WASHINGTON — As President Donald Trump prepares to accept the GOP nomination at next month’s Republican National Convention, he is facing a reinvigorated effort from the “Never Trump” movement that fought unsuccessfully to block his bid for the Oval Office four years ago.
What was once a loosely organized movement led by a select group of conservative activists in 2016 has since re-emerged as a network of well-funded Republican political action committees aimed at thwarting Trump’s reelection bid and promoting the candidacy of former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee.
The list of anti-Trump groups run by disaffected Republicans includes Right Side PAC, a group formed last month that counts Long Island native Anthony Scaramucci, the former White House communications director, as one of its advisers. Meanwhile, the group Republican Voters Against Trump has launched a $10 million TV and online ad campaign in swing states featuring Republican voters sharing testimonials about why they won’t vote for Trump.
The Lincoln Project, a political action committee formed in December by a group of prominent conservative operatives including George Conway, the husband of Trump’s top aide Kellyanne Conway, has drawn the ire of Trump on Twitter for its series of viral ads taking aim at his leadership. The group has raised $19.4 million in campaign contributions since December, according to campaign finance reports.
The latest anti-Trump political action committee to emerge came earlier this month when former officials who worked under President George W. Bush formed the 43 Alumni for Biden PAC.
Karen Kirksey, director of 43 Alumni for Biden, said what started out as a group of 200 former Bush officials has since grown to about 1,000 members, who plan to organize virtual town halls and mobilize support for Biden in “every swing state.”
“For four years, we have watched with grave concern as the party we loved has morphed into a cult of personality that little resembles the Party of Lincoln and Reagan,” Kirksey said in a statement. “We endorse Joe Biden not necessarily in full support of his political agenda but rather in full agreement with the urgent need to restore the soul of this nation.”
Trump campaign officials, pointing to the president’s favorable polling numbers among Republican voters, have dismissed the groups working against Trump.
“This is the swamp — yet again — trying to take down the duly elected President of the United States,” Erin Perrine, press communications director for the Trump campaign, said in an email to Newsday. “President Trump is the leader of a united Republican Party where he has earned 94% of Republican votes during the primaries — something any former president of any party could only dream of.”
Since taking office, Trump’s job approval rating among Republicans has generally remained above 80%, even as his overall approval ratings have taken a hit among Democrats, independents and undecided voters.
The current anti-Trump efforts come as the president has seen his overall polling numbers dip behind those of Biden as the country grapples with rising COVID-19 infection rates and the economic fallout of the virus.
Biden leads Trump by an average of nine percentage points in national polling, according to an analysis by the poll tracking website Real Clear Politics of polls conducted between June 27 and July 15.
The Biden campaign has largely welcomed the support offered by Republicans, and has reportedly offered former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, a key speaking spot during its upcoming Democratic National Convention.
Kasich is among several high-profile Republicans who have publicly been critical of the president and said they are not voting for him. Sen. Mitt Romney, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Trump’s former National Security Adviser John Bolton and former Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina have all said they will not vote for Trump come Nov. 3.
Trump is not the only incumbent to have faced resistance from within his party, said Jeffrey A. Engel, director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.
Former Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts waged an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination in 1980 against then-President Jimmy Carter as Carter faced sagging poll numbers, and Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan staged a failed primary bid against former President George H.W. Bush in 1992.
Engel said while Kennedy and Buchanan never secured the nomination, the challenges they received were enough to show that each sitting president “was weak enough among his own supporters, that he ultimately found it impossible to win reelection.”
Despite the coordinated push to defeat Trump, no other Republican has successfully challenged him for the nomination. Former South Carolina congressman Mark Sanford, former Illinois congressman Joe Walsh and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld all suspended their campaigns within months of launching their presidential bids.
“It really shows that the Republican Party is now in fact the party of Trump,” Engel said. “That he has done a remarkable job of getting his own people into strategic places and of making people who were not on his side feel like they could not belong to the Republican Party anymore, so they've left … Trump doesn't have to worry about getting the Republican nomination, but the same basic philosophy holds that people who invariably would have pulled the Republican trigger in the ballot without even thinking about it are now questioning that. Presumably he's going to get the nomination, but he is going to get the nomination of a much more ideologically smaller party than existed in 2016 or the years before that.”