A group whose primary mission was to build support for Donald Trump and his positions ahead of the 2018 and 2020 elections has found itself lobbying someone it never expected — the president.
Immediately after Trump struck a tentative deal with Democrats to allow young people brought into the country illegally to stay in the United States, the Great America PAC began pressuring him to stay true to his campaign pledges of building a wall on the Mexican border and deporting so-called Dreamers.
“Mr. President, today I urge you to demand the Wall come first,” Ed Rollins, the group’s senior strategist, wrote in a recent email to supporters.
It’s not the first time the group — designed to promote Trump to voters — has signaled that it may care more about the movement that got Trump elected than the man himself.
Great America Alliance, an offshoot of the PAC, supported far-right conservative Roy Moore in his successful race against Trump’s pick for the Senate seat. On policy, the immigration issue marks the first time the group has broken with Trump.
Those who oppose protecting the more than two million young people brought into the country as children by their parents hope the push from this influential group will be just what Trump needs to stick to his promises as he negotiates with Congress on an immigration package.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said Trump’s fluctuating stance on the issue has given the group “good reason” to push Trump. “This kind of pressure is necessary,” he said . “It definitely helps keep the White House honest.”
There’s no sign the campaign is working. Trump continues to waver.
Michael Dougherty, assistant Homeland Security Department secretary for border, immigration and trade policy, testified to Congress Tuesday that the administration supported a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. But hours later, a department spokesman said Dougherty was not stating administration policy or the president’s views.
Trump announced last month it will shut down an Obama-era program that delayed deportation — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA — after a six-month period meant to give Congress time to pass a legislative fix.
He then struck a deal with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to protect Dreamers in exchange for increased security at the border, but not necessarily a wall.
The decision set off a massive lobbying effort among activists on both sides of the issue that included demonstrations, one-on-one meetings on Capitol Hill and petitions.
Groups that support enforcement of deportation laws are trying to influence Trump through social media, columns and letters, spending time and resources they never expected to have to spend on a Republican president whose campaign was largely built around tough immigration laws.
Ira Mehlman, a spokesman with the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said people are frustrated that Trump hasn’t been consistent on immigration issues. “We want him to stick to his word,” he said. “This was one of his signature campaign promises.”
Great America PAC, which spent $30 million during the 2016 presidential cycle on TV and radio ads, mailers, phone calls, field offices and a bus tour, remade itself after the election to push Trump’s agenda — much like group Organizing for Action did for his predecessor, Barack Obama. OFA, however, never deviated from Obama’s agenda.
Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist who left the White House in August, is looking to take over a PAC, likely Great America or its osffshoot, as he works to push Trump’s populist message, according to a former Trump adviser close to Bannon. His former deputy at the White House already has joined the Great America Alliance.
“We have been and continue to be President Donald Trump’s strongest and most active independent ally, and we’re determined to see the America First Agenda succeed,” according to the PAC’s website.
But in the recent email, Rollins, who served as White House political director and campaign manager for Ronald Reagan, cited the immigration agreement that the former president struck with Congress three decades ago that provided citizenship for millions of immigrants in the country illegally.
“In 1986, Republicans agreed to Amnesty now plan, so long as Democrats fulfilled their part of the bargain when it came to employer sanctions and border security,” he wrote. “Amnesty came, by some 8 million immigrants – and millions more in the resulting ‘chain migration’ effect (if you like). But Democrats made sure the second part of the deal never happened. We cannot let it happen again.”
Rollins did not respond to messages. Eric Beach, who served as co-chairman of the PAC and served as co-chairman of Great America Alliance, downplayed any disagreements with Trump, saying he was “putting issues out there in the forefront” to be debated.
Beach said the group is focusing on “those core issues that got Trump elected,” primarily immigration and jobs. “Our job is to make sure to reinforce the Trump campaign agenda,” he said. “It’s not too much to say ‘don’t forget about campaign promises.’”
Trump has wavered about Dreamers’ fate from the start. During the presidential campaign, he repeatedly said he would end an Obama-era program that postponed deportation, calling it “amnesty” and an abuse of the president’s powers. But after Inauguration Day, he not only failed to act but pledged to treat Dreamers with “great heart.”
Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in New York, said Trump’s contradictory statements may eventually cost him supporters who are starting to show they are not willing to give him a rubber stamp. “He does that with some risk,” Miringoff said. “He’s not going to be their default.”
Trump’s former adviser said the PAC is using the Dreamers issue to excite grassroots supporters — estimated to be 250,000 — and increase donations. Touting Trump’s latest stance to protect Dreamers would not garner any enthusiasm, the adviser said.
“They knew there’s intensity in DACA,” the former aide said. “There’s a lot of energy in opposing DACA.”