Conservative Club for Growth slams Trump: GOP Empire Striking Back?

The Club for Growth says it has spent $1 million on two Trump attack ads in Iowa. Will it fare any better than other attacks on the real estate magnate have thus far?

LM Otero/AP
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves to supporters after speaking at a campaign event in Dallas on Monday.

A big conservative super PAC has begun an anti-Donald Trump campaign in the early caucus state of Iowa. Will it finally puncture the rising balloon of Mr. Trump’s poll numbers? Or will it misfire or even backfire, like so many attacks on The Donald have to this point?

First, the particulars: the group in question is the fundraising organization associated with the Club for Growth, a venerable Washington-based anti-tax lobby. They say they’ve paid $1 million to air two versions of a Trump attack ad on local TV and Fox News in Iowa markets.

One ad portrays Trump as a liberal in favor of higher taxes, national health care, and the Wall Street bailout. By pretending to be a conservative, he’s “just playing us for chumps,” says the spot.

Another is more pointed and focused on a specific issue: eminent domain. It talks about a recent Supreme Court decision that has made it easier for local governments to take buildings under this power, and work with private firms to develop the land.

“Trump supports eminent domain abuse  …  Trump, the worst kind of politician,” it concludes.

Will this work? We’d say it’s doubtful. For weeks, Jeb Bush has been attacking Trump as a Democrat in disguise. All that’s done is waste money while Mr. Bush floats backward in the polls. The eminent domain ad raises a new issue, but it produces a bit of a “huh?” effect, since it’s a pretty detailed and arcane story to tell in 30 seconds.

Attack ads in general produce only fleeting changes in voter intent, according to political scientists, so this campaign would have to be supported by further massive spending to make a permanent dent in Trump’s appeal. It’s also possible his supporters won’t believe the charges. They appear to distrust all conventional politicians and the current GOP establishment – and this campaign amounts to the Empire Striking Back.

In fact, that might be the real story here. Club for Growth has been a major force pushing the Republican Party to the right on economic policy. It enforces a tax-cutting orthodoxy by channeling campaign funds to favored candidates in both general and primary elections. GOP politicians have feared and admired it for years.

Trump challenges its power. He’s proposed raising taxes on top earners, and called CEO pay a “joke” – heresies in Club for Growth’s world view. Worse yet, his rise in the polls shows there could be room in the Republican Party for populist, anti-inequality policies.

So it’s personal. And that’s how Trump is responding. He’s not bothering to talk about the ad particulars. Instead he’s charging that the Club for Growth is mad he rejected their request for money.

He’s released a letter from the Club for Growth’s president he received in June, asking for a $1 million donation.

“I was shocked by the amount of money we’re talking about,” Trump told Bloomberg TV.

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