- The Washington Times - Monday, March 7, 2016

Super PACs have poured money into TV, radio and direct mail ads attacking Donald Trump, and early indications are that it has at least dented the front-runner, but GOP strategists close to the effort conceded that the anti-Trump campaign doesn’t have an endgame.

Rather than boost one of Mr. Trump’s rivals, the effort has focused on peeling off Trump supporters in states such as Michigan, Illinois and Florida in order to block him from collecting the 1,237 delegates needed to capture the nomination, likely forcing a contested convention.

However, a contested convention would not guarantee or even make it probable that Mr. Trump does not become the Republican presidential nominee.

“From our perspective, it is not ours to lay out a strategy for a convention,” said Club for Growth spokesman Doug Sachtleben, whose organization announced Monday a new $2 million ad buy in Illinois for anti-Trump TV spots. “Our place is still to make the case against Trump and let the race work out.”

Club for Growth, which advocates low taxes and conservative economic policies, is running two ads that previously ran in Iowa before Mr. Trump lost that state’s caucuses to rival Sen. Ted Cruz. One of the ads also ran previously in Oklahoma, where Mr. Trump also lost to Mr. Cruz.

Mr. Sachtleben said that the group was not backing the Texas senator, although they would be satisfied if either Mr. Cruz or Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

“Cruz and Rubio are the gold standard in terms of the economic issues we focus on,” he said.

As the anti-Trump campaign has ramped up, including a blistering denunciation from 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, the Trump campaign has lost some momentum.

He finished second in two out of four contests Saturday, losing to Mr. Cruz in Kansas and Maine, while winning Kentucky and Louisiana with Mr. Cruz close on his heels.

Heading into the Michigan primary Tuesday, Mr. Trump leads the delegate race with 384, followed by Mr. Cruz at 300, Mr. Rubio at 151 and Ohio Gov. John Kasich at 37.

“One of the things no one is figuring out is that when you are doing this kind of operation, you are acting as a wedge between that [Trump] campaign and the voters. It is still up to the other candidates to attract those votes,” said a strategist working with an anti-Trump super PAC.

“We’re firming up the ceiling of where Trump can move to,” he said. “I’m happy with it. I do think it is working, with a lot of help from Trump.”

Still, he said the endgame was up in the air.

Another strategist close to the effort agreed that the effort was producing results, such as Mr. Trump’s third-place finish in the Conservative Political Action Conference behind Mr. Cruz and Mr. Rubio.

“The way we are heading right now is a contested convention,” said the longtime Republican operative, who asked not to be identified talking about super PAC strategy. “But if he goes in there with the most delegates, it’s going to be really tough to take the nomination away from him.”

If GOP leaders appear to be overturning the will of the voters, he said, it would risk shattering the party. “I think if it gets to that point, we are dealing in uncharted territory,” he said.

Mr. Cruz, who has made the case that other candidates should drop out so that he can take on Mr. Trump one on one, agreed that a brokered convention would be dangerous.

“A lot of the folks pushing a brokered convention in Washington don’t want it to be based on the people. They want to drop in their favorite candidate and try to stifle the will of the people. I think that would be an enormous mistake,” he said Sunday on “Face the Nation” on CBS.

In the TV ad titled “Politician,” the Club for Growth highlights Mr. Trump’s longtime support of the Democratic Party and liberal positions.

“Which presidential candidate supports higher taxes, national health care and the Wall Street bailout?” the narrators says as photographs of Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernard Sanders appear on screen.

“It’s Donald Trump,” says the narrator. The ad cuts to a clip from a 2004 interview on CNN in which Mr. Trump says, “In many cases, I probably identify more as a Democrat.”

The narrator tells voters that Mr. Trump is “really just playing us for chumps.”

The other ad focuses on Mr. Trump’s support of eminent domain laws, an issue that’s a dog whistle for conservatives alarmed by government power over ordinary citizens’ lives on behalf of the powerful — in this case, businessmen cronies like Mr. Trump.

Club for Growth also recently made a $1.5 million buy for TV and digital ads attacking Mr. Trump in Florida, a winner-take-all delegate state voting March 15 that could decide whether the front-runner can be stopped.

Our Principles PAC, a group dedicated to opposing Mr. Trump, has spent about $4.3 million attacking the billionaire businessman and reality TV star who has threatened to run away with the GOP nomination.

This group hit Mr. Trump with accusations that his Trump University real estate school was a “scam” that ripped off students for as much as $35,000 apiece.

Mr. Trump has defended himself, including releasing post-seminar surveys in which the same student who is suing gave it “excellent” ratings.

He has also used his massive campaign rallies and his Twitter account to denounce his attackers as part of the Republican establishment seeking to regain control of the primary process.

Mr. Trump has reminded voters that he is self-funding his campaign and will not be beholden to the special interests in Washington if elected president.

Mr. Trump also pushed back in a new television ad in Florida casting Mr. Rubio as a “corrupt” public official.

“Corrupt Marco Rubio has spent years defrauding the people of Florida,” the narrator says in the minute-long ad that began running Monday.

The ad accuses Mr. Rubio of changing positions on a bill after walking away with a profit of $200,000 from the sale of a home to the mother of a lobbyist pushing the proposal. The ad also says Mr. Rubio used a state GOP credit card to pay for paving his driveway and “live it up in Las Vegas.”

“On top of it all, Rubio has been a total no-show in the U.S. Senate, with the worst voting record of all,” the ad says. “Marco Rubio, another corrupt, all-talk, no-action politician.”

Mr. Trump leads in most polls in Florida, though some surveys have shown his double-digit advantage shrinking. A Monmouth University Poll showed him with an 8-point lead over Mr. Rubio, 38 percent to 30 percent.

Seth McLaughlin contributed to this report.

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