Anti-Trump groups feel reinvigorated

Anti-Trump groups feel reinvigorated
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Conservative donors are feeling reinvigorated after Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: I hope voters pay attention to Dem tactics amid Kavanaugh fight South Korea leader: North Korea agrees to take steps toward denuclearization Graham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' MORE’s loss in Wisconsin and plan to spend money in the front-runner's home state in hopes of defeating him again. 

They are also contemplating efforts in states with primaries following New York's on April 19.

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In a show of their growing confidence about blocking Trump’s path to the nomination, at least three conservative groups dedicated to stopping Trump — Club for Growth, Our Principles and Never Trump — are planning targeted attacks against the real estate mogul in the delegate-rich state of New York, where the billionaire remains very popular and is almost certain to win.

The plan by these anti-Trump groups in New York is to deny Trump the more than 50 percent of the vote he needs to turn the state's primary into effectively a winner-take-all state.

The second part of the plan is to get either Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) or Ohio Gov. John Kasich, depending on the congressional district, over the 20 percent threshold needed to take delegates from Trump in the April 19 primary.  

While their New York strategies are still in the design stages, the super-PACs will likely attack Trump through digital and selected TV advertising at the congressional district level, stealing delegates here and there to suppress his total.

None of these anti-Trump groups are likely to waste money on a broad-based ad buy in New York’s expensive media market.

“In the city and Long Island, it can be this strategic effort to combine forces to win in particular CDs [congressional districts]," said David McIntosh, the president of Club for Growth, which has spent about $9 million so far opposing Trump.

In an interview this week, Republican operative Patrick Ruffini, who works for the "Never Trump" super-PAC, told The Hill his digital-focused group would be homing in on key districts in New York where polling and demographics suggest maximum delegates can be taken from Trump.

Using funding from small-dollar donors, the Never Trump super-PAC is using the talents of former Republican National Committee data experts to run targeted digital ads.

“The important thing about digital is the ability to target down to the congressional district level, which is not possible through television,” Ruffini said. 

In looking at New York, he said, "There are definitely some places where we think Trump will get over 50 percent. We’re realistic about that, but [to hit Trump] you would be looking at ... places where there are very few Republican voters and where flipping them would make a big difference.” Ruffini mentioned as an example districts in the Bronx.

These anti-Trump groups, while not officially connected, are sharing polling data to help ensure the “Never Trump” movement is as effective as possible. The groups are also looking ahead in the primary calendar to states where their data reveal opportunities to steal delegates from Trump.

The big picture plan — and one being increasingly embraced by donors — is to deny Trump the 1,237 delegates needed to win the GOP nomination. Future target states include Maryland and Pennsylvania, which hold primaries on April 26, and Indiana, which has its primary on May 3. But the list is expanding given the strategy is not to win whole states, but rather to deny Trump as many delegates as financially possible.

Combined, Club for Growth and Our Principles have already spent more than $25 million opposing Trump, and it appears from recent conversations with sources close to the groups that conservative millionaires and billionaires are ready to open their wallets.

Early on Wednesday morning, only hours after Cruz’s 13-point victory over Trump in the Wisconsin primary, David McIntosh, the president of Club for Growth, convened a teleconference with some of his top anti-Trump donors.

“They’re very upbeat,” McIntosh said of his donors following Trump’s Wisconsin loss. “They now see Trump can be beaten and that Cruz can be the one to beat him.”

Republican operative Rory Cooper says the same thing, though his Never Trump donors are at the grassroots end and are not cutting the plus-sized checks received by the other two PACS. 

“We received huge spikes ... in donations," Cooper said. “I think Wisconsin was certainly a momentum builder.”

Momentum was not always on the Never Trump movement’s side.

As recently as March 1’s Super Tuesday, GOP donors were privately ridiculing the pitches of “Never Trump” advocates including hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer.

One of Jeb Bush’s biggest super-PAC donors described to The Hill a conference call on the afternoon of Tuesday March 1 led by Singer, Chris Christie’s former finance chairwoman, Meg Whitman, and Todd Ricketts of the Chicago Cubs-owning family that is primarily funding the anti-Trump movement. 

The donor told The Hill at the time that the pitch was “more of the same” and that he couldn’t see how these donors thought their money would do any good against Trump.

Shortly after the Koch brothers’ donor summit in Palm Springs in late January, which The Hill attended, Ricketts made a personal pitch to one of the Koch attendees to join the anti-Trump movement. The recipient of the unsuccessful pitch told The Hill that he thought Ricketts and his group were delusional, even though he admired their motives. 

But in recent conversations with The Hill, previously skeptical GOP donors are coming around to the idea that delegate math will prevent Trump from being the nominee. 

The anti-Trump folks say it's better late than never for those donors who sat on the sidelines for so many months.

"They can be part of finishing the game plan," McIntosh said.