There is trouble in Trump land. As the race to elect the 46th President of the United States gathers momentum for the November 3 elections, Donald Trump finds himself under siege from within. The latest opinion polls suggest, including a majority of conservative polls, that if elections were to be held now, the most controversial President in the history of the US would be staring at a landslide defeat at the hands of Democrat nominee, Joe Biden.
Though, the election to the White House is some distance away, the Trump campaign has come under heavy fire from various disgruntled Republican political action committees that want to ensure that he remains a one-term President. At the forefront of this fight are anti-Trump GOP groups like the Republican Voters Against Trump (RVAT), The Lincoln Project (TLP) and Vote Vets. In particular, RVAT and The Lincoln Project are backing their campaign with multi-million dollar ad spends on television networks and online, targeting Trump’s jugular. In the coming days, both the groups plan to ramp up their campaign in key swing states.
“There is no doubt that the Republican support for Trump is cracking. The idea is to hit Trump from all sides,” Sarah Longwell, Strategic Director, RVAT, told National Herald in a telephonic conversation.
“It has made the soft Trump voters who supported him in 2016 think; particularly suburban women voters are moving away. Repudiation of Trumpism, and all that Trump represents, is important for preserving the democratic values of America, she said.”
Longwell, is the co-founder of a larger political action committee, Defending Democracy Together, that runs the RVAT campaign, has been a lifelong Republican supporter.
The Lincoln Project is another influential GOP group that has ratcheted up its campaign to oust Trump from office on November 3. The TLP was founded in December 2019 by five dyed-in-wool Republicans, who have years of experience of working on various Republican presidential, Senate and gubernatorial campaigns, including the likes of former US Presidents, George H W Bush and George W Bush, John McCain, and former California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. One of the founding members, Jennifer Horn, was the Chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party from 2013-17.
The two anti-Trump groups, though they share the same end objective, have adopted radically different campaign strategies. The RVAT is more focused on the testimonial route to build a “permission structure” that would persuade the soft-Trump supporters to vote against him in the November elections.
“People find the real voices in these testimonials very interesting and persuasive. The feedback is that they are really working well,” says Longwell, who has been working to defeat Trump since 2016. “At the end of the day, politics can still be a very tribal affair. People follow the lead of other people like themselves. These ads featuring real people with real voices help to create the necessary permission structure that will motivate them to vote differently compared to 2016.”
The RVAT testimonial videos have generated a lot of traction. Its Youtube channel has generated close to 3.5 million cumulative views. The anti-Trump campaign has banked more than 200 testimonials that will be released in the coming months with other ad spots. Majority of the testimonials are self-shot on mobile phones in response to the call by RVAT asking people to send their recordings give a realistic feel to them
A video released on June 23, featuring one Josh from North Carolina, went viral on social media in which he claimed to have made a mistake in voting for Trump in 2016 and vows to vote for a Democrat candidate for the first time in his life. “If Joe Biden drops out and the DNC runs a tomato can, I will vote for the tomato can, because I believe the tomato can will do less harm than our current president,” says Josh in the video.
Closer home, maybe there is a salutary lesson or two in Josh’s words for India’s commentariat that has assiduously peddled the spurious narrative that there is no alternative (TINA factor) to Narendra Modi, whose ever-increasing stack of appalling of failures in the past six years have been given a free pass in the Indian mainstream press, especially television.
The Lincoln Project so far released more than 50 video ads on cable television and social media. All the ads are brutal in attacking the shaky presidency and Trump’s gaffes. On the day New York Times broke the story of Russians paying bounty to the Taliban to hunt down American soldiers, TLP released an ad with Russian voiceover and English captions accusing the American President of actively colluding with Vladimir Putin at the cost of American lives.
The one-and a half minute video ends with bold text emblazoned across the screen, “Russia thanks you for your loyalty and friendship” in English and Cyrillic. The hard-hitting video garnered over 1.6 million views on youtube and another million plus on twitter.
Vote Vets, a political action committee that claims to enjoy the support of 700 thousand men and women belonging to the US armed forces and promotes and campaigns for veterans running for office, has labelled Trump as “America’s No.1 traitor” in another blistering attack following the NYT story. The one-minute ad has been viewed 2.7 million times on Twitter alone.
On July 12 another TLP ad targeted Trump for commuting the prison sentence of his friend Roger Stone. The tweeted video, accusing Trump of stacking his inner circle with convicted felons, generated 3.2 million views, 87,700 retweets and over 160 thousand likes in just 14 hours of its release.
Trump supporters scoff at the “Never Trump” campaign as ineffective in preventing him from getting a second term, but news reports seem to indicate otherwise. The RVAT and TLP campaigns have successfully managed to sow seeds of chaos in the Trump camp. On May 4, when The Lincoln Project released a spot squarely placing the blame for the death of close 140,000 people due to his handling Coronavirus situation on him, the Trump campaign was forced to spend $ 400,000 on cable news ads in the Washington DC area to counter the narrative compared to the mere $ 37,000 spent by the anti-Trump group.
“Trump and Trumpism is everything that goes against the core values of the Republican Party such as free trade, free markets, fiscal responsibility, minimum government and global leadership,” points out Longwell.
“It seems Trump has abdicated fiscal responsibility with the national debt ballooning under his watch; he has abandoned the global leadership that the world expects from America; he has this bizarre fascination for strongmen like Putin, (Jair) Bolsonaro and (Recep Tayyip) Erdoğan. He has weakened America’s Western Alliances like the NATO, much to the delight of Putin.” Placing Trump’s fascination with strongmen with poor governance record provides a more relatable context to his relationship with Modi.
The Lincoln Project makes clear where it stands politically with respect to Democrats. “The founders of The Lincoln Project have spent over 200 years electing Republicans. But now, they’ve sparked a nationwide movement with a singular mission: To defeat Donald Trump and Trumpism,” it states as its objectives.
They have claimed that certain fundamental differences with the Democratic Party remains as strong as ever, but consider Trump as a far greater danger to American democracy. At the time of writing this report, more anti-Trump Republican groups across the United States are being formed. One such group called 43 Alumni for Biden, has been founded by former officials of the Bush administration.