A new super PAC headed by a former Mitt Romney campaign manager is planning an ad blitz in South Carolina in an attempt to block Donald Trump’s path to the Republican nomination.
Our Principles PAC is taking credit for the real estate mogul’s second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses behind Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, after the group blanketed the state just weeks after it was formed.
In a 10-day media assault, the PAC spent $2.5 million lambasting the frontrunner over the air, on the phone and in print as someone out of step with Republican voters, using his own words against him. Now they want to ensure South Carolina voters get the same message ahead of the Feb. 20 GOP primary.
“Our strategy will depend on who’s left (after New Hampshire), but we plan a significant TV buy that should reach voters all across the state,” said Katie Packer, chairwoman of Our Principles PAC.
“If it bleeds, we can kill it.”
Our Principles PAC chairwoman Katie Packer, quoting Arnold Schwarzenegger
Four TV ads that aired across Iowa in the run-up to the caucuses use clips of Trump taking positions likely to be unpopular with conservatives: proclaiming his support for universal, single-payer health care; labeling himself pro-choice on abortion, and saying nice things about Hillary Clinton.
One ad hits Trump on the issue that’s earned him the most attention: his tough stance on immigration. Trump has demanded Mexico pay to build a wall on the southern U.S. border and has promised to ban Muslims from entering the United States, calls he repeated in a visit to Rock Hill last month.
But the ad highlights Trump’s past calls for legal status for immigrants who entered the country illegally, and the fine Trump’s company had to pay when a court determined Trump Tower was built using illegal immigrant labor.
Packer, who was a deputy campaign manager on Romney’s presidential campaign, said Trump has led GOP polls so far because of an image that “He tells it like it is, he looks strong, he talks tough,” but his past comments show “he’s not even a Republican.”
“He’s like a mirage. From far off, people see what they want to see,” Packer said. “But what he’s said is not what most Republican primary voters hold dear.”
In South Carolina, the Super PAC hopes to match its Iowa output: 350,000 pieces of mail sent out, 90,000 voter guides printed and 284,000 targeted phone calls made. Packer said that after honing their message in Iowa, the group will hit South Carolinians with more targeted messages highlighting Trump’s positions on taxes, health care and guns. Packer declined to specify how much the group intends to spend on its anti-Trump campaign, citing strategy concerns.
But who is behind the multi-million push to force Trump from the race is unclear. Packer said the group is not backing any particular candidate in opposition to Trump, and the PAC is so new it hasn’t filed any declarations of its donors with the Federal Election Commission, according to the Center for Responsive Politics and OpenSecrets.org.
“This had already existed, only it went on car windshields.”
Winthrop University political science professor Scott Huffmon
While the kind of big-money expenditure Our Principles PAC is making is a relatively new feature of the modern campaign, Winthrop University political science professor Scott Huffmon said the group is following in a long line of political attacks launched by unseen actors.
“We never had super PACs until the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United,” which ended restrictions on campaign spending by “nonprofit” groups, Huffmon said. “But there are have always been semi-clandestine groups in South Carolina.”
In recent years, the state’s 2008 primary has seen former Sen. Fred Thompson attacked by the website PhonyFred.org, which was ultimately tied to the Romney campaign. In 2000, John McCain famously lost a primary race that included a whisper campaign the Arizona senator had an illegitimate black child.
“This had already existed, only it went on car windshields,” Huffmon said.
Packer declined to identify her group’s main donors other than to say they were “principled conservatives who share our worldview.”
“All that information will be disclosed when it is required to be,” she said.
“I’ve never seen a campaign where you let the leader skate by untouched.”
That no filings have yet been made by the group is a testament to just how late anti-Trump conservatives have waited to turn their full fire on the presumptive frontrunner.
“I think we expected somebody else to do it by now,” Packer said. “I’ve never seen a campaign where you let the leader skate by untouched.”
Huffmon agrees the other candidates seem to be afraid to challenge Trump directly, and risk incurring his wrath or worse, become the butt of a Trump joke.
“I don’t know if it’s a delayed reaction or a panicked one,” he said. “The establishment just presumed Trump would fade.”
Instead, Packer wanted to “beat the winner” by going after Trump before he could establish himself as the inevitable nominee, and she credits that message with pushing late deciders away from Trump in the caucuses.
“There wasn’t just one silver bullet,” she said. “We had to take him on with a whole range of issues (to change people’s minds).”
That’s the approach voters in South Carolina can expect to hear soon. Packer’s philosophy when it comes to primary politics is best summed up by a former Republican governor of California.
“As Arnold Schwarzenegger said in (the movie) ‘Predator,’ ‘If it bleeds, we can kill it.’”
350,000 number of mailers sent out by Our Principles PAC in Iowa
90,000 number of Trump Voter Guides printed for caucusgoers
284,000 targeted anti-Trump phone calls to Iowa voters