SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – After years of serving and being heavily involved with the California Republican Party, Mike Madrid is taking a temporary break from the party – at least when it comes to President Donald Trump.
The strategist and former political director of the state GOP has linked with other influential conservative consultants, such as George Conway and author Rick Wilson, to form a political action committee dedicated to making Trump a one-term president. Coined the Lincoln Project, the group has cast the president as a “danger to the Constitution” and is preparing a blitz aimed at Republican voters in swing states and counties.
With the election less than a year away, Madrid and the Lincoln Project are zeroing in on three groups expected to show up for Trump in large numbers – evangelicals, college graduates and suburban white women – in hopes of convincing them to support the Democratic nominee or simply pass on voting for president.
“Donald Trump needs to have virtual unanimity amongst his very shrinking Republican base,” Madrid said Thursday during a panel discussion in Sacramento. “He has to dramatically perform amongst white evangelicals better than Reagan did in ‘84.”
Madrid and the anti-Trump group fired off their first major shot Thursday, releasing a video titled “MAGA Church” featuring clips of Trump cursing and calling himself the “chosen one.”
“If this is the best American Christians can do,” the political advertisement concludes. “Then GOD help us all.”
With the Lincoln Project officially underway, Madrid says the main goal is to peel off 3-5% percent of the Republican base before November and hopefully unseat an incumbent president for the first time since 1992.
The formation of the Lincoln Project and its anti-Trump messaging is certainly not flying under the radar.
Earlier this week, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon told The Associated Press that Trump needs the “Republican establishment on board” and that “if these guys can peel off 3% or 4%, that’s going to be serious.” In the same interview, Bannon also said he has concern about Trump’s reputation with working-class women.
While Bill Burton, who served as White House deputy press secretary under President Barack Obama, agrees that Republicans shunning Trump at the ballot box could create a “tectonic shift,” he’s more concerned with the Democratic side.
Burton joined Madrid at the panel to talk about ways to defeat Trump in 2020, telling the crowd he hopes the Democratic Party doesn’t sink into a populist mindset by nominating a candidate that Middle America won’t embrace. He warned that focusing on major policy platforms like universal health care could push away moderates and Republicans considering dumping Trump.
“You’re going to implement a program that will almost certainly raise taxes on the vast majority of people in the country,” Burton said. “It’s a hard sell.”
As for the Democratic nomination, Burton expects millennials and black voters to play a huge role. He added that while he believes Trump fears former Vice President Joe Biden the most of any Democratic candidate, he expects the Democratic race will go down to the wire.
“It’s going to be decided at the convention, which is going to be some made-for-TV stuff. Hide the kids,” Burton chuckled.
Instead of responding to every Trump tweet that makes headlines, Burton hopes the eventual nominee will focus on establishing clear, repeatable messaging.
Madrid cast Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren as the worst options for the Democrats, and said Biden would be most appealing to voters in crossover states like Arizona and Michigan.
A poll released Wednesday found Trump tied with Biden among likely Arizona voters, while a majority of undecided voters said they disapprove of the president. Meanwhile a recent Morning Consult poll pegged Biden as the Democrats’ best bet to defeat Trump, with Sanders and Warren next in line.
Though the impeachment inquiry and the Iran conflict have dominated the news cycle in recent months, the pundits downplayed the impact of current events on most American voters.
Burton thinks Americans have been slow to support impeachment because there hasn’t been a flood of new information since the whistleblower complaint was released, but that could change of course if key witnesses like John Bolton testify in the Senate trial.
Madrid, who claimed during the hour-long conversation that Trump has violated every “conservative principle” and has been “anthrax” to the California GOP, says he doesn’t expect Senate Republicans to turn on the president either in the coming months.
“No Republican is going to break ranks until they see that Donald Trump is a political liability,” the frustrated California Republican said.