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The first 90-plus days of Donald Trump’s presidency have generated a fury of action as Americans have taken to the streets and overwhelmed congressional town halls. Now, liberal activists are asking how the resistance can be sustained and supported through the 2018 midterms.
My progressive national security organization, 4DPAC, recently launched an anti-Trump resistance effort called PutUSFirst, an effort based on Trump’s emoluments clause violations and foreign conflicts of interest. In short, we wanted to give foreign policy the political constituency that campaign professionals claim doesn’t exist.
Here’s what we’ve learned from the early days of the resistance.
Rally the general public to a cause, which is apprehensive about Trump.
A combination of Trump’s dubious victory, temperament, and policy agenda have motivated protesters to organize around important policy battles like Obamacare, climate, gender issues, and judicial appointees.
We believe two national security issues should energize the public. First, by deciding to maintain ownership of the Trump Organization, Trump’s foreign business ties, including to Russia, violate the emoluments clause of the Constitution. Second, journalists continue to expose the Trump team's contacts with Russia in drips.
Instead of promoting an esoteric legal discussion, we’ve focused on how ongoing foreign conflicts of interest and Russia ties increase the risk to all Americans’ security. Either way, the idea that the president is compromised by foreign interests should strike fear into the hearts of all Americans.
Have a nonpartisan message that appeals to patriotism.
As the commander-in-chief’s primary responsibility, national security is serious and traditionally non-partisan. We’ve appealed to all Americans’ patriotism by highlighting Trump’s foreign conflicts of interest and ties to Russia, and noting the potential damage that could be caused by the president confusing his business interests with the national interest. We chose the name PutUSFirst to highlight the Trump’s ironic “America First” slogan as nothing more than a Trojan horse for his own interests.
Using his properties in eighteen countries and loan portfolio, we highlighted the conflicts between Trump’s business interest and the national interest. In practice, the fundamental risk boils down to the idea that if terrorists attack a Trump-branded building overseas, Trump might deploy the military in response. The slightest chance our service members might be sent into harm’s way for the Trump Organization is a terrible scenario that ties questions of American life and death to the institutional corruption of the presidency.
In just the first month of the campaign, we achieved substantial success with this message, receiving earned media in traditional venues such as the New York Times, US News & World Report, New York Daily News, as well as podcasts the HorseRace, and Taking Ship.
Establish a criteria for targets.
Trump’s refusal to divest his business interests is a self-inflicted wound and a very real threat that should politically endanger members of Congress who choose to protect the president rather than the nation.
Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado met our criteria: A moderate Republican who had been lukewarm on Trump, and represented a purple state that Clinton had won. It didn’t hurt that Gardner had read the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution on the floor of the House, a fact we reminded him of in this video.
Further, Colorado’s healthy veterans population, some 400,000 across the state, made for a rich pool of credible national security messengers. We circulated an open letter from a group of veterans to Gardner on the issue and had a veteran deliver our petition to Gardner’s local office with press in tow.
We already have the next ten vulnerable Republicans targets in mind.
Have a specific legislative ask.
Senate Democrats introduced the Presidential Conflicts of Interest Act of 2017 (S. 65), which would require all presidents and their families to divest of their business interests. We asked Sen. Gardner to join his follow Senate Coloradan Michael Bennet (D) in co-sponsoring the law. We started a petition to use as the vehicle asking Sen. Gardner to sign on to the bill, which was supported by nearly 17,000 people.
Coordinate with local groups to create pressure back home.
National headlines are great, but elected officials pay more attention to local publications. And we found that local journalists aren't always in tune with big, scandalous, national stories, so we spent time educating them. The large number of protests have challenged local media, with limited resources. By being very specific with our ask, we made it as easier as possible for local reporters to connect a national story to their local elected leaders.
Then we made a show of delivering the petition to Gardner’s offices around the states, combining forces with existing protests. This gave local journalists reason to cover our story. We generated negative headlines. We got several local stories.
While Sen. Gardner hasn’t budged yet, this is only the beginning. If resistance campaigning combines the passion of newly created activists with a specific message focused on politically vulnerable Republicans, the breakthroughs will come soon enough.
Jim Arkedis is the president of 4DPAC and the co-director of the PutUSFirst campaign. Follow him on Twitter @JimArkedis.