'Trump is using us': TV ads pressure Christians as GOP group spends millions in 2020

President Donald Trump holds a Bible while visiting St. John's Church across from the White House in Washington, D.C. after the area was cleared of people protesting the death of George Floyd June 1, 2020.
President Donald Trump holds a Bible while visiting St. John's Church across from the White House in Washington, D.C. after the area was cleared of people protesting the death of George Floyd June 1, 2020. | White House

Never Trump Republican groups are spending millions this year in a bid to sway conservative and faith-based voters in battleground states away from voting for Donald Trump in November, with one group running commercial advertisements telling Christians that Trump is “using” them. 

Republican Voters Against Trump, a political initiative affiliated with anti-Trump conservatives like Bill Kristol and former Jeb Bush aid Tim Miller, is running digital and television advertisements featuring testimonials from Republican voters about why they cannot bring themselves to vote for Trump in the upcoming election. 

Sarah Longwell, one of the organizers of the initiative, confirmed for The Christian Post that the organization plans to spend upwards of $10-$15 million in 2020 in a bid to defeat the president and elect Democrat Joe Biden as it takes its advertising to swing states like North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin. 

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“It will be mostly digital with some TV,” Longwell said. “On TV, they have to be 30 to 60-second spots. But a lot of what we are going to do digitally is just running the unfiltered testimonials from people. That’s really what the project is built for. We spent a lot of time thinking over the last couple of years how to defeat Donald Trump in 2020.”

One commercial that aired in North Carolina last week is titled “Trump is Using Us.” 

The commercial is aimed at Christian conservatives, a major voting bloc for Trump in 2020 as he campaigned on promises to promote pro-life policies, protect religious freedom and appoint conservative judges. 

“I grew up in the church. I attended a private, Christian high school. You look at a way someone lives their life, and you believe them,” one self-proclaimed Republican voter identified as “Tommy” says in the advertisement. The commercial then jumps to an audio clip of taped comments that surfaced in 2016 of Trump saying he likes to grab women “by the p----."

The advertisement shows another self-proclaimed Republican voter saying that as Christians, “we should love our neighbors as ourselves.” The commercial then jumps to a clip highlighting how Trump once retweeted a video that, among other things, showed a man chanting “white power!”

Another Republican identified as “Pat” said in the advertisement that he dislikes how Trump used force to “bludgeon and gas” protesters at Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C., on June 1 so that he could take photographs in front of a church while posing with a Bible.

“The moment that he held up that Bible, he revealed that this president is using us,” Pat said. “Christians have to resist being used to justify things that Jesus would never justify.”

The advertisement concludes with a clip of Trump saying that there were “very fine people on both sides” in remarks about the violence that took place between white nationalist demonstrators and counter protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. 

“What’s going on now is wrong. And as a Republican, as a Christian, we simply cannot allow this man to be reelected,” a Republican name Shawn concludes. 

The advertisement that ran in North Carolina is just one of the many advertisements that Republican Voters Against Trump will run this year targeting conservative voters. 

“All of our research showed that what worked best with potentially persuadable voters, especially women, is other Republican voices talking about why they can’t support Trump in 2020 and in fact, can support Joe Biden,” Longwell said. “If you watch a bunch of the videos, the testimonials are very powerful. We have been testing them to see which ones are the most persuasive with our target audience. We are just going to run those unfiltered, unedited [targeted] at voters in the swing states.” 

While the initiative is highlighting the testimonials of voters who say they can’t vote for Trump, that doesn’t mean that every person giving a testimonial is going to vote for Biden, she noted. 

According to Longwell, Republican Voters Against Trump aims to be a broad coalition of voters who have voted Republican in the past. This may include conservatives who will vote for Biden but vote for Republicans in down-ballot races. 

Unlike some Never Trump Republican groups, Republican Voters Against Trump will not be active in down-ballot races. 

At least one anti-Trump conservative group, The Lincoln Project, is also purchasing six-figure ad buys to help bring down Senate lawmakers who have shown their loyalty to Trump. Those being targeted by the group are Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky as well as Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Martha McSally of Arizona and Jonie Ernst of Iowa, according to McClatchy DC

But for Longwell and Republican Voters Against Trump, it is important to “build a big tent” of people who will not vote for Trump. 

“That included people who were lifelong Republicans that have now left the party because Donald Trump drove them out of it,” she said. “It also includes people who are going to vote potentially for Thom Tillis or Joni Ernst but they are not going to vote for Donald Trump. They are going to split their ticket.”

Republican Voters Against Trump was launched as an initiative of Defending Democracy Together, a political group that was founded by prominent Never Trump conservatives like Longwell, Kristol, former Nancy Reagan speechwriter and conservative author Mona Charen, among others. 

Defending Democracy Together has received some criticism for accepting donations from a left-wing organization. Longwell admitted to CP that Defending Democracy Together has in the past accepted funding from a 501(c)(4) organization called Democracy Fund Voice, a group that is created by left-wing donor Pierre Omidyar. InfluenceWatch, which cited tax returns, reports that Democracy Fund Voice gave $1.6 million in two grants to Defending Democracy Together in 2018. 

Longwell said that while Democracy Fund Voice has given money to DDT, that money has gone toward DDT’s other initiative, Republicans for the Rule of Law, not the Republican Voters Against Trump campaign. 

“[Funding is] coming from all kinds of different places,” she said. “We have raised a lot of money in small-dollar donations that just come online. We hope to continue to raise more that way. It also comes from a wide spectrum of donors. Some of them have supported our Republicans for the Rule of Law work. Some of them have come in in more recent months. There is always a spectrum.

“There is a lot of things I tell people. Never Trump isn’t just for voters, but donors too.”

As the Never Trump movement now encompasses various organizations and coalitions, the Trump campaign has shot down the idea that the movement will make an impact in the 2020 election. 

"President Trump is the leader of a united Republican Party where he has earned 94% of Republican votes during the primaries — something any former president of any party could only dream of,” Trump campaign spokesperson Erin Perrine said in a statement to The Hill last week. 

Longwell referred to data from a recent Quinnipiac University poll that suggests that support for Trump in the Republican party is at 84%, down from 92% in June. 

“I think this election is bigger than just about individual policies. It is about whether or not we have a president who respects the Constitution and respects the rule of law,” Longwell, the publisher of the Trump-critical news outlet The Bulwark and a Washington-based communications executive, said. 

“I think there are a lot of Republicans out there who find that Joe Biden is talking about the importance of the Constitution and some of his broader themes very heartening about uniting the country and not being as divisive. In this moment of a health crisis and economic crisis and a racial crisis, having somebody who doesn’t make the crisis worse is very attractive.”

Longwell suggests that Biden should pick a vice presidential running mate who is more moderate, rather than picking from the far left. 

“I think not pushing too far left [is important],” she said. “Trump is trying to paint Joe Biden as a radical socialist. I think it is really hard to do that considering that in a field of 20 Democrats during the primaries, Joe Biden was probably the most moderate, with the exception of maybe Mike Bloomberg.”

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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