Conservative SuperPAC's Ads Take Aim At Hillary Clinton
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The conservative group American Crossroads has a simple mission, raise millions of dollars and help Republicans win elections. This, of course, has been no ordinary election season, and that's made life unpredictable for a group cofounded by Karl Rove that has been so important to the conservative movement. For one thing, American Crossroads raised some eyebrows when it got involved in the Democratic caucuses in Nevada. The group ran ads branding Bernie Sanders as the only true progressive in the race. They also ran this ad in Nevada, drawing a direct line between Hillary Clinton's immigration policies and those of Donald Trump.
(SOUNDBITE OF AD)
HILLARY CLINTON: I am adamantly against legal immigration. I voted numerous times to build a barrier.
DONALD TRUMP: We need to build a wall.
CLINTON: They're basically just being given a chance to do whatever they want to.
TRUMP: We need to keep illegals out.
GREENE: Steven Law, the CEO of American Crossroads, came by our studios.
Well, Steven Law, thanks for coming in. We appreciate you coming by.
STEVEN LAW: It's great to be on MORNING EDITION.
GREENE: You know, the day after the Democratic Nevada caucuses, you did what seemed like a victory lap. I just want to read back some from your press statement. American Crossroads and Bernie Sanders help Nevada caucus-goers see right through Hillary Clinton's manufactured zeal on immigration reform. You and Bernie Sanders do not seem like a natural match.
LAW: Yeah, we're rarely...
GREENE: What's going on?
LAW: We're rarely in the same sentence, you know, but we saw as an opportunity in the Democratic nominating process was to take some of the research we've already done on Hillary and the kinds of weaknesses that we found and road test them.
GREENE: What about road testing a message about Bernie Sanders if he gets a nomination?
LAW: Well, certainly, if it looks like he might be the nominee, that would be something that we would be prepared to do.
GREENE: You're more worried about Hillary Clinton as an opponent.
LAW: I think we could comfortably run against either candidate. Obviously, Bernie Sanders has a lot of very far-left positions that I think we would portray as being excessively expensive and unrealistic. With Hillary, she's run very far to the left to make sure that Bernie Sanders doesn't challenge her from the left. But then you also have these character issues, and that is an advantage that we see versus Sanders. The one thing you can't say about Sanders is that he's an authentic. He is who he is. I mean, if he remembers Tacoma's (ph) hair, that's a good day. I mean, he's just the guy that he is and...
GREENE: (Laughter) And he would own that, we should say.
LAW: Yeah, oh, exactly he would.
GREENE: Let's turn to the Republican side. I just looked at some of the numbers so far. The front-runner for GOP nomination right now, Donald Trump, has only spent about $25 million, hasn't run much television compared to other candidates. Jeb Bush spent $124 million in a failed run. Is there some lesson about super PAC money, money in general and the clout it might play in 2016?
LAW: Well, I've always had the view that people exaggerate the influence of outside groups in large part because we raise money in large chunks, and that seems to get everybody's attention. My view...
GREENE: We raise a lot of money in large chunks.
LAW: Yeah, we do. But I view us as the amplification system so that if the music is lousy, it doesn't matter if you turn it up. It's still going to not sound all that convincing. What we found in 2014, in particular, was if we had good candidates and we amplified what they were saying, we could have a dramatic impact on the outcome of that race.
GREENE: You're talking about what makes a good candidate in your mind, what makes a bad candidate. Is Donald Trump a good Republican candidate?
LAW: I think, unquestionably - and you can just verify it by looking at the recent results and data - Donald Trump has a tremendous ability to connect with a lot of voters. He's not only managed to woo a significant number of traditional Republicans to his side, but he's also appears to have expanded the electorate. What I don't know is, you know, what the long-term impact is on his viability in a general election context. You look at early polling, it suggests that he's got significant problems with certain segments of the electorate and just...
GREENE: You keep pointing out that a majority of Republican voters are not behind Trump. It sounds like that you want - something you want to remind people about.
LAW: No, not - it's simply a fact. I mean, if you look at polling, he's got somewhere between 30 and 35 percent of voters in the larger Republican national electorate. That means you've got between 65 and 70 who aren't yet sold. It's not a problem of name ID. It's not a fact that they don't know who he is. But they're not yet sold on him. And so I think over the next month, we're going to have some sense of whether or not he's able to build beyond that or whether somebody else is going to be able to become the dominant player with the rest of that group that has not yet joined the Trump bandwagon. And I really...
GREENE: OK, but then the moment of truth, I mean, do you support Trump or whoever gets the nomination?
LAW: Yeah, I think at that point, what we'd have to do is take a look at, you know, whether we think it's a competitive race or not. And incidentally, it would be the same analysis we'd use for any individual Senate race that we play in. You know, we look at polling, we look at focus groups, we look at a lot of data, and we determine whether, first of all, is it a winnable race, and second of all, is it a race where our involvement could have some significant impact on the outcome? And that's something that we would just have to evaluate. And at this point in the game, I'm purely neutral on that view. I want us to win the presidential race, I want to us to have the White House.
GREENE: Just to be clear, you will be guided by sort of what the polls show whether or not you think the race is competitive. It's not going to come down to message. It's not going to come down to the type of candidate Donald Trump is.
LAW: No, no, I mean, I think that's certainly part of it, right? I mean, a great example of it is Senate race in Indiana in 2012 where we had a candidate who couldn't connect with voters and said things that turned a significant part of the electorate off that eventually led to him losing that race despite the fact that we invested a significant amount of money in that race.
GREENE: You're saying you could see things in a candidate who has a nomination, if it's Donald Trump or otherwise, where if you don't feel like he is connecting with voters in a way that you like, I mean, that might be a reason to not put your money behind him.
LAW: Oh, absolutely. I mean, because it's - again, in the end, we want to win the White House, and at the same time, we want to make sure that before we invest our donors' resources that we have a credible pathway to win the White House. And certainly, the way that a candidate projects him or herself, the way they connect with voters, particularly the segments of the electorate we need to win over, is going to be - those are going to be huge factors. But I think what makes this race very compelling for us is who we're likely to be running against. You know, I think in the end, it is, you know, more likely than not, and if we were making a wager, we'd both bet that Hillary Clinton would be the nominee. And I think...
GREENE: I know where I'm placing bets. I'm a generalist. But you can place any bets you want.
LAW: Yeah, that's right. Yeah, all right, yeah, yeah, (laughter), any of your listeners will place a bet.
GREENE: I don't know about that either, by the way.
LAW: Yeah (laughter).
GREENE: But go ahead.
LAW: But I think if you look at the general election contest, the person we're likely to be running against, who I think is going to be Hillary Clinton, has very, very deep flaws.
GREENE: But just to sort of take this a little further, you know, Donald Trump is a candidate who doesn't necessarily have many of the positions other successful Republican candidates have had who you've supported. I mean, I'm thinking about Planned Parenthood and some other issues. Is there a risk that if he's a nominee and whatever movement he has put together here wins out, is there a risk that you'd be on the sidelines?
LAW: Well, I mean, I think that if Donald Trump's a nominee, I think our role again is to provide a supportive role to whoever that nominee is. And again, a large part of what we would do in a typical election, regardless of who the Republican candidate is, is to focus on the Democrat, not to spend a lot of time focusing on our side. And I think that's likely the role that we would play.
GREENE: Steven Law, nice to talk to you as always, and thanks for coming in.
LAW: Thank you so much. It's great to be on MORNING EDITION.
GREENE: He is the president of American Crossroads. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.