The #NeverTrump campaign to stop the New York businessman from becoming the Republican nominee for the presidency isn’t hurting his chances — just his ego.
Donald Trump said as much Tuesday in Florida, recounting how televisions showing negative ads aimed at his candidacy played as he spent time with other businessmen last month at his Trump National Doral Golf Club in Miami.
“I’m with all these wonderful people from Cadillac, all these top executives, and I’m telling them, ‘Look over there! Don’t watch it! You don’t want to watch it!’ … And they came in waves, one after another and another and it was brutal,” he said of the ads. “What a disaster.”
While obviously embarrassing, a “disaster” it was not.
Trump’s comments followed a convincing victory in the Florida Republican primary, taking all of its 99 delegates, and vanquishing Senator Marco Rubio, who ended his campaign after a loss that could only be described as humiliating.
The ads may have dented Trump’s huge ego but they did little to sway the electorate in the sunshine state, where Trump won nearly 46% of the vote to Rubio’s 27%.
The #NeverTrump campaign is the combined efforts of several powerful Super PACs and a loose coalition of conservative and moderate Republicans who are doing everything they can to prevent Trump from reaching July’s Republican National Convention with the 1,237 delegates he needs to secure the GOP nomination.
Over the past several weeks, #NeverTrump has spent some $13 million in anti-Trump television advertising. Ever since Super Tuesday two weeks ago, anti-Trump ads comprised an increasingly large portion of Republican political advertising television, especially in Florida. On Monday, those negative spots accounted for the majority of all Republican TV ads, said Elizabether Wilner, a senior vice president at Kantar Media/CMAG, which tracks TV advertising.
One particularly striking ad highlighted Trump’s ugly views toward women.
The widely-viewed TV ad was produced by Our Principles PAC, headed by former Mitt Romney campaign strategist Katie Packer. The ad features women reciting a slew of ugly negative comments Trump has made about women. The Our Principles Super PAC ad became a popular focus on Twitter, underscoring the urgency that some Republicans feel about stopping Trump. But it may have come too late, according to Wilner.
“You do have to wonder since all of those polls have been out there for a while, where was that ad two weeks ago,” Wilner said. “Ever since the morning after Super Tuesday, you’ve seen the consternation exponentially growing among Republicans, that ‘oh my gosh, he could actually be our nominee.'”
Our Principles PAC was joined by the American Future Fund and Club for Growth Action, the electoral arm of the anti-tax group, and Marco Rubio’s Conservative Solutions PAC in the hope that Rubio could upset Trump in Florida and deliver a serious blow to his presidential aspirations.
Meanwhile, in Ohio…
Politics can make for odd bedfellows, and for one night, conservative Republicans were thanking the relatively moderate Ohio Governor John Kasich.
Kasich’s convincing victory in the Ohio primary handed him 66 delegates and prevented Trump from capturing the winner-take-all state on a night when he also won in Florida, Illinois and North Carolina. A win in Ohio would have all but secured Trump the nomination.
As opposed to the disheartening loss in Florida, the #NeverTrump campaign has pointed to Kasich’s victory in the Ohio primary as critical to ensuring Trump won’t win the nomination, at least not prior to the Republican convention in Cleveland in July.
The clamor for Kasich comes after he has been widely panned by many Republicans for having expanded Medicaid in Ohio through Obama’s Affordable Care Act and supporting the federal government’s Common Core education standards, among other positions seen as too liberal.
But the Ohio governor was able to accomplish what Rubio failed to do in his home state: Beat Trump in a large state primary.
With Rubio dropping out of the race, Republican activists were heartened that the field of candidates would drop to three, providing Cruz and Kasich more opportunities to face off head-to-head against Trump.
Thwarting the Will of Republican Voters
Over halfway though the primary season, Trump’s victories in large Southern and Midwest states on Tuesday showed that his campaign continues to channel a groundswell of conservative voter frustration aimed at Washington politicians and party leaders.
Trump’s ascendancy, said Christine Toretti, a member of the Republican National Committee, should be viewed as the bi-product of more than 15 years of Republican voters feeling as though they were being snubbed or ignored by officeholders in Washington. Never Trump advertisements expressly telling them not to vote for their guy, may have emboldened them to do the opposite.
“These are people who really want this man, who believe him,” Toretti, who runs a consulting firm for women politicians and CEOs, said in a phone interview near her home in Indiana, Pa. “And now the NeverTrump people, whoever that might be, are trying to manipulate and undermine them, and that’s only going to get them madder.”
Since announcing his candidacy in June, Trump has been able to capitalize on the failure of Republicans in Washington to accomplish any number of goals dear to the hearts of conservatives, added David Harsanyi, senior editor at The Federalist.
At the top of that list is overturning President Obama’s Affordable Care Act and Common Core education standards, preventing same-sex marriages and deporting immigrants who entered or have remained in the country illegally. He’s also won support charging that trade agreements with China and Mexico have cost U.S. workers their jobs, or should be blamed for stagnating wages.
“On the Right, a lot of people in the Tea Party feel like they’re voting for the right people but nothing ever gets done,” Harsanyi said. “The Establishment is really at fault for making a lot of promises they can’t keep. We’re going to overturn Obamacare, etc. Expectations get very high and voters get mad when you don’t meet them.”
Perhaps the best strategy the #NeverTrump campaign could employ is to go back in time and have GOP elected officials deliver on their promises.
Trump’s candidacy isn’t without weaknesses.
His support has remained around 35% of the Republican electorate, a vulnerability considering that no one has won the party’s nomination in the modern era with less that 40% of the popular vote in primaries, according to a report by party strategists Adrian Gray of AGC Research, Alex Lundry of Deep Root Analytics and Patrick Ruffini of Echelon Insights.
Trump has also performed worse in state contests that didn’t allow voters not already registered as Republican. An indication that he could do poorly in so-called “closed” primaries and caucuses that account for a majority of the remaining delegate count.
“Overall, the areas that have yet to vote are more demographically problematic for Trump than the places that have cast their ballots,” said the Republican strategists, who predicted he will fall just short of the threshold needed for the nomination. “The remaining states are more diverse, better educated and hold higher median incomes.”
As his campaign has proven time and again, underestimating the New York businessman has been a path to defeat. Trump’s voters, Toretti said, may not condone everything their candidate does or says, but he’s tapping into an undeniable anger with the status quo.
“They may not be proud of it but they’re also intensely frustrated that they’re not respected and heard,” she added. “It’s at a point where they want to have a say, and some control.”