‘Trump­averse’ Repub­li­cans mo­bi­lize, strate­gize

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - BAY AREA - JOE GAROFOLI

The dilemma for Pres­i­dent Trump­loathing Repub­li­cans: Do you vote for a Repub­li­can who sup­ports him?

It’s a ques­tion that hit home to Never Trumpers in Cal­i­for­nia this week when Rep. Mike Gar­cia was sworn in to the House. Gar­cia is the Repub­li­can who won a spe­cial elec­tion in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia to re­place scan­dal­rid­den Demo­cratic Rep. Katie Hill, who quit last year. His vic­tory was a big deal be­cause Gar­cia is the first Repub­li­can to flip a House seat in Cal­i­for­nia since 1998, and the pres­i­dent en­dorsed him again and again on Twit­ter — putting him firmly on Team Trump.

Now the dilemma: Gar­cia has to run again in Novem­ber for a full term. Repub­li­cans would love to re­claim the House. That would be a bit eas­ier to do if Gar­cia wins. So if you’re a Repub­li­can op­er­a­tive, it’s a no­brainer, right? Back Gar­cia. Ex­cept. Vet­eran Cal­i­for­nia GOP con­sul­tant Mike Madrid loathes Trump so deeply that he won’t back any Repub­li­can can­di­date who sup­ports him.

Try­ing to push Trump out of of­fice is Madrid’s job as one of the ad­vis­ers to the Lin­coln Project, a su­per PAC led by GOP ex­pats who are rais­ing mil­lions to flip the White House and oust any Repub­li­cans, es­pe­cially sen­a­tors, who sup­port Trump.

Rob Stutz­man, an­other “Trump­averse” top Cal­i­for­nia

GOP op­er­a­tive, dis­agrees. Stutz­man, who is not in the Lin­coln Project, says he would vote for just about any nonTrump Repub­li­can short of Rep. Devin Nunes — in­clud­ing Gar­cia.

“Oth­er­wise,” Stutz­man told The Chron­i­cle’s “It’s All Po­lit­i­cal” pod­cast, “what we get left with when Trump is gone are a bunch of peo­ple that are just his lit­tle ‘Mini­Me’s,’ be­cause ev­ery other rea­son­able Repub­li­can or legacy Repub­li­can es­sen­tially has ei­ther quit or been pushed out of of­fice.”

Madrid wasn’t de­terred by Gar­cia’s de­ci­sive vic­tory. Don’t look at a low­turnout elec­tion in the Los An­ge­les sub­urbs for a sign of Trump’s strength, Madrid said. In­stead, look at what’s go­ing on in Ari­zona — a state that has backed a Demo­crat for pres­i­dent just once in 70 years.

Joe Biden is on track to be the only Demo­crat the state has sup­ported other than Bill Clin­ton in 1996, ac­cord­ing to an OH Pre­dic­tive In­sights poll this week of likely Ari­zona vot­ers. It showed Trump trail­ing the for­mer vice pres­i­dent by seven points. More bad news for the GOP from that poll: Repub­li­can Sen. Martha McSally is los­ing to Demo­crat Mark Kelly, 51% to 38%.

And Ari­zona stands to be a huge deal in Novem­ber: It could be the state that de­cides not only who wins the White House, but which party will con­trol the Se­nate.

One of the rea­sons Trump is trail­ing in a state that he won four years ago is that white vot­ers with a col­lege de­gree are turn­ing on him, ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey. Four years ago, Trump beat Hil­lary Clin­ton by six points in Ari­zona among those vot­ers, ac­cord­ing to exit polls. Now, he trails

Biden by 11 points among those same Ari­zo­nans.

The Lin­coln Project is fo­cus­ing on those vot­ers. It’s try­ing to con­vince col­lege­ed­u­cated sub­ur­ban Repub­li­cans that Trump not only has been a fail­ure, but that he doesn’t rep­re­sent con­ser­va­tive val­ues.

