Oct 6, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Many GOP anti-Trumpers are throwing in the towel

Photo illustration of Donald Trump with a circular halftone effect applied, he appears in a triptych with each panel progressively zooming in to his eyes.

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Mary Altafeer – Pool/Getty Images

A growing number of anti-Trump Republicans are giving up — and giving into the belief that nothing will stop him from winning the GOP's presidential nomination.

Why it matters: Despite former President Trump's poor record in the last three elections, his increasingly violent rhetoric and four felony indictments, many anti-Trump Republicans quietly are stepping back from pushing for an alternative. They've concluded that the GOP's base can't quit Trump.

State of play: Win It Back, a political action committee (PAC) affiliated with the conservative group Club for Growth, says it burned through $6 million creating 40 anti-Trump messages — none of them effective, the New York Times reported.

  • Republican Accountability PAC — a group of former Trump voters dedicated to moving beyond the former president — is giving up on the primary after spending $1 million on ads in Iowa. "We have stopped spending money in the primary," the PAC's leader, Sarah Longwell, told Reuters.
  • Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) — who clashed with Trump when he refused to go along with Trump's claim that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump in Georgia — said last week that he'll support Trump if he gets the GOP nomination.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, once generally seen as the best prospect to take down Trump in the primaries, has been in a downward spiral since July.

  • Two of his biggest donors in the primary and Florida's gubernatorial race have paused their support or have decided to stop backing him.
  • Hotel entrepreneur Robert Bigelow, the biggest individual donor to the DeSantis-aligned Never Back Down PAC, won't donate more money for now.
  • Billionaire and Citadel CEO Ken Griffin — who previously said "our country would be well-served by [DeSantis] as president" —now is not supporting DeSantis and continuing to assess the field.

Between the lines: In a sign of DeSantis' struggles, Trump — obsessed with blasting the Florida governor for much of this year — is now taking aim at former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, who's done well in the two GOP debates and is outpolling DeSantis in New Hampshire.

  • Thursday morning, Trump complained on Truth Social that Fox News "has been pushing Nikki 'Birdbrain' Haley" after having "totally given up on Ron DeSanctimonious."
  • DeSantis spokesperson Andrew Romeo told Axios: "Ron DeSantis is the only candidate who can stop Donald Trump in Iowa and beyond."

Zoom in: Further down the ballot, Republican Senate candidates increasingly are aligning themselves with Trump — and casting their opponents as anti-Trump.

Yes, but: There are some deep-pocketed GOP donors who are holding out hope for a Trump crash or a last-minute breakthrough by another Republican.

  • A network of mega donors known as the American Opportunity Alliance has invited DeSantis and Haley to Dallas next month to make their case for support, the Times reported.
  • New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) is still going full steam ahead in his quest to find a Trump alternative:
  • "I'm going to do everything I can ... just to get the message out there that, OK, Trump defines himself. Republicans are over here," Sununu said.

What's next: Much of the Republican field will be in Las Vegas for the Republican Jewish Coalition at the end of the month, and later will head to Miami for the third GOP debate.

  • Trump, never one to share the stage with opponents who are polling significantly lower, has said he won't be in Miami.
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