A US conservative resistance hopes to learn from 2016, when an organised effort to stop Trump fizzled after the primary.

For Nancy Shively, a teacher, life-long conservative, and 2016 Trump voter from state of Oklahoma, the last straw was the United States president’s response to the coronavirus. 

Despite casting her ballot for a Republican presidential candidate every election since she first voted in 1976, Shively, 63, has resolved to support Democratic candidate Joe Biden in the 2020 election. 

Organisers of a coordinated effort to appeal to disillusioned conservatives, lead by members and former members of the Republican Party, hope voters like Nancy will help to make the difference in the upcoming 2020 US presidential election. The Republican Party has long appealed to conservative voters and is one of two major parties – along with the liberal Democratic Party – that overwhelmingly dominate US politics. 

In 2016, a similar effort led by so-called “Never Trump” Republicans, who saw Trump as an existential threat to the country, fell short of ending his presidential bid.

“I knew Trump was a jerk and he was a misogynist, but like a lot of people that voted for him, I was hopeful that he would have people around him that would curb his impulses … but I really did not know the full extent of his pathology until the pandemic,” said Shively, a mother of four and grandmother of six. 

“I’m pro-life. It’s probably why I stayed in the Republican Party as long as I did,” she added. “But pro-life means all life, not just unborn children, and watching the way Trump has just mishandled the pandemic, and the deaths that have resulted, I care about those lives too.”

Organisers of this election cycle’s conservative resistance against Trump hope to learn from 2016, when the coordinated effort largely fizzled after the primary, replaced by a handful of disparate Republican Party members and officials who vowed not to support the then-candidate. 

“This time there is a real organised campaign to stop him in the general election,” said Tim Miller, who has worked on Republican presidential campaigns and as the communications director for Our Principles PAC, one of two prominent conservative political action committees (PACs) that sought to end Trump’s 2016 White House bid.

“[In 2016] we had an organised campaign to stop him in the primary, but it was kind of too late and there was no real campaign within the party against him in the general election,” he said. 

Miller is currently the political director of Republican Voters Against Trump (RVAT), a group that has taken a distinct approach to reaching disillusioned Trump voters by using first-person accounts from other rank-and-file conservatives who have decided to vote against the president.

In more than 500 selfie videos collected by the group, including one uploaded by Shively, those voters tell their stories in hopes of building a “social support network” for Republicans who feel Trump has diverged from the ideals they feel American conservatism represents, Miller said. The videos are being used on social media and in a $10m ad campaign running –  or soon to run – in battleground states North Carolina, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

Even if Trump loses, his base will remain, Patterson added.  

That means whether in 2020 or 2024, the Republican Party is on track to face reckoning, said 43 Alumni for Biden’s Purcell – particularly as the overwhelmingly white and older Republican base faces a “demographic cliff” in a rapidly diversifying country. 

“There’s no one out there who genuinely knows what that future looks like,” said Purcell. “Right now, both [Democratic and Republican] parties are pretty well dominated by their bases, and their bases are both moving further and further to the fringes.”

But in the short term, Purcell added, the group is more concerned with preventing “another four years of chaos and corruption and disease and disunion” that he says the Trump administration has wrought. 

‘Hey, I’ll do it’

Shively said she shares the same goal, describing her discovery of Republican Voters Against Trump as a “revelation”. 

“I was like, wow, there are actual people who feel the same way as I do,” she recalled. “I was just astonished because Oklahoma is such a deeply red state, and there are so many Trump supporters here that, you know, you don’t really want to out yourself among your social group”.

When she noticed only one conservative from Oklahoma had uploaded a video to RVAT’s website, she said she felt a responsibility to act.

“It made me feel like, if there’s anybody else like me out there, and they need this to change their mind, then hey, I’ll do it,” Shively said. 

“So I sat down with my laptop, and I filmed my video,” she said. “I call it coming out of the political closet”. 

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