For Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, conservative groups decided that ad buys attacking Democrats weren’t enough — they wanted Republicans to hear from the president’s supporters in person.
Their message: Acquit Trump now. Don’t call witnesses.
“I just feel it’s wasted so much of our time,” said Lisa Woods, 55, a Trump supporter and mother of five who came over 400 miles from Medina, Ohio, this week via the conservative group FreedomWorks.
Woods, who was bused in with roughly 60 other activists, came to pressure the few moderate Republican and Democratic senators who can ensure the trial ends swiftly by rejecting proposals to allow testimony. “I think he’s done a lot of good things that the public doesn’t know because they’re always talking about impeachment,” she said of Trump, adding that she wasn’t all that familiar with the Ukraine saga that led to impeachment.
The effort is part of a blitz of moderate senators from conservative groups that involves office visits, phone calls, and TV and digital ads. The groups are hoping that by persuading a few Democrats to join an almost-lockstep Republican Party, they can show the country that there’s at least some bipartisan support for the notion that the impeachment process just needs to be over. Trump has already shown that he’s eager to pick up on such messaging, frequently boasting about the few Democrats who broke ranks to vote with a unified Republican party against impeachment in the House.
In the Senate, the targeted lawmakers are Republicans Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, as well as Democrats Doug Jones of Alabama, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Gary Peters of Michigan and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. In addition to earning the “moderate” label by today’s standards, some of the lawmakers facing outside pressure are on the ballot in November in states where Trump is popular.
FreedomWorks is being joined by ideologically aligned groups like Heritage Action for America, Club for Growth, the Presidential Coalition and America First Policies.
It’s similar to the coalition that targeted House Democrats last month ahead of the chamber’s vote on articles of impeachment accusing Trump of abusing his power and obstructing Congress. But in the Senate, the groups are now targeting some moderate Republicans, too, fearful that they may side with Democrats to vote for proposals that would extend Trump’s impeachment trial.
Already, moderate Republican senators are credited with pushing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to soften some of the trial rules designed to ensure a swift process.
“Republican senators felt the heat,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.
The organizations are participating in a new war room on Capitol Hill designed to coordinate messaging with the House and Senate. They’re also receiving daily talking points and regular briefing calls from the White House Office of Public Liaison, the groups said.
“This trial is about protecting the presidency from the tyranny of the House majority — these are bogus charges, they are not impeachable offenses, and we expect that the Senate will acquit,” said Jenny Beth Martin, honorary chairman of Tea Party Patriots Action, who has worked to bring the groups together. “Senators of both parties must make it clear — Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congressmen Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler cannot be allowed to corrupt the Constitution.”
The groups are supplementing efforts by the Trump campaign, which is raising money through fundraising texts, placing targeted Facebook ads and attacking House leaders on Twitter.
“Pres. Trump: The Senate Impeachment Trial is underway,” one text read. “I need you, friend. Let’s raise $2 MILLION in 24 HOURS.”
“I am facing UNPRECEDENTED obstruction and harassment from the Liberal Mob and the Fake News,” a Facebook ad read. “I’ve been exonerated twice, but the Democrats are still calling for impeachment because it’s their only hope. Please sign my Official Petition to be on the list of American Patriots who stand with me against these baseless lies.”
Together, Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee have spent more than $11 million on impeachment-related ads since the inquiry began in September, according to the RNC. They have also engaged in calls, texts and hundreds of Facebook ads offering a personalized “Impeachment Defense Membership Card” and “Impeachment Polls.” There’s even impeachment-inspired apparel at Trump’s online store.
During the impeachment proceedings, Trump was accused of conditioning a much-desired White House meeting for Ukraine’s leader, as well as millions of dollars in military aid, on Kyiv launching an investigation into rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Trump and his allies counter that the desired probe was part of a broader effort to eradicate corruption and uncover foreign wrongdoing in the 2016 presidential race.
The House approved two articles of impeachment — abuse of power for soliciting foreign interference in the 2020 election and obstruction of Congress for blocking the House’s efforts to investigate. The articles were approved along a near party-line vote.
The trial kicked off in earnest on Tuesday and is expected to last at least into next week, depending on whether the Senate decides to call witnesses.
As the trial got underway, the Presidential Coalition, an affiliate of Citizens United that claims to educate Americans about “principled conservative Republican leadership,” launched $200,000 worth of digital ads that will appear this week attacking Manchin, Jones, Peters and Sinema, according to the group.
The group plans to spend $200,000 each week on to continue its ad buy until the trial is over.
“They’re wasting millions on a partisan witch hunt to reverse the 2016 election. They know they can’t compete so they try to impeach,” the narrator says in one of their ads, which resemble the ads the group ran ahead of the House impeachment vote. “President Trump has been fighting for us. Now it’s time to fight for him.”
America First Policies, which supports Trump’s policies, is spending $450,000 on TV and digital ads in Alabama targeting Jones, who is considered the most vulnerable incumbent senator in 2020. The group plans to air a total of $1 million in ads across three states, including Michigan and Pennsylvania, as the trial continues.
“The radical left’s impeachment obsession. It’s a shameful witch hunt. And Doug Jones?” a narrator says in the ad. “Instead of fighting for our values, instead of confirming conservative judges, instead of securing our borders by funding the wall, Jones is siding with them.”
Club for Growth, a national network of 250,000 Americans favoring limited government, has pushed its supporters to send nearly 12,000 letters to senators. The group initially opposed Trump’s 2016 campaign but has since come around. It has run ads against Romney, a rare GOP Trump critic, dubbing him a “Democrat secret asset” and urging activists to tell him to “quit colluding with Democrats on impeachment.” The group also conducted a poll about Manchin showing he “could face strong political blowback if he votes to convict Trump on one or two articles of impeachment.”
Club for Growth president David McIntosh said the group’s goal is to secure “a small bipartisan majority” against impeachment.
Even after impeachment wraps up, the groups are plotting how to turn impeachment into a campaign talking point.
Starting in February, Heritage Action expects to knock on 150,000 doors in each of four battleground states — Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Iowa and Wisconsin — to push the message that voters that Democrats have been wasting time on impeachment. It is also spreading the word through op-eds, TV appearances and social media.
“This is not without a cost,” said Tim Chapman, executive director of Heritage Action. “We’re doing all of this stuff here in Washington in terms of impeachment and what we’re not doing is we’re not focused on a policy agenda.”
Trump’s legislative agenda appears slim — an immigration plan Trump announced last May still hasn’t been unveiled and introduced, for example — but the president’s allies argue that Democrats in the House aren’t willing to with the White House.
Even though the trial is taking place in the Senate, at least one group is still targeting the House.
The American Action Network, which was founded in 2010 to promote center-right policies, is spending $2.5 million on TV and digital ads going after pro-impeachment Democrats who represent districts Trump won in 2016. In total, AAN has spent $11 million blanketing the airwaves in 30 districts.
The latest ads feature frustrated moms criticizing lawmakers for focusing on impeachment instead of issues like border security or opioids, without mentioning what Trump would do on those other subjects.
”There’s so many issues they should be working on,” one mom says. “It’s so disappointing.”