This month, the su­per PAC dropped its lat­est video ad, a take­off on Ron­ald Rea­gan’s iconic 1984 re­elec­tion ad, “Morn­ing in Amer­ica.” The Lin­col­ners called theirs “Mourn­ing in Amer­ica,” and filled it with im­ages of maskwear­ing peo­ple to show how Trump has botched the fed­eral re­sponse to the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

“There’s mourn­ing in Amer­ica,” the ad’s nar­ra­tor says. “And un­der the lead­er­ship of Don­ald Trump, our coun­try is weaker and sicker and poorer. And now Amer­i­cans are ask­ing: If we have an­other four years like this, will there even be an Amer­ica?”

The ad struck a nerve. Not only has it been seen 20 mil­lion times across all plat­forms, ac­cord­ing to the group — it also got un­der Trump’s skin. The pres­i­dent de­rided the Lin­coln Project in a late­night Twit­ter fusil­lade as RINOs (Repub­li­cans in Name Only) and “losers” who are em­bit­tered be­cause he didn’t hire them to work on his campaign.

Do­na­tions poured in, too — more than $2 mil­lion in the first week af­ter the ad’s de­but, al­most as much as the su­per PAC raised through March, ac­cord­ing to fed­eral campaign fi­nance re­ports.

This week, the Lin­coln Project is air­ing the ad in Philadel­phia, Lans­ing, Mich., and Sioux City, Iowa, three key mar­kets in bat­tle­ground states. The week be­fore it ran in TV spots in Wis­con­sin, Ohio and Florida.

Next to Trump, the group’s top tar­get has been McSally, a for­mer two­term House mem­ber whom Repub­li­can Gov. Doug Ducey ap­pointed last year to fill the seat that had been held by the late Sen. John McCain. The Lin­coln Project has pounded McSally in ads as a “Trump hack” whom Ari­zona re­jected in 2018 when she lost to Demo­crat Kyrsten Sinema for the seat va­cated by GOP Sen. Jeff Flake.

“Ari­zona re­jected you in 2018 and you know why: You were too close to Don­ald Trump,” the ad says. “Now you’ve gone full Trump again.”

The ad — and, of course, the $31 mil­lion that Kelly’s campaign has raised — have dragged down McSally’s poll num­bers. Soon, the project will be go­ing hard af­ter Maine Sen. Su­san Collins, an­other Repub­li­can fac­ing a tough elec­tion bat­tle.

Madrid is un­apolo­getic about tak­ing on GOP sen­a­tors. He com­pares Trump­ism to “a can­cer that’s metas­ta­sized, and it needs to be cut out. And so un­less you’re ac­tively work­ing against it, it’s go­ing to con­tinue to grow.”

Stutz­man agreed that Trump­ism is plagu­ing the GOP, but doesn’t want Repub­li­can in­cum­bents re­placed by Democrats. And he dis­agrees with de­rid­ing sen­a­tors like McSally as “hacks.”

“Who is that sup­posed to be per­suad­ing?” Stutz­man said. “If we want to save the party and turn this around, we have to start per­suad­ing the 95% of Repub­li­cans who say that they sup­port the pres­i­dent. And that takes a whole lot more nu­ance and in­ten­tion­al­ity than just beat­ing the liv­ing crap out of these sit­ting sen­a­tors, who es­sen­tially are do­ing what their base vot­ers would want them to do.”

Madrid said a pos­i­tive, up­lift­ing mes­sage might have swayed some of Trump’s sup­port­ers in an­other year. But Trump didn’t get into of­fice us­ing an up­lift­ing mes­sage, he said. Any campaign that doesn’t punch just as hard as he does is guilty of po­lit­i­cal “mal­prac­tice,” the con­sul­tant said.

“That is un­com­fort­able,” Madrid said. “But it is the only tac­tic that has worked. The idea that some­how we can take a higher road while this guy goes im­me­di­ately to the gut­ter? Peo­ple are fol­low­ing him.”

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