GOP-Run ‘Never Trump’ PACs Aim to Help Democrats in Midterms

Yout didn’t take long after Rep. Liz Cheney lost her seat in Congress last month for her to announce what she would do next. The Great Task was her first political action committee. Her goal is to prevent Donald Trump from ever again entering the Oval Office.

Her organization was the latest entrant in a small universe of groups run by prominent Republicans now working to defeat their party’s standard-bearer and the candidates following in his footsteps. They include Country First, a PAC run by her fellow Never Trump Republican on the Jan. 6 committee, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, and two of the former President’s fiercest institutional antagonists: the Lincoln Project and the Republican Accountability Project.

Together, these groups are working to thwart Trump from successfully returning to electoral politics, and to weaken their party’s embrace of him. This could mean that we oppose a third Trump presidency bid next year. It means that we will spend heavily this fall to stop the Trump-iest Republicans, especially in the states where they could be decisive in preventing the next election from being overturned.

“We will focus on the races we feel are most critical to democracy,” says Greg Minchark, a spokesman for the Lincoln Project.

But even with tens of millions of dollars in their collective coffers, the Never Trump PACs are choosing their targets exceedingly carefully, a tacit acknowledgment that most Republicans aren’t buying what they’re selling.

MAGA candidates won up and down in the polls over the last few months. They range from Kari lake and Blake Masters (Arizona), to Doug Mastriano, Mehmet O in Pennsylvania, Tim Michels in Wisconsin, and J.D. Vance, Ohio.

None of the Never Trump Political Action Committees participated in these races. Perhaps they knew that their efforts in the primary contests would prove futile as the candidates will be defined by Trump loyalties.

Yet Kinzinger’s Country First, which launched in Jan. 2021, did weigh in on some other GOP primaries, and came away with some bragging rights. It worked to boost Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state who stood up to Trump’s urging him to “find 11,780” votes, who won reelection against a Trump-endorsed challenger. The group also took aim at Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina—a young MAGA firebrand who polarized the GOP—with ads, mailers, and text messages. Cawthorn himself recently suggested on social media that the group’s efforts proved effective.

Continue reading: Madison Cawthorn’s Race Loss

The Never Trump PACs are stepping up efforts to target the most eligible voters, who will determine the power balance in Washington over the next two-years. They also plan to intensify their national efforts to eradicate Trumpism in the American political system.

Sarah Longwell, founder of Republican Accountability Project says organization will use a similar approach against far-right GOP candidates this year, as it did for Trump in 2020.

“We find all these former Republicans or current Republicans who are going to refuse to vote for Kari Lake and Doug Mastriano, and we turn those into ad campaigns,” she tells TIME, referring to the GOP nominees for governor in Arizona and Pennsylvania, respectively. “We make sure they talk to the media. That’s our strategy for defeating anti-American, anti-democracy Republicans in 2022.”

The group started a $3 million ad purchase in just a few swing states last month to remind voters about the attack on Capitol Hill Jan. 6, 2021. With the hopes of removing Trump voters.

Since the House investigation into the Jan. 6th 2021 attack started this summer, Cheney has been the anti-Trump Republican face. She played an important role in its proceedings, giving blistering closing and opening statements, which became some of the most recognizable soundbites over the following days.

Continue reading: What Liz Cheney turned the Jan. 6, Hearings into Must-See TV: How Bennie Thomson and Liz Cheney.

The emergence of The Great Task, which draws its name from the last sentence of the Gettysburg address, comes at a time when she’s not only considering a run for the White House, but when such a group could have maximum impact.

Despite Trump’s long track record of surviving scandal after scandal, he’s perhaps never been more vulnerable, both legally and politically. The Justice Department recently submitted a filing in federal court that said Trump “likely concealed or removed” classified documents from a storage room at Mar-a-Lago, a move that former federal prosecutors have said indicates an increased possibility he will face charges of obstruction of justice. A federal judge granted Trump’s request for a special master Monday. This will allow him to delay his criminal investigation.

However, signs are beginning to show that his political status is declining. An NBC survey last month found that respondents were more concerned about “threats to democracy” than inflation or the economy. And with the Jan. 6 panel set to resume its hearings soon—the dates of the next proceedings are not yet known—and release a highly anticipated report, media coverage about his attempts to overturn the 2020 election is only going to intensify.

