The forces rallying to stop Donald Trump’s march to the Republican presidential nomination have one last chance: They need to keep the real estate mogul from winning the winner-take-all delegate hauls in Ohio and Florida on Tuesday.
With so much on the line, I reached out to Katie Packer, who runs Our Principles PAC, the primary anyone-but-Trump vehicle, to pick her brain about how you solve a problem like The Donald. Our conversation — conducted via email and edited only for grammar — is below.
Q: Donald Trump just won Michigan and Mississippi (and Hawaii). He now has an 99 delegate lead over Ted Cruz. He is ahead in polling in Florida and Ohio. Did the effort to stop him start too late?
Packer: The effort to stop Donald Trump did not start too late to be successful, and that’s all that matters in the end. Our Principles PAC and other groups were successful in capping his support in the very first caucus – Iowa. A two-week sustained campaign drove up his negatives and caused late deciders to move to other candidates. Candidly, it has taken longer to attract critical mass than would ideal, but 20 percent of the delegates won’t be selected until MAY.
If you look at our memo, Donald’s path to 1,237 is very, very challenging, and there are lots of paths for one of the other candidates to pass him in the delegate race. This is far from over.
Q: Lots of people – from Jeb Bush to Rick Perry to Marco Rubio to a variety of super PACS – have tried and failed to slow or stop Trump. Why? What did they do wrong?
Packer: Until OPP came on the scene, there was no sustained and funded effort designed to highlight Donald Trump using Donald Trump’s own words against him. Candidates might have a press conference here, might shoot a barb there, but there was no sustained voter education effort aimed at highlighting his record that included both campaigns and outside groups until the past few weeks, and we’ve seen the impact. Until 10 days ago, only $9 million had been spent challenging Trump’s record, out of $215 million spent in the whole GOP primary. By contrast, in two weeks in Florida ALONE, the Romney effort spent $10 million to challenge Newt’s record and turned a double-digit poll deficit into a 19 point victory on Florida primary day. We are seeing substantial movement in Trump’s negatives thanks to new information being introduced and are confident that the kind of three-dimensional campaign we have undertaken in Florida with mail, phones, digital and TV, at critical scale, will be successful.
Q: Trump said on Tuesday night that TV advertising is overrated because he got attacked to the tune of millions of dollars and still won. Do you think he’s right?
Packer: On the one hand, he’s wrong just on the facts. We didn’t spend a dime in TV advertising against him in Hawaii, Michigan, Idaho or Mississippi. Donald is just whining because that’s his MO.
That said, TV advertising as a stand-alone is often overrated, especially in presidential campaigns. That is why we have engaged in a full surround-sound campaign designed to reach voters in as many ways as possible.
This has included an intensive digital effort, targeted mail and phone calls, a 24-hour earned and social media strategy and efforts at every turn to engage both grass-roots and elected leaders in the effort to stop Trump. #NeverTrump is an organic response fed by a sustained effort by OPP to educate voters on the real Donald Trump.
Q: You said this to USA TODAY: “There is huge disagreement about who should lead our party and what is sort of the core mandate of our party moving forward.” But, is there? Cruz and Trump are the clear front-runners for the nomination. Both are running as total outsiders. All of the establishment candidates have fallen by the wayside. So, what’s the disagreement?
Packer: There are huge differences among all of the candidates. You can’t just lump Cruz and Trump together and draw conclusions. Cruz and Rubio are far more conservative than Trump. You could argue that they have much more in common than Trump and Cruz. The simple fact that no candidate has amassed a majority of support within the party indicates there are real disagreements. And as we saw with the polling released this week by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News, right now each candidate is attracting about 25 percent support. Simply because someone wins a plurality in a string of states does not mean they have won the hearts and the minds of the party. And they have not won the nomination until they amass 1,237 delegates. That is just a fact. And conservatives will not simply throw away decades of work because the media is pressuring them to move the process along and ignore the fact that the candidate they are being asked to rally around is dangerous to their movement and their country. Regardless of the outcome, there will be a need to bring the party back together as a family. Fortunately, Hillary Clinton looms on the horizon, and that will make that task significantly easier for Governor Kasich or Senators Cruz or Rubio.
Q: Finish this sentence: If Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, the electoral landscape at the start of 2017 will be __________________. Now, explain.
Donald Trump has the highest negatives of any candidate in the race and would have the highest of any nominee at the beginning of a general election since modern polling began. He simply cannot win the general election. He already has a 21-point gender gap among women, and not a single ad has been run highlighting his record of misogyny and objectifying women. Not a single Spanish-language ad has been run using his comments about Mexicans and immigrants. This would make “self-deportation” look like the welcome wagon. Not a single ad has been run outlining his history of racist issues and unwillingness to denounce David Duke and the KKK. He is already running at historically low rates among minority populations. In order to offset the gap he has with women, Hispanics, African Americans and independents, he would have to win 80-85 percent of white men. That is a tough hill to climb. In fact, the Washington Post-ABC survey reveals that he is getting a smaller share of the white vote than Romney did in 2012.
We are putting our House and Senate candidates in great peril with a Trump candidacy, as these candidates will be forced to either embrace or denounce Trump and all that comes with him. On top of that, many will need to run five to 15 points ahead of the national ticket, and that is very, very hard to do. He would be an electoral nightmare of proportions not seen in the social media era.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Chris Cillizza