First, nearly a dozen website domains started being registered on June 3 and June 4—names like “43alumniforbiden” and “43alumniforjoebiden”—hinting that another anti-Trump Republican group supporting the presumptive Democratic nominee was in the works.
Now, three weeks later, organizers of “43 Alumni For Biden” are “preparing to launch,” becoming the latest in a series of GOP-led groups focused on defeating their party’s standard bearer as President Trump continues to crater into the summer.
“We are preparing to launch our effort,” a person identified as Michael Brown in his email signature confirmed to The Daily Beast after an inquiry about the formation of a group featuring former George W. Bush administration officials. Brown declined to elaborate further, but added the current timeframe is “in the next couple of weeks.”
The group, which was registered with the Federal Election Commission earlier this month, is the latest in a growing wave of NeverTrump support for Biden as Trump continues to slip in polls and, more recently, fundraising, with less than five months until November.
Karen Kirksey, who was a Treasury Department official under Bush, is listed as the group’s treasurer on FEC records filed on June 2. Kirksey, it appears, is also organizing the effort, though for now remains behind the scenes. (Brown replied to an email addressed to Kirksey’s contact information). But prior records show she has taken on the role of informal 43 veterans convener for a while. Back in 2016, she was listed as the organizer for an informal get-together dinner for Bush administration staff.
Jennifer Millikin, a Boston-based political strategist who served in various communications capabilities, including as the White House advance press lead in the Bush administration, was added as a cc on The Daily Beast’s email.
While organizers declined to comment further on developing plans beyond noting an upcoming press release announcing the launch and arranging an interview with a spokesperson, there are other indicators that the group is shaping up behind the scenes. According to filings, at least nine website domains were all registered within a day of each other in early June all with slight variations of the words Joe, Biden, alumni, and 43 in their names. One particular registration, 43alumniforbiden.us, appeared to accidentally include Kirksey’s name and other registrant information.
The increased interest in courting Republicans, including those who have been most vocal in their opposition to Trump’s re-election, comes as Biden continues to gain ground with supporters in key swing states, including those that the president flipped from blue to red four years ago. In several recent surveys, Biden leads Trump by double digit margins.
“When it comes to Donald Trump, people who tell you that there are no swing voters are wrong,” said Sarah Longwell, the strategic director for Republican Voters Against Trump, a sizable operation amid the groundswell of GOP activity working against the president’s reelection. “I talk to them all the time.”
Republican Voters Against Trump is focused on connecting largely disaffected Republican voters directly with other like minded individuals as a way to persuade them against Trump’s bid, according to the group’s chief advisers. With a $10 million digital advertising campaign underway, they’re encouraging Republican voters who may have opted for Trump in 2016 against Hillary Clinton to share their rationale about why they can’t go for him in 2020.
“As we thought about what was persuasive to people, what became clear was that it was people like them,” Longwell said. “The people that they listened to were people like them. That’s who they trusted. A lot of people were trying to figure out what message would really land against Trump, we were thinking about how do you get real people to be the messengers?”
The group started by amassing a large list of people who fell into the bucket of disaffected Republicans, many of whom were so-called “soft Trump” supporters four years ago, including suburban women. From there, they collected approximately 100 personal testimonials ahead of their launch in May. Longwell said they’ve since gathered about 250 additional testimonials from voters who feel compelled to share why they aren’t voting for Trump twice.
“It’s really about permission structures,” she said. “It’s a hard thing in our tribal partisan environment for people to move against the tribe. But once they see lots of other people like them saying, ‘hey this how I feel so this is what I’m going to do about it’ … that they find very compelling.”
Mike Murphy, a veteran GOP consultant who is advising RVAT, described their intention as a “very narrow focus and research-driven strategy” in five key battlegrounds: Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and North Carolina, with a planned expansion in another major swing state in the upcoming weeks.
“Our view is that you attack Trump as weak,” said Murphy, who has been in talks with Bidenworld recently. “You don’t attack him as fascist.”
The Daily Beast first reported in early May that the Biden campaign was surreptitiously working to form an internal group of Republicans to support the former vice president. Biden himself confirmed that such an effort was underway, casually mentioning in a virtual town hall that he had been “speaking to a lot of Republicans” to give life to the movement.
Other Republican groups have newly popped up following the anti-Trump blueprint established by the Lincoln Project, the most prominent effort started by George Conway, the husband of Trump’s White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, and other Republican operatives in December 2019. Last week, Axios reported on the formation of “Right Side PAC,” founded by Matt Borges, a former Ohio Republican Party chairman who also worked as an advance representative for Bush.
“Frankly some of the A-list consultants in the party are all anti-Trump,” Murphy said. “And they’re pretty vocal about it.”
“43 Alumni For Biden,” while still in its infancy stage, is likely to draw attention on both sides of the aisle for its direct association with the former president, who left office with a tanked economy and tarred reputation from the Iraq War. To some in Trump’s orbit, Bush and his administration alumni could serve as easy targets for the president, who in the past privately said it would be “fun” if the former president endorsed Biden and he could effectively run against both of them.
“President Trump enjoys sky high approval among the millions of actual Republican voters who will propel him to victory in November,” Republican National Committee spokesperson Steve Guest said about the various GOP groups cropping up to oust Trump.
But perhaps more surprisingly, some Democrats have warmed to the idea of a Bushworld-Biden alignment, essentially saying his campaign would be wise to use every available tool at their disposal to beat Trump. The Bush network’s connection to Texas, in particular, could prove to be particularly useful in the Biden campaign’s overall battleground strategy, they said.
“The Bushes are very popular in Texas,” Gilberto Hinojosa, the chair of the Texas Democratic Party, said. “When you have a lot of Bush’s people coming over to the side of Biden, it’s just going to make it easier for these folks to start landing on the Democratic side of this presidential election.”
“The concerns that they’ve had in the past, or the concerns that Trump is trying to raise, are going to be significantly alleviated when they see people whose philosophy is closer to theirs than Trump’s is saying, ‘you know what, we really need to preserve this Democracy and the right way to do that is to elect Joe Biden.’ And that’s what these people are saying,” Hinojosa said.
Biden advisers see Texas as one of three states, in addition to Arizona and Georgia, that are now in play based on trends of largely suburban voters shifting from red to blue in the 2018 midterm elections. Polling in the state for the general election has been sparse, but available surveys show Trump and Biden neck and neck for months.
“It’s all about the suburbs,” Keir Murray, a Democratic consultant based in Houston, said. “The rural part of the state is sort of solidly in the GOP category and the big cities have gone pretty blue now, but it’s the burbs,” Murray said. “Especially suburban women in Dallas, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio. They’re the movable pieces of the puzzle.”