Outside groups rally to back up Trump

Outside groups rally to back up Trump
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The reinforcements have arrived.

As President Trump stares down one of the most tumultuous stretches of his young presidency, he is getting cover on the airwaves from a trio of outside groups.

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The handful of nonprofit groups that formed in the wake of Trump’s surprise victory last fall started off slow, struggling with setbacks and coming under stinging criticism from the White House for failing to provide adequate support for the president’s agenda.

As continuing leaks and legislative malaise beset the president, the Trump administration feels it needs all the firepower it can get to beat back a barrage of negative press.

Those efforts have been boosted this week by outside groups run by longtime Trump loyalists and GOP operatives with close ties to the White House.

June appears to be the turning point for the groups, which are suddenly flooding the airwaves with cable news attacks against former FBI Director James Comey and ads praising Trump’s leadership on his first trip abroad as president and tearing down the Democratic candidate in a closely watched Georgia special House election.

The backup couldn’t come soon enough.

Trump’s approval rating is hovering at its lowest point ever. The president has yet to score a major legislative achievement, with his agenda moving at a glacial pace through the GOP-controlled Congress. And the investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election threatens to consume the administration, with details dripping out daily ahead of Comey’s highly anticipated testimony Thursday on Capitol Hill.

This week, the oldest of the three groups, the Great America Alliance — a nonprofit that acted as a super PAC during the campaign — dropped a new ad with the express intent of undermining Comey ahead of his appearance in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

In the ad, which is titled “Showboat” — a word Trump once used to slam Comey — the narrator accuses the former FBI director of “putting politics over protecting America” and ignoring terrorism to focus on election meddling. The 30-second ad ran digitally early in the week before moving over to Fox News and CNN as Comey’s testimony neared.

The Great America Alliance acted as a pro-Trump super PAC during the campaign, with critics accusing it of being a money-making project for establishment GOP operatives.

But the organization has since brought two of Trump’s biggest public boosters — former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) — on as chairmen.

And the Great America Alliance made a splash by hiring Tomi Lahren, the trash-talking 24-year-old conservative activist who made a name for herself at Glenn Beck’s website The Blaze before being ousted in a nasty employment dispute. 

“I was hesitant to join any group,” Lahren said in an interview with The Hill. 

“But the mainstream media and the hard left are so well-funded and organized — we conservatives need more of a ground game, and I thought I could help. There was a void in reaching the young female audience, and I’m a firebrand — I go for the jugular.”

 Since being hired at the Great America Alliance, Lahren — who boasts a social media presence with millions of followers — has figured prominently in efforts to build its member list.

 “I’ve had a lot of success on social media and know how to connect better than most online. If we’re going to be a big-tent Republican Party, we need to get the pro-Trump message out,” Lahren said.

Meanwhile, the White House had high hopes for an outside group stocked with former Trump campaign and administration officials called America First Policies (AFP), which launched in late January.

But reported infighting in the group hobbled AFP in its early days. The situation worsened when adviser Rick Gates left the group amid heightened scrutiny of former boss and onetime Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s ties to Russia.

When Trump deputy campaign manager David Bossie left to form his own group with the financial backing of conservative mega-donor Rebekah Mercer, it was viewed by many as a sign that AFP was on the rocks.

AFP spokeswoman Katrina Pierson, the former spokeswoman for the Trump campaign, dismissed reports that described AFP as struggling as meaningless palace intrigue.

“Unsourced reports are impossible to debate,” Pierson told The Hill. “It’s been my experience that these reports are usually based in fantasy and not from reliable individuals. There has always been an unhealthy focus on process, the people surrounding President Trump and those who support him. America First was formed around the inauguration, but was not designed to be active until the legislative process.”

Still, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus bemoaned the lack of “air cover” during the healthcare debate on Capitol Hill. Priebus eventually dispatched his top deputy, Katie Walsh, to act as an adviser for the group. 

Now AFP appears to be humming.

The group put $400,00 behind an ad promoting Trump’s first trip abroad, which is running now on cable news. The ad brings its yearly spending total to about $5 million. 

Most of that money has gone toward boosting GOP efforts to repeal and replace ObamaCare, but this week AFP released a new ad going after Democrat Jon Ossoff ahead of the Georgia House special election. It’s the first time the nonprofit has gotten involved in the high-stakes special election, which has become the most expensive congressional race in history as Democrats look for proof of a growing voter backlash to the GOP.

Future AFP efforts focusing on healthcare and tax reform are in the works. AFP President Brian O. Walsh said the group would take a three-pronged approach going forward, investing in national ad spots boosting Trump, on issues pertaining to the president’s agenda, and in House and Senate races when there is an opening.

In an interview, Walsh acknowledged the turbulent start but said AFP is hitting its stride.

“Look, when you’re standing up what will in the long term be a large and consequential organization, it takes time,” Walsh said. “You don’t turn on an organization just by flipping a switch.

 “You look at where we were in that first month — by mid-May, all of a sudden we’d done $3 million on healthcare and now we’re playing in Georgia, in addition to the national ads on Trump’s foreign trip. The early questions had a lot more to do with the logistical back-end stuff. We’re moving into stage two.”

Less is known about the third group founded by Bossie and Mercer. Representatives from Making America Great did not return phone calls or emails, but earlier this year the group ran $1.3 million in cable news and digital ads highlighting Trump’s achievements and pressuring lawmakers to back his agenda.

There is a sense of competition among the groups. Lahren warned that “conservatives have a reputation of cannibalizing” each other, but she insists that’s not happening in this instance.

“We have our mission and what we’re trying to accomplish, but we’ll work with anyone who wants to work with us,” added Walsh. “We feel good about where we are and our relationship to this ecosystem, but there is plenty of space.”