Group led by GOP operatives steps up its media blitz against Trump's tariffs

  • GOP political advocacy group Defending Democracy Together is treating the trade war as a full-blown emergency.
  • The group plans to interview hundreds of people who work in a variety of industries that are getting hurt by trade retaliation from China and U.S. allies, such as those working in the farm or steel industry.
  • The group wants to use these first-person accounts in television and digital ads, as well as in op-eds and articles on its website.
US President Donald Trump meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk in Brussels in 2017
Didier Lebrun/Photonews | Photonews | Getty Images
US President Donald Trump meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk in Brussels in 2017

President Donald Trump's aggressive trade policies, including tariffs on several billions of dollars in imported goods, have prompted many of his fellow Republicans to speak out. One GOP political advocacy group is treating the trade war as a full-blown emergency.

"We are the guys with the road flares. Remember 'The Rock' movie with Nicolas Cage?" said Scott Lincicome, a senior policy advisor at Defending Democracy Together, as he described the group's plans to fight the tariffs. "We are standing there with the flares begging the planes to stop and not drop the bombs."

Defending Democracy Together has already shelled out $50,000 to produce some ads aimed at the Trump trade policy, including one video using a speech from President Ronald Reagan in which he celebrates the idea of free trade and criticizes the concept of protectionism.

But now the group is preparing to put a human face on the trade war, namely its impact on the middle class -- and is looking to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars until Trump takes the tariffs off the table.

The group hopes to interview hundreds of people who work in a variety of industries that are getting hurt by trade retaliation from China and U.S. allies, such as those working in the farm or steel industry.

"You never hear the stories of people like the small businesses that opened due to the international trade of raw materials," Lincicome said. "I think it's really critical to talk to the people, whose daily lives and businesses are being put at risk by these tariffs and to show that it isn't just numbers or Wall Street. These are everyday people."

The group wants to use these first-person accounts in television and digital ads, as well as in op-eds and articles on its website, Lincicome added.

Who's behind Defending Democracy Together

Defending Democracy Together was co-founded a slew of longtime GOP operatives, including Bill Kristol, a Reagan and Bush administration veteran who is one of the right's most outspoken Trump critics.

The extent of the organization's funding is unclear. Yet a recent press release by the nonprofit Democracy Fund Voice, which promotes itself as a nonpartisan "foundation that fosters the highest ideals of the American republic," says it recently gave two grants to Defending Democracy Together. The first was in the amount of $100,000 over one year, and the other was for $500,000 for another full year.

Democracy Fund Voice says it is solely funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, who was chairman of the auction site from 1995 until 2015.

Omidyar has a history of supporting anti-Trump initiatives.

In 2016, he gave over $400,000 to two super PACs that were against Trump during the presidential election, Federal Election Commission records show. Starting in March of that year, he contributed $100,000 to the Never Means Never PAC and then a month later $150,000 to the same group. In August he gave up $200,000 to another anti-Trump PAC title Not Who We Are.

Looking for a way out of the trade war

Defending Democracy Together's efforts come as Republicans fight to maintain their majorities in the House and Senate during midterm elections this fall. Yet Lincicome insists that the group isn't trying to get voters to turn on the GOP. Rather, he said, it is trying to warn Republican lawmakers that they could lose their grip on Congress if Trump's tariffs don't come to an end.

A Quinnipiac poll from June reflects the strong opposition to Trump's trade barriers going into the elections, with 50 percent of participants saying they are against the administrations import tariffs on steel and aluminum goods.

Trump has put 25 percent tariffs on steel products and 10 percent on aluminum goods coming from China, the European Union, Mexico and Canada. Trump has also been reportedly considering 25 percent tariffs on foreign made cars.

Trading partners have retaliated against the administration's moves with tariffs on billions of dollars' worth of U.S. exports, particularly agricultural goods.

Trump met with E.U. President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday. Both indicated during a joint press event that they were making progress and looking to come to a final agreement that will lead to the removal of the imposed tariffs.

Trade talks with China, however, are at an impasse, administration officials have said.

"I do not think President Xi has any intention of following through on any of the discussions we've made and I think the President is so dissatisfied with China on these so-called talks that he is keeping the pressure on and I support that," Trump's top economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, said last week.