GOP-Run Lincoln Project's Ads Have An Audience Of One: Trump : Consider This from NPR The President traveled to Florida today. It's one of three states that just set records for new daily deaths from the coronavirus. Trump's trip there included a stop at a fundraiser for his re-election campaign.

Several Republican-run groups including The Lincoln Project are opposing that campaign, running slick political ads aimed at an audience of one. Ari Shaprio explains.

And Asma Khalid reports GOP opposition to the President draws a lot of attention, but it's unclear whether voters are moved by the messaging.

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The GOP Operatives Toying With Trump, Hoping For A President Biden

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The GOP Operatives Toying With Trump, Hoping For A President Biden

The GOP Operatives Toying With Trump, Hoping For A President Biden

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Here's the argument from the governor of Florida. If Home Depot is open, why can't schools be open?

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RON DESANTIS: If fast food and Walmart and Home Depot - and look, I do all that, so I'm not looking down on it. But if all that is essential, then educating our kids is absolutely essential. And they have been put to the back of the line in some respects.

MCEVERS: Republican Governor Ron DeSantis. His state's education commissioner issued an order this week requiring that schools plan to have students back in the fall. The final decision is up to local school boards. But still, Florida is one of three states, along with California and Texas, that this week also saw a record number of people die from COVID-19 in a single day. And sitting in a classroom for eight hours, five days a week, is different than shopping at Walmart.

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FEDRICK INGRAM: We open school in four weeks here in the state of Florida, and we do not want to be the petri dish for America.

MCEVERS: Miami-Dade County teacher Fedrick Ingram. He's also president of the state's largest teachers union. He says teachers want to be back in the classroom safely.

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INGRAM: We have to attend to social distancing, handwashing stations, smaller class sizes, and we know that that's going to cost money.

MCEVERS: Teachers say, when they're already paying for their own school supplies - and in some cases, their own PPE - it's going to take more money than the governor has set aside. Meanwhile, the president is in Florida raising money for his campaign. Coming up, the opposition he is facing from inside his own party and whether it will change people's minds about him. This is CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I'm Kelly McEvers. It's Friday, July 10.

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MCEVERS: With everything that's going on, it can be hard to remember sometimes that we are less than four months away from a presidential election. And a global pandemic is not the only thing that's going to make that election different. My colleague Ari Shapiro has been looking into how the sitting president is facing unprecedented opposition.

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ARI SHAPIRO: And what's remarkable is that some of this opposition is coming from within President Trump's own party. Take this attack ad. On its face, there's nothing too unusual about it.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: This November, say no to Donald Trump's racist anger and division. Say yes to a good man who can help us heal.

SHAPIRO: But this ad was funded by a group of prominent Republican political strategists.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: America is better than Donald Trump.

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JOHN WEAVER: If we can move one person to just not vote for Trump, that's a victory.

SHAPIRO: John Weaver is one of the founders of The Lincoln Project. They are a group of anti-Trump Republican strategists producing a lot of provocative ads. Some have more than a million views on YouTube. Others are strategically placed during Fox News broadcasts, where they seem to be directed at precisely one person.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: So why do you think you're losing, Donald?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Because some people don't love me maybe.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: It's because you've got a loyalty problem. (Whispering) Loyalty problem.

They're in your campaign. (Whispering) They're in your campaign.

SHAPIRO: I spoke with Weaver last week over Skype.

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WEAVER: It's kind of a harassing force. We do other, more targeted buys aimed at voters in the swing states. But in this case, we're going right at one audience that generally always reacts to us.

SHAPIRO: Wow. I thought you might be coy about it, but you are just calling this a harassing force aimed at an audience of one - the president. I mean, he has definitely taken notice. He tweets a lot of insults at your group and some of its members by name. Is it part of your strategy to use the president's Twitter platform as a megaphone to amplify your message?

WEAVER: Well, look;. I mean, he - after he attacked one of our ads and us individually, we were able to raise $2 million in grassroots money that we then plowed back into Wisconsin and Michigan and Ohio in positive ads about Vice President Biden. So if we were an administration, he's raised so much money for us we might make him ambassador to Slovenia or something.

SHAPIRO: For a group invoking the name and face of Abraham Lincoln, their messaging is sometimes a little less than dignified, like this ad about Trump's rally in Tulsa, Okla., a few weeks ago.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Hey, Donald. Your campaign manager told you a million fans wanted to come to your first big rally. Turnout in Tulsa? A dud. You've probably heard this before, but it was smaller than we expected.

