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Eye On Candidates
November 25, 2015

Anti-Trump Efforts Start to Get Serious

Political observers of all stripes have waited for the past several months for the campaign of businessman Donald Trump to collapse based on what they view as fundamental mistakes that should prove fatal for anybody pursuing the presidency. It hasn’t happened yet, and it looks like a number of people are planning to take matters into their own hands in an effort to derail his candidacy. Politico reports on one super PAC’s efforts:

Kasich super PAC rolls out first direct Trump attack ad

The super PAC supporting Ohio Gov. John Kasich's presidential bid released its first direct attack ad against Donald Trump on Monday.

The 47-second Web ad is the first spot from the New Day for America super PAC in its planned $2.5 million campaign to knock Trump from his perch atop Republican primary polls. The super PAC previously released an ad featuring an image of Trump side by side with President Barack Obama but the ad Monday marked the first to mention the mogul by name….

Designed to raise questions about Trump's judgment and readiness for office, the ad text reads “Commander-in-chief?” before a clip of Trump saying he doesn't have “respect” for Fox News’ Megyn Kelly as a journalist after Kelly moderated a Republican presidential debate….

The ad closes out with the billionaire businessman asking during a campaign event in Iowa, “How stupid are the people of Iowa?”

The Wall Street Journal had a similar article a few days ago regarding an independent group looking to stop Trump’s climb towards the Republican nomination:

The Republican establishment, increasingly alarmed by the enduring strength of Donald Trump’s presidential bid, is ratcheting up efforts to knock him out of the race, including the first attempt to unite donors from rival camps into a single anti-Trump force….

The most concerted effort is Trump Card LLC, the self-styled guerrilla campaign being launched by Liz Mair, the former online communications director of the Republican National Committee….

Ms. Mair’s anti-Trump effort is planning an especially blunt and direct approach. The group’s memo said it would be pitching opposition research to media in early-voting states, as well as radio and television ads and Web videos that attract media attention based on their “outrageousness and boundary-breaking or bizarre nature.”

One possible ad would link Mr. Trump’s views and style to his celebrity foe, Rosie O’Donnell, in hopes of provoking a reaction from Mr. Trump, according to the memo.

Other possible tactics include fake pro-Trump ads that show him supporting socialized medicine, seizing property through eminent domain and taking other positions that stray from GOP orthodoxy; using a Trump impersonator to show him insulting people; and attacking his business record in “stark, nasty terms.”

The article also notes that the super PAC associated with the pro-free-market group Club for Growth has already been active in attacking Trump:

The super PAC associated with the Club for Growth earlier this fall spent $1 million on anti-Trump ads that ran for three weeks in Iowa. The ads attacked Mr. Trump’s positions on taxes, trade and other issues that the group said exposed him as a liberal—a contention that Mr. Trump denied.

Doug Sachtelben, a Club for Growth spokesman, said they believed the ads contributed to a drop in Mr. Trump’s standing in Iowa polls in early October, when Mr. Carson rose to first place in several surveys. Mr. Sachtelben said the super PAC hoped to run more ads like that in Iowa and New Hampshire, but couldn’t say when. “We’re still in the fundraising stage,” he said.

And this morning, former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum offers his counsel on how Trump might be stopped. First, he doesn’t seem terribly impressed with the efforts of Liz Mair:

Thus far, these productions seem intended only for an audience of political insiders to watch on YouTube or discuss on Twitter. Which is just as well. Authentic as their sentiments may be, these attacks will bounce off for much the same reasons that a previous round mocking Trump as an unfit commander in chief… failed to have an impact.

The goal of convincing a Republican primary electorate that Trump is personally unequal to the job of president is unlikely to succeed. They’ve seen Donald Trump dominating and commanding all the other Republican presidential candidates (except Carly Fiorina) in one-on-one personal confrontations on the debating platform. They know, or think they know, that Donald Trump built a gigantic business empire. They have watched as a network “reality” television show portrayed him over 14 seasons as America’s supreme problem-solver and team leader. Now the same party leaders who insisted that Sarah Palin could do the job of president, if need be, want to persuade the rank-and-file that Trump can’t? Good luck with that.

When a Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Chris Christie, or Marco Rubio attacks Donald Trump as an unfit commander in chief because of this wild statement or that (and Trump’s statements can be plenty wild!), they miss the point. Reckless talk about the Iran nuclear deal, or the war in Syria, or the Russian assault on Ukraine may trouble voters—but the deal is made or unmade on a candidate’s credibility on border security. On that issue, the elected-office Republicans have all crowded together where the party isn’t, and Trump alone dominates the ground where the party is. He is the one positioned to attack them as naive and weak, not the other way around.

So, how can Trump be stopped? Frum returns to the immigration issue:

Extreme and provocative statements verging on open racism normally doom candidates. They have helped Trump, to date, because those statements seemed to prove that here, at last, was a candidate as exercised about the immigration issue as Republican voters. The well-spoken politicians who had promised to solve the problem in years past had all failed, or turned coat. But a man who’d say wild things that the political elite unanimously condemned as reckless and irresponsible—well, he at least must be sincere, mustn’t he?

So that’s the point where an effective attack would hit him.

Until he read Ann Coulter’s book this spring, Trump seemed to have been a perfectly conventional business Republican on immigration. In a 2012 interview, in fact, he blamed Romney’s loss on taking a too-tough line on the issue:

“The Democrats didn’t have a policy for dealing with illegal immigrants, but what they did have going for them is they weren’t mean-spirited about it. They didn’t know what the policy was, but what they were is they were kind.”

Romney’s solution of “self deportation” for illegal aliens made no sense and suggested that Republicans do not care about Hispanics in general, Trump says.

“He had a crazy policy of self deportation which was maniacal,” Trump says. “It sounded as bad as it was, and he lost all of the Latino vote,” Trump notes. “He lost the Asian vote. He lost everybody who is inspired to come into this country.”

The GOP has to develop a comprehensive policy “to take care of this incredible problem that we have with respect to immigration, with respect to people wanting to be wonderful productive citizens of this country,” Trump says.

Frum’s conclusion is that Trump’s inconsistencies on immigration could be his undoing with those who are supporting him primarily because of his strident talk on immigration:

Where he is in 2015 is not where he was in 2012—and that could suggest that where he is in 2015 is not where he’ll be if elected president. Every politician changes his mind. Accusations of flip-flopping hurt because they open the possibility that where there is a flip-flop, there may in future be a flop-flip—that the position adopted for political advantage will be jettisoned when political advantage signals a different direction.

Trump’s histrionics—and the criticism he has taken—may seem the ultimate proof of sincerity: When a man walks that far onto a limb, he must mean it, right? The task for Trump’s Republican rivals is to convince Trump followers that this supposed anti-politician is using typical politician’s tricks.

With barely two months to go until the Iowa Caucuses on Feb. 1, Trump remains at the top of the field both nationally and in the key early states. The strategies and tactics being planned and proposed by Mair, Frum and the two super PACs, New Day for America and Club for Growth, may do the trick, or they may not. But if they don’t, it may be too late to go back to the drawing board, considering how long Trump’s critics held off while waiting for him to collapse on his own.