Donald Trump dancing
Donald Trump dancing at the conclusion of a "Make America Great Again" campaign rally at Phoenix Goodyear Airport in Goodyear, Arizona. (Photo: Gage Skidmore, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

Don­ald Trump has been out of the White House for more than half of a pres­i­den­tial term and is in greater legal per­il than he’s ever been at any point in his life, yet his bond with Repub­li­can vot­ers remains incred­i­bly strong, a right wing polit­i­cal action com­mit­tee named Win It Back has concluded.

The PAC — which The New York Times’ Jonathan Swan described as “a well fund­ed group of anti-Trump con­ser­v­a­tives” — has been fruit­less­ly search­ing for argu­ments against Trump’s 2024 can­di­da­cy that res­onate with Repub­li­can vot­ers, and it has come up com­plete­ly emp­ty, which won’t come as a sur­prise to many pro­gres­sive and Demo­c­ra­t­ic strate­gists who keep an eye on cur­rent dynamics.

A memo sent by Win It Back­’s top oper­a­tive David McIn­tosh, which the New York Times got a hold of and pub­lished, “acknowl­edges to donors that after exten­sive test­ing of more than 40 anti-Trump tele­vi­sion ads, ‘all attempts to under­mine his con­ser­v­a­tive cre­den­tials on spe­cif­ic issues were ineffective.’ ”

“Every tra­di­tion­al post-pro­duc­tion ad attack­ing Pres­i­dent Trump either back­fired or pro­duced no impact on his bal­lot sup­port and favor­a­bil­i­ty,” McIn­tosh wrote.

“This includes ads that pri­mar­i­ly fea­ture video of him say­ing lib­er­al or stu­pid com­ments from his own mouth. The best per­form­ing ads include non-script­ed Repub­li­cans shar­ing reser­va­tions in their own words that touch on the themes and broad­ly accept­able mes­sag­ing men­tioned above. Notably, when the same tes­ti­mo­ni­al-type of ad pro­vides com­men­tary on a spe­cif­ic issue in Pres­i­dent Trump’s record, they are large­ly inef­fec­tive,” McIn­tosh added.

Some ads were worse than inef­fec­tive — they actu­al­ly helped increase Trump’s sup­port, accord­ing to mes­sage test­ing con­duct­ed by Win It Back. Yes, you read that right: some of the group’s ads made the “Teflon Don” prob­lem worse!

You can read the memo your­self below:

Win It Back memo on chal­leng­ing Don­ald Trump

“The memo will pro­vide lit­tle reas­sur­ance to the rest of the field of Mr. Trump’s Repub­li­can rivals that there is any elu­sive mes­sage out there that can work to deflate his sup­port,” Swan sug­gest­ed in his write­up for the New York Times.

Polling has, as many Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate read­ers are like­ly aware, sug­gest­ed for months that the 2024 Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion is Trump’s to lose.

But this memo is just strik­ing. It’s a real­ly impor­tant piece of evi­dence that backs up the body of avail­able polling. After pro­duc­ing more than forty tele­vi­sion ads test­ed in twelve in-per­son focus groups and four online ran­dom­ized con­trolled exper­i­ments, Win It Back has­n’t been able to find any real­ly potent argu­ments against Don­ald Trump with Repub­li­can vot­ers. It’s an omi­nous piece of news for the Repub­li­can field, includ­ing the sev­en can­di­dates who debat­ed last night.

“Can­di­dates on the debate stage should not be afraid to attack Don­ald Trump,” New Hamp­shire Gov­er­nor Chris Sununu argued just a few weeks ago in an August essay for The New York Times’ Opin­ion sec­tion. “While it’s true that Mr. Trump has an iron grip on more than thir­ty per­cent of the elec­torate, the oth­er six­ty per­cent or so is open to mov­ing for­ward with a new nominee.”

Last night, pret­ty much the whole field took Sununu’s advice. Even Ron DeSan­tis took swings at Don­ald Trump. But get­ting some­thing, any­thing, to stick — well, Win It Back­’s research sug­gests that is going to be real­ly, real­ly, real­ly difficult.

Even if the field were to shrink, leav­ing Repub­li­can vot­ers with just one major alter­na­tive to Trump, it’s hard to see that rival can­di­date get­ting traction.

Trump’s oper­a­tion is so con­fi­dent it’s got this that it has pub­licly sug­gest­ed the RNC quit hold­ing pres­i­den­tial debates because Trump’s nom­i­na­tion is inevitable.

“Chris LaCivi­ta, a senior advis­er to Trump’s cam­paign, called on the Repub­li­can Nation­al Com­mit­tee to scrap all future pri­ma­ry debates so that the par­ty and its can­di­dates can coa­lesce behind Trump and turn their focus to defeat­ing Pres­i­dent Joe Biden in 2024,” McClatchy report­ed in an arti­cle filed by Max Green­wood.

