29 May 2016

The Most Powerful Man in the GOP (And You’ve Never Heard Of Him)

Ever wonder where congressmen come from? No? Well, that’s great news for Rex Elsass, who’s built nearly 50 of them from scratch while turning himself into the most powerful Republican operative you’ve never heard of. Jason Zengerle gets a rare look inside the wildest political-strategy shop in America—and discovers the secrets to manufacturing a Tea Party rock star.

By Jason Zengerle

One morning last summer, Jim Banks—an Indiana state senator who dreams of becoming a congressman—woke before dawn and set off on the three-hour drive from Fort Wayne to Columbus, Ohio. He was going to see the wizard. He was going to see Rex Elsass.

Elsass is the founder and CEO of the benignly named Strategy Group for Media, a political consulting firm with a knack for launching a certain sort of politician—and a track record of recent success that has turned Elsass into one of the richest, not to mention most controversial, operatives in Republican politics.

While you've likely never heard of him, chances are good you know his clients. Name a conservative firebrand and Elsass has likely been on his or her payroll. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich—he's worked with all of them, as well as a slew of Republican agitators who aren't yet household names but are doing everything in their power to change that. Elsass now counts more than 60 members of Congress on his client roster, many of whom belong to the rebellious Freedom Caucus that last fall hounded the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, into early retirement. This year, while most eyes are fixed on the presidential race, he's quietly obsessing over the Republicans' control of Congress, guiding the fortunes of 15 first-time candidates whom he hopes will join his small army already wreaking havoc in Washington.


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