The 2016 presidential race is shaping up to be a “none of the above” election. Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton suffer from high negative ratings – setting up, in a way, the oddest general election in modern American history.
Many voters will be casting a ballot against one candidate more than for the other. Others will vote third party, or write in a candidate, or just stay home. But for many Americans, just making sure the brash and often unpresidential Mr. Trump does not reach the Oval Office is the overriding goal.
Republican “stop Trump” efforts aimed at denying him the GOP nomination have largely run aground, having failed to find a credible alternative. And besides, overthrowing the candidate who won the primaries fair and square would infuriate Trump supporters, further splitting the party and guaranteeing a Republican defeat in November.
Enter the Democratic Coalition Against Trump and the super political action committee, Keep America Great, that oversees it. While other super PACs have formed to stop either Trump or Mrs. Clinton, underscoring the negative partisanship driving this election, this one is unique in its attempt to amplify grass-roots activism nationally with grass-roots money.
Keep America Great is hoping to tap into all the Bernie Sanders supporters who can’t bring themselves to volunteer for or donate to Clinton but still want to do their part to defeat Trump. Clinton supporters are also an important constituency. And it’s reaching out to anti-Trump Republicans and independents.
“We are unique,” says Jon Cooper, chairman of both the Democratic Coalition Against Trump and the super PAC. Unlike most super PACs, which typically live on big checks from mega-donors, “this is literally a grass-roots ‘stop Trump’ movement.”
Mr. Cooper predicts the vast majority of donations to Keep America Great (KAG) will come in online in increments of $10, $20, and $50, as with the Sanders campaign, which has raised more than $222 million on donations averaging just $27. In addition, he says, the group is organizing events with A-list celebrities in New York and Los Angeles. In all, KAG hopes to raise $20 million by Election Day.
“Our primary mission is to make sure that Donald Trump is not elected president. That’s why we’ve attracted support not just from Democrats and progressives but from Republicans and conservatives and young and old,” says Cooper, who served as finance chair for the Draft Biden movement last year and fundraised for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
The Democratic Coalition Against Trump (DCAT) plans to produce digital and TV ads, run rapid-response communications to counter Trump’s public statements, and get out the vote. DCAT also plans to set up chapters on 100 college campuses, aimed at tapping into the Millennial energy that fueled the Sanders movement. Last week, the coalition announced chairs for all 50 states plus the District of Columbia.
But there’s a big question hanging over the entire effort: It’s centered on a negative – opposition to one person, albeit a highly polarizing one who nevertheless has a shot at becoming the next president of the United States. The group is not proactively for anybody, though Cooper acknowledges that Clinton would be the obvious beneficiary.
And so KAG is testing a unique proposition in this new era of super PACs, the controversial groups that operate independently of parties and candidates and can raise unlimited sums: Grass-roots opposition to Trump is already well established. But can a super PAC be a vehicle for amplifying grass-roots activism aimed solely at defeating a candidate and other Republicans on the ballot who support him?
Other progressive groups face the same challenge. Two unions that endorsed Sanders – the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America – say they probably won’t endorse anyone in the general election, according to the Washington Post.
“The problem is that Clinton has been a free-trader her whole life, so we’re not going to endorse her,” Peter Knowlton, president of the electrical-workers union, told the Post. “We will be running an anybody-but-Trump campaign. We have many members in swing states, and our major goal is for Trump not to get elected — not to make a pitch for Hillary.”
Separately, in May, the AFL-CIO and three public-sector unions announced plans for their own “stop Trump” super PAC, to be funded by billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer.
While also an effort to harness grass-roots energy to stop Trump, this super PAC is backed by a mega-donor and plans to operate only in battleground states. The KAG-run Democratic Coalition aims to defeat candidates nationwide who support Trump, regardless of their state, Cooper says.