Will Washington shout down the ‘voice’ of Trump voters?
Washington — Donald Trump thundered to Americans, “I am your voice,” as he accepted the Republican presidential nomination this summer.
As president, he’ll find that Washington has a way of shouting back — even to the point of drowning him out.
The seat of the federal government is teeming with interest groups, corporate lobbyists and big-money super PACs. They will have some different goals than Trump and wide swaths of his voters, particularly on matters of government ethics and trade deals. There’s comparatively little in place to pressure lawmakers to follow Trump’s lead.
“This has always been the problem for conservatives,” said Brent Bozell, a longtime activist who leads a social media effort called For America. “We’ll get a person elected only to get the middle finger as soon as the person is sworn into office.”
To fight back, Trump and his allies are already taking steps to assemble a support system.
Members of his team are considering whether to convert his campaign into a nonprofit group, following a trail blazed by President Barack Obama. A nonprofit group similar to Obama’s Organizing for Action would not have to disclose its donors and could spend money in unlimited ways to urge supporters to pressure members of Congress and senators to back Trump’s legislative efforts.
Trump allies might also put together a well-funded super PAC that could loom as a threat to Republican lawmakers who break with him. In July, Trump said he could see himself spending $10 million to $20 million to defeat Republicans who’d spoken out against his nomination, though since his election, he’s been setting up conciliatory meetings with some of them.
There’s no rule against Trump’s adult children — even Trump himself — promoting outside groups that align with him, or even showing up at their events. Although elected officials including the president are restricted in how much money they can solicit, they can freely give out of their own pocket.
“There’s plenty of legal room for a president to be involved in outside groups when it comes to policy matters and the election of other people to office,” said Paul S. Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at Common Cause, a liberal-leaning government watchdog. “Especially when it’s their own money.”
Several of Trump’s closest aides, including campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and deputy campaign manager David Bossie, have experience leading outside groups. Brad Parscale, a senior Trump adviser who steered the campaign’s data and digital operations, hinted in a recent Fox News interview that he is interested in that kind of work. “My goal is to be a megaphone for people, for businesses, for candidates,” he said.
Any Trump-blessed political group could inherit or lease a list of more than 12 million supporters built up over the course of the campaign. A signed agreement means the Republican National Committee also receives the campaign’s supporter list and data.
Richard Worthington, a Las Vegas real estate developer who liked Trump so much that he gave the campaign money even before Trump was officially seeking donations, said Trump supporters — particularly those who can afford it — would rally behind any kind of supportive group.
“I know he will have some detractors,” Worthington said. “What he’s going to have to do is build some bridges in Washington, and that may be one way to do it.”
While an “official” Trump effort hasn’t been announced, already some of the outside groups that backed him this year are rebranding as White House boosters. Within 24 hours of the election, Great America PAC was publicizing a “2017 Trump Presidential Agenda Survey” as a way to continue building its supporter list. It’s also planning events for Trump’s inauguration Jan. 20.
“People have made the investment to get him elected, and we want to keep them active and see what we can do to help him,” said Ed Rollins, one of Great America’s leaders. “Trump has a tough, tough agenda, and he will need help.”
Eric Beach, co-chairman of the group alongside Rollins, said 300,000 individuals gave to Great America.
Rollins, who was a top aide to President Ronald Reagan, noted he had some of the same challenges when he arrived in Washington after campaigning as an outsider. Like Obama, Reagan counted on a network of political groups to push his message.
Tea party groups also could play a role in communicating between Trump supporters and the administration and Congress. That movement touched off in 2009 and pushed against increased government spending, among other economic issues.
One of the biggest tea party groups, Tea Party Patriots, backed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the GOP primary but was supportive of Trump during the general election.
Bozell, the longtime activist, said the same sentiment that drove thousands to mass at Trump rallies was behind the earlier tea party rallies — and for that matter the “silent majority” of the 1970s and the “moral majority” of the 1980s.
“The conservative movement has shown itself in different ways over the years,” he said, “and each name is just a snapshot in time.”