Some Democratic operatives keep targeting Trump even after Virginia election setbacks

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The top super PAC that supports Democratic candidates is taking aim at former President Donald Trump and the party he still dominates with a new ad blitz as the nation marks the one-year anniversary of the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol.

But the ads, as well as the Thursday launch of a new anti-Trump super PAC, appear to fly in the face of advice from some leading Democrats in the wake of a GOP surge in November’s statewide and legislative elections in Virginia and New Jersey. Those Democrats suggest spotlighting the former president in this year’s midterms is the wrong political recipe.

“Last time was just a test run,” argues the narrator in a new spot by Priorities USA, the powerhouse Democratic outside group. 

The narrator speaks over news clips of the Jan. 6, 2021 storming of the Capitol by right-wing extremists and other supporters of then-President Trump who attempted to disrupt congressional certification of Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory over Trump.

“Donald Trump is putting people in place now to dictate the outcome of the next presidential election in Congress and in states all around the country,” the narrator claims, pointing to the former president’s endorsements of loyal candidates for the House and Senate and in key states across the country who are running in this year’s elections.

“We stopped it once,” the narrator emphasizes. And in an apparent move to energize Democratic voters ahead of this year’s midterms, when the party aims to defend its razor-thin majorities in the House and Senate, the narrator urges that “we need to show up, speak out, because every vote we take this November is a vote against Trump.”

In a separate ad, the narrator claims that the former president is “organizing to take over Congress in 2022. The only way to stop Trump is with your vote.”

Trump, who remains very popular and influential among Republican voters and GOP politicians, has continued to play a kingmaker’s role in party politics as he repeatedly flirts with another presidential run in 2024. And his repeated unfounded claims that the 2020 election was “rigged” and “stolen,” motivated nearly 20 Republican-controlled states to pass laws last year tightening voting access rules.

The new spots by Priorities USA – the group says it’s initially spending six figures to run ads in key battleground states – come as a group of veteran Democratic operatives are launching a new anti-Trump super PAC named “Stop Him Now.”

The aim of the new group, which was first reported by CNN, is to spotlight Trump’s close ties to GOP candidates on the ballot in November and to warn that Republican victories in the midterms – from the bottom of the ballot to the top– could further weaken the nation’s ability to hold fair elections.

“Donald Trump is marshaling another force to take over the U.S. Capitol – his army of Republican supporters. Many running in this year’s midterms, intend on helping him return to power,” claims the narrator in the new super PAC’s first ad, which incorporates video clips from the attack on the Capitol.

In this Jan. 6, 2021 photo, supporters of then-President Trump scale the west wall of the U.S. Capitol in Washington.
(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

During his four years in the White House, Trump was a major motivator in fueling Democratic turnout. A surge in turnout in the 2018 midterms helped the Democrats retake the House majority, and another huge showing in 2020 led the party to regain control of the White House and the Senate.

Facing a push by Republicans to oust him, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom of California framed last year’s gubernatorial recall election as a push by Trump and top Republicans to oust a leading Democrat. And after Larry Elder jumped into the race and quickly became a front-runner among the 46 replacement candidates on the ballot, Newsom targeted the conservative talk radio host, regularly comparing him to Trump. 

The strategy worked in the deep blue state of California, as Newsom easily squashed the push to oust him in September’s recall election.

Former President Trump greets supporters during his Save America rally in Perry, Ga., Sept. 25, 2021. 
(AP Photo/Ben Gray)

But less than two months later in Virginia’s gubernatorial election, former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s repeated attempts to link GOP nominee Glenn Youngkin to Trump appeared to backfire. Youngkin narrowly defeated McAuliffe to become the first Republican to win statewide in Virginia in a dozen years. The GOP also flipped from blue to red the offices of the lieutenant governor and attorney general and the House of Delegates. 

In the wake of the Democrats’ setbacks in Virginia and New Jersey – where Republicans fared better than expected in elections for governor and the state legislature – a report conducted by a leading Democratic think tank argued that attempts to make the race all about the former president failed.

“If our most effective message in 2022 is that Republicans = Trump, we’re going to get creamed,” argued the authors of the report by the Third Way and ALG Research.

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