“There are a lot of groups out there that are not happy with the former President, and they want to build a base of support for disaffected Republicans and others to help fashion some kind of political movement,” Charlie Dent, a former House Republican from Pennsylvania, TIME “I think that’s largely what they’re about right now.”

The 2020 campaign cycle saw the rise of Never Trump organizations. Formerly known as Republican Voters Against Trump (formerly the Lincoln Project) and Republican Accountability Project (formerly the Republican Voters Against Trump), focused almost entirely on Trump opposition in an effort to aid Joe Biden.

The Lincoln Project raised over $80million in the 2020 cycle. According to Federal Election Commission filings the group claimed to have raised $24million between April and June. Country First had raised $7.6million, while Republican Accountability Project had raised $5.1 million.

Cheney’s group is the newest to enter the fold, so it doesn’t have as much of a fundraising history, but she transferred funds from her Congressional campaign account to the Great Task after her primary loss. While the exact amount is unclear, it appears that her FEC filings show her account having approximately $7million on its books at the end July.

According to her, the group would try to keep the former president from winning the White House. Jeremy Adler, Cheney’s spokesperson, tells TIME the PAC will “educate the American people about the ongoing threat to our Republic, and to mobilize a unified effort to oppose any Donald Trump campaign for president.”

If Kinzinger’s and Cheney’s groups were to play a role in impeding his return to office and undermining his movement, they might see it as a form of poetic justice. Each was reelected by the respective parties. Redistricting had made it unlikely that he would be reelected. The latter resigned and suffered an overwhelming defeat. She lost her primary election to Trump-backed opponents by 37 percentage points.

Taylor Budowich is a Trump spokesperson and dismisses the idea that Cheney could influence Republicans moving forward. “Liz Cheney couldn’t even win a Republican primary in Wyoming,” Budowich emails TIME. “The idea that she still has relevance within the GOP is a complete media fabrication, perpetuated by bias and lazy reporters who are not interested in reporting honestly.”

Continue reading: Wyoming Republican Primary: Liz Cheney loses

Although Kinzinger, Cheney and others may have been political martyrs in their time, it seems that they are determined not to become political exiles.

“Today you can be a political force without being in office,” Reed Galen, a veteran political strategist and co-founder of the Lincoln Project, tells TIME. “Tucker Carlson has never held office. Steve Bannon was never elected to office. Most of the people who run these front groups have never held office, but they sway enormous political power.”

Historically, it’s hard for politicians to stay in the news once they leave elected office. They can still hold sway if the transition to running a successful political operation is made.

“It’s a matter of what they think their next step is going to be,” Longwell says. “They need some place to pay for research, to understand the landscape, and to have a team. A lot of it is just practical.”

In the interim, Never TrumpPACs will be targeting MAGA Republicans who are on the midterm ballot, which could help Democrats. Kinzinger said that his group would support Democrats in their fight against Republicans, who pose a danger to American democracy’s health and stability. TIME has been told by Country First representatives that they will be targeting races for secretary in this year’s election. This position will give them enormous control over the administration of 2024’s presidential election.

In many states, the GOP nominees to secretary of state are those who claim that Biden wrongfully won the election. Kinzinger hopes to head off such a situation in the next cycle, saying “a plan is being developed for 2023 and 2024 to ensure we’ve recruited and trained excellent pro-democracy, pro-truth candidates.”

Of course, part of the challenge for these groups will be to reach the voters who are truly undecided, particularly Republicans, and not just energize Democrats or moderates already averse to Trump’s brand of politics. According to Galen, when the Lincoln Project did an analysis of its donors’ partisan affiliation late last year, it found they were roughly 50% Democrats, 25% independents, and 25% Republicans.

It’s fair to suspect that both Country First and The Great Task will attract a similar mix of donors. As Cheney said in her concession speech last month, “Now, the real work begins.”

It’s a sentiment shared by Kinzinger. “I’m looking forward to taking a deep breath after Congress,” he tells TIME. “But I’m going to stay involved in races, and in building this movement.”

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