By REID J. EPSTEIN – – – – –
The first ads from groups aiming to unbind Republican National Convention delegates are set to air beginning Thursday, marking a new offensive in the effort to strip the GOP nomination away from presumptive nominee Donald Trump.
The ads come as the stop-Trump groups have seen a significant increase in interest, attention and fundraising, according to people involved in the efforts. Though still far from having enough commitments to block a Trump nomination, the groups’ leaders have become regular figures on cable news as Mr. Trump’s campaign has been struck in recent weeks with internal discord and a dismal fundraising report that left him far behind presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
The Trump campaign has said Mr. Trump will be the nominee and has dismissed the dissidents’ efforts.
The first ad, to air on WHO-AM radio in Des Moines, directly targets Steve Scheffler, a member of the Republican National Committee and one of Iowa’s two representatives on the Rules Committee at the party’s July convention. It is funded by the Courageous Conservatives PAC, a super PAC run by Steve Lonegan, who served as Ted Cruz’s New Jersey state chairman.
Another set of ads is set to air on national cable TV this weekend by a group organized by Eric O’Keefe. Mr. O’Keefe’s group is pushing delegates to pronounce themselves unbound regardless of whether the convention’s rules committee passes explicit language saying they are.
“The voters don’t decide who the nominee is, the delegates do,” Mr. O’Keefe said.
The Iowa radio ad is the first to address the specific and previously arcane issue of whether national convention delegates are bound by state and state party rules tying them to a specific candidate.
“Iowa Republican state committeeman Steve Schleffler is trying to force Republican delegates to vote for Donald Trump and threatening those who find that vote to be morally offensive,” Mr. Lonegan, in his thick New Jersey accent, says in the 60-second Iowa radio ad. “We elect delegates to nominate presidential candidates, not as rubber stamps but as real people, to make real decisions in the best interests of our party and our conservative values.”
Mr. Lonegan adds in the spot: “Normally, our delegates would ratify the primary winner. But this is one of those times when the delegates need to be free to vote their conscience.”
Mr. Lonegan concludes the ad by directing people to call Mr. Scheffler at his office at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition and twice lists the number.
Mr. Scheffler, when told of the ad by The Wall Street Journal, called the effort to unseat Mr. Trump a “slap in the face of conservative activists in 50 states and six territories who have spoken.” He said groups aiming to free delegates bound by party and state rules are fighting an unnecessary intramural battle when they should concentrate their efforts on winning the general election.
“These people spent all of their time trying to destroy people and they don’t do anything productive,” Mr. Scheffler said Wednesday. “Nothing, zero. What is the end result? You want to have a big war so somebody else is the nominee when the enemy is Hillary Clinton.”
Mr. Scheffler said he didn’t intend to listen to people looking to unbind delegates and would not be swayed by the ad campaign.
“If these people think they are going to intimidate me, that ain’t gonna happen,” he said. “These people are a bunch of bullies. I’m not going to go against the will of the people from across this country.”
A call to the number listed in the radio advertisement went directly to voicemail, which a message said is full and could not accept new messages.