The mes­sage to the RNC is clear: Trump is your mas­ter. Bow down and accord Don­ald the def­er­ence he would get if he were the incumbent. 

Although it has­n’t changed its name, the Repub­li­can Par­ty no longer looks or func­tions like a major polit­i­cal par­ty any­more, let alone one com­mit­ted to repub­li­can­ism and democ­ra­cy. It has instead become a dan­ger­ous cult that wor­ships a wannabe auto­crat — Don­ald Trump. It mat­ters not that Trump’s pres­i­den­cy was a dis­as­ter, that he tried to over­throw the gov­ern­ment of the Unit­ed States by incit­ing an insur­rec­tion, or that he’s at risk of los­ing key sym­bol­ic assets like Trump Tow­er due to his fraud­u­lent busi­ness prac­tices.

It also does­n’t mat­ter that Trump is a patho­log­i­cal liar and nar­cis­sist who manip­u­lates peo­ple and push­es their but­tons to get what he wants. Repub­li­can vot­ers seem ready to for­give any trans­gres­sion and dis­miss any evi­dence that Trump does­n’t actu­al­ly care about what they care about, or share their values.

Win It Back con­clud­ed that the only mes­sen­gers many Repub­li­cans will take seri­ous­ly are vot­ers who pro­fess to have pre­vi­ous­ly sup­port­ed Don­ald Trump.

“It is essen­tial to dis­arm the view­er at the open­ing of the ad by estab­lish­ing that the per­son being inter­viewed on cam­era is a Repub­li­can who pre­vi­ous­ly sup­port­ed Pres­i­dent Trump; oth­er­wise, the view­er will auto­mat­i­cal­ly put their guard up, assum­ing the mes­sen­ger is just anoth­er Trump-hater whose opin­ion should be sum­mar­i­ly dis­missed,” McIn­tosh explained in a sec­tion titled “key learnings.”

Win It Back is hop­ing to have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to “max­i­mize an alter­na­tive can­di­date’s bal­lot share when the field begins to consolidate.”

But that con­sol­i­da­tion may not hap­pen until Trump has the 2024 nom­i­na­tion all locked up. Unlike the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, which con­sis­tent­ly uses pro­por­tion­al rep­re­sen­ta­tion, many Repub­li­can Par­ty nom­i­nat­ing events are win­ner-take-all, espe­cial­ly after the ear­ly states have gone, which makes it much eas­i­er for a fron­trun­ner to sew up the del­e­gates they need to get the nom­i­na­tion.

Trump owes his remark­able resilien­cy in large part to his eli­gi­bil­i­ty for the pres­i­den­cy in 2024. Repub­li­cans in Con­gress, and specif­i­cal­ly in the Unit­ed States Sen­ate, had an oppor­tu­ni­ty to seri­ous­ly weak­en Trump by con­vict­ing him of incit­ing an insur­rec­tion and then vot­ing to bar him from hold­ing office again.

This could have hap­pened in ear­ly 2021, after Trump had left office, at the con­clu­sion of Trump’s sec­ond impeach­ment tri­al.

Had Mitch McConnell cho­sen to pro­vide the Repub­li­can votes nec­es­sary to con­vict Trump, Trump could have been boot­ed from the 2024 are­na with the adop­tion of a motion in the Sen­ate to dis­qual­i­fy him as a future can­di­date for fed­er­al office. This would have paved the way for some­one like Ron DeSan­tis, Nik­ki Haley, or Vivek Ramaswamy to win the 2024 Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nomination.

Instead, like Kevin McCarthy, who had made a pil­grim­age to Mar-a-Lago to get back into Trump’s good graces, McConnell sided with Trump.

Sev­en Repub­li­cans, of their own voli­tion, vot­ed to con­vict Trump back in Feb­ru­ary of 2021. (Pre­sum­ably, they also would have vot­ed to bar Trump from run­ning again.) All it would have tak­en to get the job done would have been ten more Repub­li­can votes: McConnell and nine oth­er Repub­li­can oth­er sen­a­tors. That would have yield­ed six­ty-sev­en votes to con­vict, meet­ing the two-thirds threshold.

McConnel­l’s feck­less­ness then is cer­tain­ly hav­ing pow­er­ful reper­cus­sions now. Despite access to ample resources, anti-Trump forces aren’t find­ing any­thing that can real­ly stick to “Teflon Don,” as McIn­tosh con­ced­ed. 2015–2016 may not be exact­ly repeat­ing itself, but it’s rhyming, as the pop­u­lar say­ing goes. As in life, noth­ing is cer­tain in pol­i­tics, but if there is a path to the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion for any­one oth­er than Don­ald Trump, it’s not one that we can see right now.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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