SHAPIRO: In a way, this feels like the opposite of Michelle Obama's line, when they go low, we go high.

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WEAVER: Look. This battle was not something we chose. It kind of came to us. We felt we had no choice but to enter it. I mean, we're in a battle for the hearts and minds of the American people, and we have to take that kind of approach. Lincoln, if you remember, wanted to bind the wounds of the nation, but he wanted to do so only after the opposition was crushed. And don't forget the second part of that.

SHAPIRO: And Weaver's Lincoln Project doesn't just target the president.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Someday soon, the time of Trump will pass.

SHAPIRO: This ad, out just this week, flashes names and photos of prominent Republicans in Congress.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: When it does, the men and women in Trump's Republican Party will come to you telling you they can repair the damage he's done.

SHAPIRO: The ad targets people like Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham and more vulnerable swing state senators including Susan Collins of Maine, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Florida's Marco Rubio.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Every time they had a choice between America and Trump, they chose Trump.

SHAPIRO: The ad's tagline is, learn their names.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: And never ever trust them again.

SHAPIRO: And it's not just ads. Some Republicans on the sidelines are moving from just disapproval of Trump to an endorsement of the presumptive Democratic nominee.

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JOHN FARNER: I have been a Republican all of my life.

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SHAPIRO: John Farner worked in the George W. Bush administration.

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FARNER: Yeah, I chose not to vote in 2016.

SHAPIRO: But this year, he says, it's not enough to simply sit out.

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FARNER: More than 130,000 Americans are dead, and over 30 million are unemployed. That's just unacceptable right now. And we continue to look to the White House for leadership that we are not getting.

SHAPIRO: And so Farner has joined up with a couple hundred other former Bush officials to create a group called 43 Alumni for Biden, a nod to the 43rd president. And there are other similar groups, like some Mitt Romney presidential campaign alums are organizing an effort to support Biden. But while these prominent anti-Trump Republicans get lots of attention, it's not clear what impact they have on voters. NPR national political correspondent Asma Khalid has that story.

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ASMA KHALID: Sarah Lenti is the executive director of The Lincoln Project.

SARAH LENTI: The goal is to talk to these voters out in target states in ways that helps give them cover, helps, you know, make it OK for them this cycle to either sit it out or actually cross the line and vote for Biden.

JULIA AZARI: How many voters does that speak to?

KHALID: That's Julia Azari. She's a professor at Marquette University.

AZARI: The Republican Party in some very meaningful ways has become Trump's party.

KHALID: Trump has called his conservative critics losers. And he faces very little dissent among congressional Republicans. Polling has shown that the vast majority of Republicans nationally have already decided they're voting for Trump this November.

AZARI: He's remained really popular with self-identified Republicans. What's harder to track is like, who is a self-identified Republican who has stopped identifying that way within the mass electorate?

KHALID: In other words, the reason Trump looks so popular with the GOP is because some voters no longer identify as Republican. In the last few years, white, college-educated voters especially have begun moving away from the party. Jon McHenry is a Republican pollster with North Star Opinion Research.

JON MCHENRY: There is a decent chunk of those white, college-educated voters who support a lot of the policies. They support the tax cuts. But, you know, they wouldn't be crazy about President Trump demanding an apology from Bubba Wallace this week.

KHALID: That's the Black NASCAR driver that Trump singled out on Twitter this week. McHenry says if we get into policy debates, white, college-educated voters will be forced to make a choice between policy and tone. But still, he's skeptical that these Republican for Biden efforts are going to have much of an impact. There just aren't a lot of persuadable voters.

MCHENRY: And you're not going to knock President Trump from, say, 95% of Republicans down to 85% of Republicans on the basis of some ads from former staffers in a previous administration.

KHALID: But Republicans for Biden don't think they need that many defections. The election, they say, could come down to just a sliver of voters in key swing states. And that's who they're trying to convince.

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MCEVERS: NPR national political correspondent Asma Khalid, and earlier, NPR host Ari Shapiro. Additional reporting in this episode from our colleagues at All Things Considered. For more news, download the NPR One app or tune in to your local public radio station. Supporting that station is what makes this podcast possible.

The show is produced by Emily Alfin Johnson, Gabriela Saldivia, Anne Li, Lee Hale and Brent Baughman and edited by Beth Donovan. Our executive producer is Cara Tallo. I'm Kelly McEvers.

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