A growing divide has emerged among Republican anti-Donald Trump factions as they grapple with the looming prospect of the former president’s resurgence in the party’s presidential nomination race and the subsequent battle for the White House. Some groups are still committed to spending resources to thwart Trump’s bid for the Republican candidacy, while others have reluctantly accepted his inevitability as the nominee and shifted their focus to preventing him from winning the November 2024 general election.
The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll shows Trump maintaining a commanding lead over his nearest rival by nearly 40 points, with only four months remaining until the Republicans hold their first nominating contest in Iowa in January.
Despite this overwhelming lead, some deep-pocketed anti-Trump organizations, such as the conservative political network led by billionaire Charles Koch, persist in running ads aimed at persuading Republicans in early nominating states to reject Trump. However, smaller groups, like the Republican Accountability PAC, have abandoned their efforts after spending approximately $1 million on anti-Trump ads in Iowa, concluding that their expenditure wasn’t yielding the desired results.
“We have stopped spending money in the primary. We decided we needed to hold our powder for the general election,” remarked PAC president and Republican strategist Sarah Longwell.
This shift in strategy highlights the perception among some of Trump’s opponents within the Republican Party that his candidacy is now all but inevitable. Trump continues to enjoy significant support from a substantial portion of the Republican voting base, despite his false claims about the 2020 election and the legal challenges he faces at both the federal and state levels.
Reed Galen, co-founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, characterized continued spending on the primary as a futile endeavor, stating, “You could throw suitcases of cash at Iowans and they’d still go to the church and vote for Trump.”
The Lincoln Project, comprised of former Republican strategists, ceased primary spending in the spring, redirecting their efforts toward targeting independents and disaffected Republicans in key battleground states like Wisconsin for the general election. They intend to allocate $50 million to support Democrat Joe Biden, emphasizing Biden’s economic record and asserting that Trump poses an “existential” threat to American democracy.
Longwell’s PAC also plans to weaken Trump’s standing among Republicans who remain unsure or displeased with him, as well as right-leaning independents. Independents in battleground states can play a pivotal role in closely contested elections.
Steven Cheung, a spokesperson for Trump, dismissed these efforts, asserting that “no amount of Never Trump money” could match the enthusiasm Trump generates among grassroots voters.
The current wave of anti-Trump ads by business-friendly Republican groups in early primary states argues that Trump would be vulnerable against Biden, partly due to his legal troubles. According to an August Reuters/Ipsos poll, about half of Republicans would not vote for Trump if he were convicted of a felony. However, polls also indicate that Republican voters overwhelmingly support Trump despite his mounting legal challenges.
Some critics have labeled these ads as “very soft,” questioning their effectiveness in challenging Trump’s dominance in the primary. Tim Miller, a former aide to 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush and a Trump critic, argued that the efforts to defeat Trump require a “Herculean” endeavor and criticized donors for wasting money on strategies that have proven unsuccessful.
While the anti-Trump super PAC Win It Back has reported spending over $2.8 million opposing Trump this year, the Club for Growth, which is associated with the PAC, did not provide details about its campaign.
A source close to Club for Growth suggested that the group would not oppose Trump if he became the party’s nominee in the presidential election.
AFP Action, part of the Koch network advocating for lower taxes and less regulation, is concentrating on reaching “soft” Trump voters open to alternatives, according to spokesperson Bill Riggs. The group reported raising over $70 million in the first half of the year with the goal of preventing Trump from securing the nomination and has spent around $11 million in seven primary states so far. One of their ads, titled “Unelectable,” encourages voters to shift away from Trump to improve their chances of defeating Biden.
While AFP has criticized what it perceives as Biden’s excessive spending, it has yet to endorse one of Trump’s Republican rivals.
The Lincoln Project’s Galen urged anti-Trump Republicans to consider a potentially unthinkable step in a highly polarized country: supporting the re-election of President Joe Biden. “If all of these people, all the Republicans, wanted their party back, they’d do everything they could to make sure Trump and the wackos got crushed next year,” he remarked.