Back in 2010, after the Tea Party sweep helped Republicans regain control of the House, we profiled the “10 scariest Republicans heading to Congress,” most of them Tea Party crusaders. One of these was Renee Ellmers, a former nurse who based her campaign on opposing the Affordable Care Act and ran a campaign ad calling an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan a “victory mosque” built in celebration of 9/11.
Ellmers credited her start in politics to Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the Koch-backed group that rallied opposition to Obamacare, and won the support of anti-choice groups including the Susan B. Anthony List and Concerned Women for America.
Then things changed. Yesterday, Ellmers lost a Republican primary in part thanks to redistricting that pitted her against another GOP incumbent and in part due to the $1.1 million that her former conservative allies spent to defeat her.
AFP spent six figures on ads opposing Ellmers and dropped in dozens of field workers to knock on doors in her district, condemning her for straying from the Tea Party line and working with GOP leadership to support compromise spending bills and the Export-Import Bank. Other conservatives were troubled by her bucking of hardliners on a few immigration votes.
But what was the most stunning was Ellmers’ fall from grace in the anti-abortion movement. Ellmersopposes abortion rights and has a 100 percent rating on the National Right to Life Committee’s congressional scorecard. But she angered her former anti-choice allies last year when she led a group of Republican women and some moderates who derailed a planned vote on a 20-week abortion ban — the anti-choice movement’s premier legislation — when, at the last minute, they expressed concerns about a provision that would have exempted rape survivors only if they reported the crime to the police. The bill was later reintroduced with modified language, but the anti-choice movement had lost its chance to hold a vote on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade as activists flooded Washington for the March for Life.
National Right to Life sent an email to its members last week calling Ellmers a “pro-life traitor” and boasting of its efforts to defeat her in the primary. “Nothing has the potential to do more damage to pro-life efforts than people who run as pro-life candidates back home in their pro-life districts and then stab the babies in the back when they come to DC and work against pro-life efforts,” the group wrote.
In an interview with the conservative website The Pulse last week, Susan B. Anthony List’s Marjorie Dannenfelser, citing her group’s early support of Ellmers, said, “Well, we brought her into the political process, and we intend to take her out.” She acknowledged that Ellmers has “a 100 percent record” on her group’s issues, but her sabotage of the 20-week bill “totally trumped every single thing else that we were looking for in a candidate.”
While Tea Party funders were angered by Ellmers’ cozying up to her party’s leadership and anti-choice groups were angered by her derailing of an important symbolic vote (even though she agreed with the substance of that vote), Ellmers hardly became a moderate. After all, she was the first congressional candidate to earn an endorsement from Donald Trump, thanks to her early support for his presidential candidacy.
Yesterday, in a bizarre ending to a strange tale of shifting Republican allegiances, Ellmers, maybe feeling that she had nothing left to lose, told a North Carolina Republican activist who had abandoned her to support one of her primary rivals that she had gained weight, all in front of rolling news cameras: