The GOP establishment is dusting off its old playbook and is once again discussing a coordinated advertising blitz in a last-ditch effort to weaken Donald Trump enough to prevent him from getting the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, the FOX Business Network has learned.
In August, FBN reported that various Republican political action committees—some directly affiliated with major GOP candidates and some not – began discussions about a major attack ad blitz against Trump to begin sometime after Labor Day.
The effort fizzled as PAC organizers worried about Trump launching his own attacks – in his trademark vitriolic style—and officials believing that his outrageous statements and strident positions on issues like immigration would eventually short-circuit his campaign.
But Trump’s campaign didn’t fizzle, and in fact, it only got stronger to the point that even with several candidates dropping out of the contest -- like former Florida Governor Jeb Bush -- he remains solidly ahead in the race to be the 2016 GOP nominee. Some analysts say without a major change, Trump is on the verge of winning the nomination outright.
With that, the Republican PACs have begun to mobilize once again, and officials running these organizations have begun to coordinate their efforts to derail Trump, major GOP fundraisers tell FOX Business. At least publicly, the PACs directly affiliated with GOP candidates like Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Ohio Governor John Kasich are mum about these discussions and say they aren’t directly coordinating with the other.
“We are working independently to draw a clear contrast between Marco Rubio's positive vision for the country and Donald Trump's con-artist scam," said Jeffrey C. Sadosk, spokesman for Rubio's Conservative Solutions PAC. Connie Wehrkamp, spokeswoman for Kasich’s New Day for America PAC said: "We have not have not been involved in any such discussions."
But major GOP fundraisers say the discussions are ongoing, and they involve the timing of the PAC ads around the Florida primary on March 15, and to some extent content.
“The campaigns themselves aren’t coordinating against Trump because they’re still in the heat battle amongst themselves,” said one major GOP money man. “But the PACs are talking about how best to take Trump on, so the plan is to focus their fire power on the front-runner”
At least part of the ad blitz has already begun, these fundraisers say, with an ad from Our Principles PAC, which takes aim at the controversy surrounding “Trump University.”
The eponymously named educational for-profit school charged students thousands of dollars for seminars in how to make money in real estate—the line of business that Trump specialized in before he became a reality TV star. But some students of the school say they were duped into believing the courses offered by Trump University were being taught by real estate professionals hand-picked by Trump himself.
Trump is facing a civil fraud suit from New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman over the controversy, and while Trump has denied charges, these former students say the instructors delivered generic information about real estate they could have received for free and that Trump himself did not personally select the instructors; the students’ testimonials are part of the Our Principles ad.
Tim Miller, spokesman for Our Principles, told FOX Business that the PAC is focusing its ad buys on upcoming primaries in Michigan, Illinois and Florida. “The Trump University ad is up now and we expect more ads in the coming days," he added. "Right now, over a million dollars has already [been] committed in advertising. And we expect more to come."
Hope Hicks, spokeswoman for the Trump campaign, labeled the ad-blitz as “yet another desperate attempt by the out of touch establishment elites and dark money that control the weak politicians to maintain control of our broken and corrupt system. Mr. Trump will continue to stand for the people and the issues they care about."
Aside from the Trump University controversy, Republican insiders say they have no shortage of controversies to highlight in their future ads. They say the main part of the blitz will likely come during the GOP Florida primary on March 15, which is considered by many political analysts a must-win state for Marco Rubio, who trails Trump in most polls.
Florida is a so-called “winner-take-all” state, meaning all 99 of its delegates will be handed over to the candidate with the most votes.
If Trump can win Florida, he will move significantly closer to the 1,237 delegates needed to achieve the GOP nomination. Likewise if Rubio prevails, he can possibly deny Trump the necessary delegate total going into the Republican convention – to be held on July 18 through 21 in Cleveland – and possibly try to join forces with other GOP candidates such as Kasich and Texas U.S. Senator Ted Cruz to contest a Trump nomination, even if he has compiled the most delegates.
For that reason, Florida becomes a key focal point of this ad war, GOP fundraisers say. “The PACs are in the process of coordinating and plan to hit Trump hard in Florida,” another major GOP fundraiser told FOX Business.