As the Republican primary season kicks into high gear, a debate is playing out among various groups as to how one effectively takes down Donald Trump. Dave Weigel writes about this, live from New Hampshire, at the Washington Post, covering an ad that Rick Wilson and I created for the anti-Trump SuperPAC, Make America Awesome.
In essence, as Weigel notes, there are two theories about how you beat Trump. One is focused on the idea that you hold his vote to about a 25 percent maximum ceiling by pointing out that he is not conservative, let him potentially win a few primaries, but come in second (or maybe third) in others, and as the field thins, best him. The other is Make America Awesome's, which is that you target actual Trump supporters directly, arguing that Trump is the adversary, not the champion, of average working people like them, based on his policy positions and business record.
This approach both ensures a hard ceiling on Trump’s support that will allow some other, actually conservative candidate to beat him, but also erode his base of support so that his numbers are dropping— not merely holding static— while others’ numbers are rising. In addition, this minimizes the chances that he’ll run third party, or indeed that the GOP will end up with hundreds of people on the floor of our convention this summer wearing T-shirts that say things like “STOP WHITE GENOCIDE” and “GOD BLESS THE KKK.” (For those who haven’t been paying attention, the latter thing really is a serious risk, and would hamper the electability of whoever we nominate quite badly).
Perhaps most importantly, it is the only approach that is shown with hard data to work to dissuade Trump supporters and put them off of him— something that needs to happen, for the sake of the country, conservatism and the GOP, in roughly that order.
Last week, the Hill reported on a Koch network focus group of Trump-inclined voters:
The Koch official shared for the first time focus group research the network had commissioned showing that Trump’s popularity falls when voters are shown how working people have suffered as a result of his bankruptcies and business dealings in Atlantic City. Stories of ordinary people's livelihoods being harmed as Trump tried to enrich himself at their expense are most effective in "moving the needle" against Trump, donors were told.
Frank Luntz focus groups have shown the same thing. Per a Dave Weigel tweet about a Luntz focus group he sat in on:
The only negative ad that the group found effective was one about people who lost jobs in Trump deals. Nothing else worked.
We also know from the final Des Moines Register pre-caucus poll that 60 percent of respondents were “bothered” by Trump’s eminent domain abuse— part and parcel of his record of screwing over average people as a businessman. Data from that poll also suggests that attacking Trump for being “the Man” as opposed to the guy who will “stick it to the Man” is necessary to take him down.
This may strike some conservatives, and Republicans more broadly, as unsavory (despite the fact that I think we’d all argue that higher wages, and better benefits, delivered by and in a free market is a good outcome for the country). However, Make America Awesome’s ads attacking Trump in this way helped move several targeted Iowa counties out of the Trump column in the caucuses, and efforts to shift Trump voters away from him in New Hampshire are now playing out.
The reality is that Trump is no conservative, and neither are many of his supporters. They’re economic liberals, so in order to take him down, his voters are going to have to hear some attacks on his business record as it intersects with what they perceive as their direct, financial interests.
I’m all for people going after Trump as a big government liberal, and goodness knows, that’s why I and the others at Make America Awesome oppose him. However, it is an incomplete approach and Make America Awesome is addressing a void that must be filled if Trump is to be defeated. If you’re minded to help us with this effort, you can donate here. Consultants involved in the effort have pledged not to make a dime off of it, and even $25 goes pretty far in some of the media markets we’re targeting.