP establishment is putting its money against Thomas, and for her opponent.

Ryan’s right-hand man, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has donated $5,000 to Dunn from his leadership PAC and $2,000 from his personal PAC.

McCarthy’s right-hand man, House Republican Whip Steve Scalise, has had his “Eye of the Tiger” PAC donate $2,500 to Dunn’s campaign.

And $3,500 has come from leadership-aligned Rep. Tom Cole’s PAC.

Meanwhile, Thomas has been backed by staunch conservatives, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. She is also supported by the House Freedom Fund (the fundraising arm of the conservative group of lawmakers in the House Freedom Caucus) and by the Club for Growth, a conservative PAC dedicated to cutting taxes and balancing the budget.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

So, with all of the GOP’s rhetoric about the need for more diverse candidates, especially women and ethnic minorities, it’s worth asking again: What is going on here?

It all appears to fit a pattern described to WND in August by political commentator Daniel Horowitz after the Huelskamp’s defeat: “What conservatives are facing now is a Waterloo.”

He outlined a template the GOP establishment, having tasted initial success, would use to try to drive conservatives out of the Republican Party for good.

That template is said to employ a wolf in sheep’s clothing ploy: harnessing the prevailing deep anti-Washington sentiment among Republican voters to gin up support for an establishment-backed insider pretending to be an outsider, while portraying a conservative as an entrenched D.C.-insider.

And it’s all done with the support of big money from the GOP establishment abetted by a compliant media, according to Horowitz, who is a senior editor at Conservative Review and author of WND Books’ recently released “Stolen Sovereignty: How to Stop Unelected Judges from Transforming America.

Reacting to the Huelskamp defeat, Horowitz was alarmed at how easily the establishment had fooled the public by portraying an incumbent conservative as a D.C. insider.

Conservatives, he told WND, “are facing a real crisis because the K Street lobbyists, the interests represented by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have learned how to pick our lock. They’ve realized a tactic that is successful.

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“Not only are they winning all the races and defending all their incumbents,” he continued, “the significant and important thing to realize is the one big name to go down a primary is one of the most conservative and anti-establishment members of Congress.”

Referring to Huelskamp, Horowitz said, “This is a first. This is the first big name to go down.”

Conservative commentator Daniel Horowitz

Conservative commentator Daniel Horowitz

And he did not believe the Kansan would be the last target.

“This is a dire warning to conservatives,” he told WND. “And for anyone who steps out of line and doesn’t support leadership.”

The commentator called it cruelly ironic because the special interests are channeling voter anger against special interests to back candidates supported by – special interests.

On the other hand, Horowitz described Huelskamp as a hero “who selflessly decided go after special interests, and big agriculture went after him. It’s very easy to demagogue. The special interests got their guy.

“This is a warning shot. This is very disturbing,” he observed, because this means that conservatives now have no place in their own party.

“You’ll be taken down by the special interests. You can have delegations of people that go with Democrats left and right, and that’s no problem,” he said, ruefully adding, “Conservatives are now just as welcome in the Republican Party as they are in the Democratic Party.”

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