American Crossroads CEO On Why The GOP SuperPac Isn't Focusing On Trump
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Here's a question you have to face when your presidential candidate falls behind. It's what happens to the other candidates in your party? In the week since the party conventions ended, Donald Trump has sunk in numerous polls. He was already facing a challenge because of Democrats' advantages on the electoral map. So what's that mean for Republicans who would really like to hold onto control of the Senate?
Our next guest has made it his business to help keep Republicans in charge. Steven Law is the CEO of American Crossroads. That's a superPAC founded by Republican political consultant Karl Rove, who is no fan of Donald Trump. In this election, Steven Law is focusing on congressional races.
How connected is the presidential race, at this point, to the races you care about, the Senate race, as you've said? And I'll just state what I mean by that. If Trump loses by a lot, does it drag people down? If Trump wins, could it help preserve the Senate?
STEVEN LAW: Well, it certainly, if he wins, I think it does provide some amount of lift because it means that he's turning out voters, that people are being persuaded to his vision. And I think that he would have, you know, some amount of residual coattails if he were to win. We've been monitoring this question a lot in our own polling.
We haven't seen that kind of downdraft or really any impact between people's presidential preferences and how they plan to vote in Senate races. This week, we saw a couple polls, particularly in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, which suggest that he may be having a bit of a downward impact on our candidates in those two states.
Those are states we're concerned about because they are probably among the most Democratic-leaning states of all the states that we're competing in, that we're fighting in this election cycle. And so that is a concern that we want to watch.
INSKEEP: Let's talk a little bit more about those races. Pat Toomey is the incumbent Republican senator in Pennsylvania, right?
INSKEEP: And Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire.
INSKEEP: You're supporting them both.
LAW: We are. We've been involved, we've been spending a lot of resources in those two states. And we plan to do a lot more before it's all over.
INSKEEP: And it's races like that that are going to decide the Senate.
LAW: Very much so, yes.
INSKEEP: What issues are you trying to focus the race on in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire?
LAW: Well, we've said repeatedly as have others that the best thing that anyone running for office this election can do is to focus on what they're doing for the state, the issues they're working on that people in their state care about. And one thing that we have going for us in this cycle is that most of our candidates have not only been good candidates, they've been good senators.
They've been doing a lot of things, solving problems for their state. It also helps them to continue to swim underneath the froth and the waves that may impact the presidential race and chart their own course and define their own candidacies.
INSKEEP: So if you're paying for ads in Pennsylvania, what you're going to be saying is Pat Toomey helped some people in Pittsburgh. He got a post office opened in Harrisburg or he got money for Pennsylvania and some things like that.
LAW: Yeah, and probably not quite as granular as fixing potholes. But certainly one of the things we've been talking about is things that they've been doing to solve problems that people are concerned about in their state. So with Pat Toomey, among other things, he's fighting to keep sexual predators out of schools. It's an area of concern in some of these swing and collar counties around Philadelphia.
So that's something we've been talking about there. In New Hampshire, Kelly Ayotte has been one of the Senate leaders on fighting the Opioid crisis. She was one of the leaders in getting bipartisan legislation passed. That's the number-one issue in New Hampshire, and she's been a leader on that. And we've been talking about that issue as well.
INSKEEP: You said something about reaching across the aisle. Is I've been bipartisan a winning message for Republicans in 2016?
LAW: I think it depends on which state you're running in. But certainly swing states, like Pennsylvania, like New Hampshire, which are even more Democratic than merely swing states, I think it is an important message.
INSKEEP: Do you see any kind of a warning signal in a primary election result from this week? Tim Huelskamp, a Republican congressman from Kansas, for those who haven't heard, he's very conservative. And he lost a primary to someone who's considered more moderate even though Kansas has been a very conservative state that's elected a lot of conservatives.
Is something happening, something changing in the Republican electorate this year?
LAW: It's interesting, the Huelskamp primary we watched pretty closely. We even thought about getting involved there. I think that election result is somewhat unique to the circumstances. Huelskamp was not liked. He had taken a number of votes that were contrary to his district's interest. I think he spent a lot more time being worried about what people in Washington said about him from the very conservative perspective than what his own district cared about.
I think what it does point to, though, is that there is a cost for simply going down a hard-core ideological line and then losing sight of what your district's constituents care about.
INSKEEP: Let me ask a couple of awkward questions given that you've tried not to involve yourself in the presidential election.
INSKEEP: You're a Republican. What do you think of Donald Trump?
LAW: Well, I mean, I think he clearly has a lot of appeal to a lot of voters. That's certainly been reflected in the tremendous fundraising haul that he's had this last month. And he's also, I think, has the ability to appeal to voters who we've not been successful at reaching in recent elections. Whether you like Trump or not, I think the Republican Convention invested a lot of energy in portraying him as somebody who was careful, who was rational.
Unfortunately, I think the last week did a lot to dismantle the work of the Convention. I was just thinking the other day that Mitt Romney's unfortunate 47 percent remark, that 47 percent of the electorate are only interested in what the government can give to them and they don't pay any taxes. And it happened at almost exactly the same time in the election cycle as this last week did for Donald Trump.
And it became a defining moment for Mitt Romney. He worked to apologize. But it sort of crystallized people's doubts and concerns about him at an important time when people were paying attention. I think the same thing, unfortunately, could have happened with this last week with what Donald Trump did with picking the fight with the military family, picking fights with Republicans in his own party. It reinforced a critical negative.
INSKEEP: Steven Law, thanks very much.
LAW: Thank you.
INSKEEP: He's CEO of American Crossroads, a superPAC founded by Karl Rove. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.