The strategist publicly questions Trump’s electability, but privately his PAC tells donors Trump can win.
By Kenneth P. Vogel and Eli Stokols
04/14/16 05:09 AM EDT
Karl Rove has publicly blasted Donald Trump as “a petty man consumed by resentment and bitterness” with little gravitas and almost no chance of beating Hillary Clinton.
But privately, the super PAC conceived by Rove is suggesting to its donors that it can help Trump win the White House and save Republican senators whose reelection bids could be jeopardized by having Trump at the top of the ticket.
The apparent warming of the American Crossroads super PAC and its sister groups to Trump has become evident in its recent communications with donors, including a Tuesday afternoon “investor conference call,” according to multiple sources familiar with the outreach.
The phone call — which featured Rove, Crossroads officials and a pollster — laid out swing state polling and electoral map analysis done by the group showing circumstances in which Trump could beat Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner, in a general election, according to three sources briefed on the call.
One source, a high-level operative with the Koch brothers’ conservative advocacy network, characterized the conversation as heralding “a softening of the anti-Trump position” within the big-money GOP establishment. The source added of Crossroads’ stance on Trump, “It's not that they support him, only that if he's the guy, we can do something to stop Hillary.”
And in an email to donors a couple weeks ago, American Crossroads’ president, Steven Law, wrote “our initial review of the data indicates that, because of Hillary Clinton’s toxic vulnerabilities, the presidential contest could be intensely competitive regardless of who our nominee is.”
That type of optimism — couched as it may be — diverges sharply from the pessimism shared by much of the GOP establishment about Trump. It mostly sees the prospect of the billionaire real estate showman winning the Republican presidential nomination as a recipe for a potentially historic electoral defeat that could set the party back years.
As word of Crossroads’ recent calibration circulated within the GOP big-money circles, it raised hackles from operatives who are still working fervently to block Trump from the nomination. They fretted that Crossroads’ positioning presaged cracks in the establishment’s anti-Trump front, and could dissuade major donors from giving to efforts to stop Trump — or worse: Those donors might warm up to the idea of a Trump nomination, and start writing big checks to support him.
One major donor who has given to both Crossroads and to an anti-Trump super PAC said it wouldn’t bother him if Crossroads were preparing to support Trump in the event he wins the nomination.
“They have no choice but to be OK with him if he is the nominee,” said Minnesota media mogul Stanley S. Hubbard. “What are they going to do? Back Hillary Clinton?”
But Crossroads spokesman Ian Prior rejected suggestions that the group, which is officially neutral in the GOP presidential primary, is supporting Trump.
Rather, he said, Crossroads in recent weeks has merely been studying the race more closely, assessing ways to defeat Clinton, and increasingly concluding that Trump’s prospects aren’t as bleak as many believe.
“There has been a hardening narrative from the media and others that Hillary Clinton can start planning her inaugural ball — that is simply false and we believed it was important to communicate that to our supporters,” he said. “What we have in fact seen is that there is such intense dislike and distrust of Hillary among the general electorate that the presidential race will be close, regardless of the GOP nominee.”
American Crossroads, which Rove and former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie helped created in 2010, for a time was – along with its nonprofit sister group Crossroads GPS – among the most dominant groups on the right. Rove, who rose to acclaim as the political guru for former President George W. Bush, never had a formal role with Crossroads. But he utilized his deep connections to some of the richest Republicans in the country to help the group become a powerhouse during the big money explosion sparked by the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. The Crossroads groups spent $325 million during the 2012 election cycle and came to be seen as a shadow Republican Party of sorts. But their fundraising and prominence declined in subsequent cycles as candidates’ allies increasingly started their own super PACs.
In the runup to 2016, the Crossroads team spun off a Senate-focused super PAC closely affiliated with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for whom Law once worked. In his email to donors, Law suggested that the group, One Nation, would seek to help freshman GOP senators face overcome the risks posed by “the noisy spectacle of the presidential contest to define themselves independently of whoever our nominee ends up being.”
Crossroads flagship super PAC, meanwhile, has positioned itself as an anti-Clinton outfit.
It’s reported spending only $125,000 against Clinton so far, though late last month it did launch a digital campaign hitting Clinton over past scandals. Billed as the start of a #NeverHillary campaign, the ad was seen as an open plea for other establishment Republicans to aim their fire at Clinton rather than Trump,
And sources told POLITICO that around the same time, Crossroads commissioned a poll by Axis Research under the direction of the firm’s president Brenda Gianiny, who participated in Tuesday’s donor call.
According to an email from Law to Crossroads’ donors, the poll assessed “match-ups of potential GOP nominees vs. the Democratic front-runner” in “the top-tier swing states, as well as on-the-cusp states like WI, MN, PA and others.”
Prior said the research presented on the call “has largely validated what Karl has been saying about Trump. He has a toxic level of unfavorability and much of the general election support that he has right now is less about people voting for him, and more about people voting against Hillary Clinton.”
But Rove, in his Wall Street Journal column, Fox News hits and other media appearances, has repeatedly suggested that Trump is too toxic to win a general election.
When Rove in February suggested on Fox News that Trump’s support may be plateauing, the billionaire reality television star-turned-presidential candidate lashed out on Twitter.
“@KarlRove on @FoxNews is working hard to belittle my victory. Rove is sick!” Trump tweeted, later adding for good measure “In all of television- the only one who said anything bad about last nights landslide victory-- was dopey @KarlRove. He should be fired!”
Then, late last month, Rove wrote that Trump’s favorability numbers were “staggeringly bad” and told conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt “I don’t think it’s possible” for Trump to overcome those numbers in a general election. “If he wants to change those numbers, he ought to start acting in a presidential manner, whatever he thinks that is, because right now, his numbers are abysmal,” Rove said, pining for an open convention that nominates someone other than Trump and his remaining GOP rivals Ted Cruz and John Kasich.
“A fresh face might be the thing that could give us a chance to turn this election and win in November against Hillary,” said Rove.
Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2016/04/karl-rove-donald-trump-221926#ixzz45q5v89JU