A New York Times report on Thursday reveals the bleak message that Win It Back, a conservative anti-Donald Trump PAC, delivered to its donors. The group tested more than 40 ads, spent $6 million, and found that just about nothing made Republican voters abandon Dear Leader.
A memo by the PAC’s leader, David McIntosh, lists failed test after failed test.
“All attempts to undermine [Trump’s] conservative credentials on specific issues were ineffective,” writes McIntosh. “Even when you show video to Republican primary voters — with complete context — of President Trump saying something otherwise objectionable to primary voters, they find a way to rationalize and dismiss it.”
We’ve been saying this for years, but now $6 million in research hammers it home: Republican voters do not care what Trump says, what he does, or whether he makes an ass of himself on the world stage. Republicanism is a cult.
“The best performing ads include non-scripted Republicans sharing reservations in their own words that touch on the themes and broadly acceptable messaging mentioned above,” McIntosh writes, referring to messaging about Trump’s weakness against President Joe Biden and “fatigue” about “distractions” Trump creates. “Notably, when the same testimonial-type of ad provides commentary on a specific issue in President Trump’s record, they are largely ineffective,” McIntosh adds.
Republican voters were unswayed by footage of Trump’s past praise for vaccines, his failure to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, his anti-abortion apostasy, or his attack on democracy itself. From the Times:
Win It Back did not bother running ads focused on Mr. Trump as an instigator of political violence or as a threat to democracy. The group tested in a focus group and online panel an ad called “Risk,” narrated by former Representative Liz Cheney, that focused on Mr. Trump’s actions on Jan. 6, 2021. But the group found that the Cheney ad helped Mr. Trump with the Republican voters, according to Mr. McIntosh.
Republicans liked him more after being reminded that Trump tried to topple the government. If Republicans didn’t support the violence on Jan. 6, they would’ve ditched the party by now.
Anti-Trump groups haven’t tested every message against Trump, and I still suspect he can be damaged by focusing on what frightens him most. He sells himself as an ultra-masculine, successful thug. Anti-Trump ads need to attack that image. Present testimonials of past business partners saying things like, “He cheats at everything,” “He lies as easily as he breathes,” “He’s afraid of stairs,” or “He says he’s a billionaire, but he’s faking the whole thing.” Carving him up on those specific points—rather than trying to prod Republican voters into caring about their self-proclaimed beliefs—is likely to be more effective.
Republicans are drawn to Trump because his public performances are seen as enraging non-Republicans and “elites.” But if anti-Trump Republicans portray him as a laughingstock? Maybe that’ll have traction.
Show the man as he appears on the golf course, not in his suit and tie. Mock him for being revealed as a business failure. Have former members of his administration who now oppose him laugh on camera as they tell viewers that he should be on “Dancing with the Stars,” not in the White House. Show him instead as a weak and pitiful figure whose best days have passed him by, a man who can’t keep up with his own lies—an object of derision. Mock him so viciously that Trump’s shallow, lib-owning base voters feel like suckers.
If ads like these were prolonged enough, Republican voters might not be able to brush them off so easily.
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