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Traditional Republicans Are Back In The Arena, In Fight to Reclaim Their Party

July 27, 2020

By Joe Rothstein

Pop quiz: What do these web sites have in common?

Answer: They all are home base for Republicans trying to erase the scourge known as Donald Trump from the White House, and from their political party.

Nearly all partisan campaigns set up straw man groups to float the notion that they have support in the opposite political party. These anti-Trump groups are not straw people. The Lincoln Project’s founders include Kelly Ann Conway’s husband, George Conway, and leading lights and campaign strategists from the Romney and McCain presidential campaigns. The 43 Alumni group consists of those who worked in George W. Bush’s administration. Republican Voters Against Trump (, is an offshoot of a group founded by influential pre-Trump Republican conservatives, including Bill Kristol.

Not straw man groups, and not paper tigers, either. They are raising tens of millions of dollars, pulling no punches in their attacks, and are being managed by experienced political pros.

The Lincoln Project raised nearly $20 million in the first half of this election year, more than many Democratic PACs. It has produced and aired some of the most hard-hitting and creative media ads of this or any political campaign. In early July, The Lincoln Project held a virtual town hall and 10,000 people showed up. The group claims it has 3,000 volunteers in Michigan alone and is developing a ground campaign in other swing states.

Republican Voters Against Trump has launched a $10 million digital campaign targeting voters in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Arizona. The group has recorded hundreds of video testimonials from Republicans who voted for Trump in 2016 but who say they will cross over and vote for Biden this year.

Anthony Scaramucci, Trump’s former White House communications director, and Matt Borges, a former chair of the Ohio Republican party, have formed a separate anti-Trump group, The Right Side PAC. Joe Walsh, a former South Carolina Republican congressman has launched, aimed at mobilizing veterans for Biden. In this time of coronavirus-induced recession, anti-Trump Republican political action groups seem to be one of the only growth industries.

Most of those now active in trying to defeat Trump were never for him in the first place. Because their 2016 opposition failed, and given the consistency of Trump’s Republican support as measured in the polls, there’s a tendency for the media to dismiss the effectiveness of these intra-party campaigns. But among the other political problems Trump has now that he didn’t have four years ago is that key figures from the Bush, McCain and Romney campaigns are much better organized, have far more money to work with and, possibly most important of all, likely have access to voter lists from prior presidential campaigns. They can identify Republican voters, and most importantly, key voting groups that have softened on Trump, such as suburban women and Hispanic-American voters.

Much as the Russians targeted undecided voters in 2016, these never-Trump groups now have the same tools to turn them against Trump in 2020. Media can be individually targeted. Volunteers know which doors to knock on and which phone numbers to call. Given the razor-thin victory that put Trump in the White House, it won’t take much of vote switch to show him the door.

One more point about The Lincoln Project, particularly. On its web site it says, “The Lincoln Project is working to defeat Donald Trump AND those candidates who have abandoned their constitutional oaths, regardless of party.” If you check out the videos it has produced and aired, they include attacks on incumbent Republican senators in Iowa, Arizona, Montana, North Carolina, Maine and elsewhere. Lindsay Graham is attacked. So is Mitch McConnell. All existing bridges are being burned.

This is not just an anti-Trump campaign. This is a campaign to clean house of all the Republican senators who sold their political birthright to Trump, and the opening round of an effort by traditional Republicans to reclaim their party. Even if Trump falls this year, and even if the Democrats reclaim the Senate, traditional Republicans face the immediate prospect of fighting to control state and local Republican parties, and setting up to challenge hard core Trumpites for Congress and state and local office in 2022 primaries.

We can expect a four-year GOP civil war that will likely determine whether traditional Republican conservatives and moderates can win that formidable fight, or whether a new political platform will need to be created, one of their own.

No matter how that fight gets resolved, it’s possible 2020 may mark the last general election dominated by the two major political parties as we’ve known them for nearly 150 years.

(Joe Rothstein’s political thrillers, “The Salvation Project,” and “The Latina President,” are on sale from all on-line book sellers and most independent book stores. Comments? Questions? Joe Rothstein can be contacted at

Joe Rothstein is a political strategist and media producer who worked in more than 200 campaigns for political office and political causes. He also has served as editor of the Anchorage Daily News and as an adjunct professor at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management. He has a master's degree in journalism from UCLA. Mr. Rothstein is the author of award-winning political thrillers, The Latina President and the Conspiracy to Destroy Her, The Salvation Project, and The Moment of Menace. For more information, please visit his website at