Growing array of pro-Trump groups could target GOP lawmakers
WASHINGTON — President Trump’s attacks on conservative members of his own party come as his allies beef up an array of groups to promote his agenda, amassing firepower that could end up trained on fellow Republicans.
At least four separate organizations are now seeking to drive public support for Trump and his priorities — a marked shift from the first two months of his administration, when the White House had limited outside air cover.
The immediate goal: to lean on Democratic senators in the run-up to a vote expected this week on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. But down the road, some of the groups could end up turning their focus on lawmakers who cross Trump, including members of his own party, according to people familiar with internal discussions.
‘‘It is something we would consider if there is clarity that a group is stymieing the agenda, whether it’s establishment types or others,’’ said Eric Beach, cochairman of the pro-Trump advocacy group Great America Alliance, which has already spent $3.5 million on ads promoting the Trump administration.
Pressure could also eventually come from America First Policies, which was launched by a group of former Trump advisers in January to serve as the leading pro-Trump advocacy group. The organization has not yet turned its attention to the 2018 midterm elections, said spokeswoman Katrina Pierson.
‘‘There is plenty of time and opportunity for Republican lawmakers to keep their promises to their voters and support the president’s agenda to make America great again,’’ Pierson said. ‘‘Lawmakers will be held accountable at the appropriate time.’’
The White House is offering many cues that it wants its allies to go after members of the House Freedom Caucus, whom Trump blames for derailing legislation that would have repealed parts of the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
On Saturday, White House social-media director Dan Scavino Jr. tweeted that Representative Justin Amash of Michigan, a member of the Freedom Caucus, is ‘‘a big liability.’’
Government ethics lawyers said the tweet violated federal law that limits political activity by government employees, the Associated Press reported. The White House denied Scavino had run afoul of the law.
It remains to be seen whether the wealthy Trump donors who are financing the advocacy groups — many of whom have also been supportive of conservative lawmakers — will feel comfortable using their resources to fuel internecine GOP battles.
Complicating the situation is the fractured nature of efforts by allies to support the White House. Exactly which group will take the lead in backing Trump, and on which issues, remains unclear.
Emily Cornell, chief operating officer of a new group called Making America Great that was started by GOP megadonor Rebekah Mercer, said that her organization will be looking for ways to break logjams on Capitol Hill.
Making America Great kicked off last week with a $1 million TV and digital ad buy praising Trump for keeping his promises that is aimed at 10 Democratic senators up for reelection in 2018.
‘‘It’s important to bring attention to policy movement in Washington — or lack thereof,’’ Cornell said. ‘‘In terms of supporting the president’s agenda, we’re thrilled about his recent accomplishments, and we plan to review our support one policy at a time.’’
Administration officials said they believe the absence of a coordinated external campaign contributed to the GOP’s failure to roll back President Obama’s health care law. That prompted White House deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh to leave her post last week to jump-start America First Policies, which has had a relatively low profile since its launch.
One other pro-Trump advocacy group is also in the mix: 45Committee, which has already spent millions on ads touting Trump’s nominees and policies.
The increasingly crowded space recalls last year’s campaign, when multiple super PACs jockeyed to be viewed as the favored pro-Trump group. Since the election, the effort to create a robust organization to bolster the president from outside the White House has been hampered by rivalries and personal friction, splintering the donor world.
The wealthy Mercer family was expected to support America First Policies, along with other top Trump contributors. But after tensions developed about the direction and leadership of the group, Rebekah Mercer launched her own effort.
She was joined by at least two other major donors: Home Depot cofounder Bernie Marcus and high-frequency trader W.E. Bosarge, said a person familiar with their support.
There are ongoing efforts to broker a collaboration between the two pro-Trump organizations, according to multiple people familiar with the situation.
In a separate development over the weekend, Senate minority leader Charles Schumer called on Trump to veto a resolution that would kill an online privacy regulation, a move that could allow Internet providers to sell information about their customers’ browsing habits.
The New York senator and 46 other Senate Democrats signed a letter calling on Trump to ‘‘tell us whose side he’s really on.’’
The Federal Communications Commission rule issued in October was designed to give consumers greater control over how Internet service providers such as Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon share information. But critics said the rule would have stifled innovation and picked winners and losers among Internet companies.
Both the House and the Senate voted last week to pass the resolution, sending it to Trump.