Allies of Ben Carson will launch a super-PAC later this month with the aim of turning out evangelical voters for Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSenate rejects attempt to block Biden's Saudi arms sale Crenshaw slams House Freedom Caucus members as 'grifters,' 'performance artists' Senate confirms Biden's nominee to lead Customs and Border Protection MORE and down-ballot Republicans.
The group, led by Bill Millis, a North Carolina businessman and former top fundraiser for Carson, is also forming an ambitious network of nonprofit advocacy groups aimed at affecting conservative social change.
The burgeoning organizations, one of which will be called We Serve USA, could go live as soon asJune 20 – a day before Trump plans to meet with hundreds of national faith leaders at a closed-door meeting in New York City.
Trump frequently boasts about having captured more evangelical voters than his GOP rivals, but he has struggled nonetheless to convince many leading Christian activists that he can be a trusted advocate on matters like religious liberty and abortion.
The new super-PAC and advocacy groups could help on that front.
The groups have obtained the rights to a database and email list started by televangelist and Liberty University founder Jerry Falwell, and later maintained by Carl Townsend, who founded the influential Christian ministries group InService USA.
“It’s the largest existing database in the world that can send messages to churches, pastors, evangelicals, and Christians of all kinds,” said Sam Casey, a conservative lawyer who is acting as general counsel to the groups.
The launch is the culmination of months of private meetings at Millis’s home in High Point, N.C., and the Houston, Texas, home of attorney and businessman Terry Giles, who briefly managed Carson’s campaign. Carson, who is advising the Trump campaign, has not been involved in the meetings.
Several other well-heeled investors and “former military leaders” are also said to be on board, although organizers did not provide names.
Those involved have so far declined to detail their initial investments, fundraising or spending goals, and were not yet ready to reveal the division of responsibilities between the network of groups.
But in addition to the super-PAC, which will support GOP candidates from Trump on down, there will be several nonprofit groups that plan to promote a broad range of conservative policies.
The focus will extend beyond the current election cycle.
The groups are plotting a public education campaign on the issues that Carson made the cornerstones of his presidential run, such as religious liberty, the sanctity of life and warning about the dangers of the welfare state.
The groups will also look for new ways to reach Hispanics and African-Americans, and plan to spend “millions” helping disabled veterans through assistance centers meant to shore-up deficiencies in the Veterans Administration system.
“The people who were mobilized and intrigued and energized by Dr. Carson’s vision for the country didn’t go away when he left the presidential race,” Casey said.
“We see a group of 80 to 100 million evangelicals in the U.S who have not felt unified and haven’t been spoken to in 15 or 20 years. We have an obligation to find out what those people want to know, why they want to know it, and to tell them the truth about things. We’re prepared to invest what it takes to get that job done.”
But it’s the group’s short-term efforts that will get the most attention.
“We’ll be getting behind Donald Trump and the Republican Senate candidates and will do whatever we can to influence this election,” Millis said.
That’s despite the apparent qualms that some in the group have about the likely GOP nominee.
“Trump makes me nervous,” Giles said. “He could be the best president we ever have or the worst. But as a conservative, I know that as a nation we can’t afford another four years of a Democrat in the White House.”
By targeting evangelical voters, the group could help Trump shore-up a key portion of the conservative base that is deeply skeptical about his commitment to their core values.
Many Christian conservatives are bothered by Trump’s past as a Manhattan playboy. They’re concerned that although he’s recently taken positions that they agree with – for instance, he says he opposes abortion now – that he doesn’t understand why conservatives hold these positions.
Trump will have the opportunity to address those concerns on June 21 at a high-stakes meeting with faith leaders in New York City that has been arranged by Carson, Trump senior adviser Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Christian luminaries like Focus on the Family Founder James Dobson and Family Research Council president Tony Perkins.
According to a description of the event from the Carson-aligned My Faith Votes group, the meeting will enable faith leaders to “better understand [Trump] as a person,” while helping Trump to “better appreciate” the views of Christian conservatives.
Trump will meet privately with about 20 of the faith leaders, including Dobson, Perkins and Southern Baptist Convention president Ronnie Floyd, among others, before holding court with a group of about 200 or more.
The gathering will be closed to the media.
“We’ve all heard his speeches,” Floyd said. “This will give us the opportunity to sit down and actually have a conversation about all of the things we’ve heard him say and to talk to him about the issues that matter the most to evangelicals.”
For most of those in attendance, Trump will not have been their first choice.
“These are not people who are on the Trump bandwagon,” said Penny Nance, CEO and president of Concerned Women for America, which promotes Biblical family values. “These are solid principled conservatives grappling with their consciences and trying to decide their role going forward.”
“I don’t expect a blanket endorsement coming out of this,” Nance added. “It’s just an opportunity for people to hear him and ask him questions.”
Trump has made some inroads with evangelicals recently.
Many were thrilled by the list of judges Trump said he’d choose from to replace deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
And last month, Trump’s hiring of pro-life advocate John Mashburn to be his top policy adviser was widely praised by the Christian community.
Many socially conservative groups also have an in with Trump through Huckabee Sanders, the daughter of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, although the campaign has yet to designate an official faith outreach leader.
Trump will need to leverage the entirety of that evangelical network to maximize conservative turnout on election day.
“You can’t win an election without that base, especially because if independents and moderates see those voters fleeing, they’ll start to have their own doubts,” said American Principles Project executive director Terry Schilling. “Pro-lifers make-up between 70 to 80 percent of Republicans, maybe more. It’s important to assure these voters and get them on board.”