Former presidential candidate Evan McMullin and his running mate Mindy Finn will launch a new conservative group on Wednesday that's opposed to President Trump, and will kick off the effort with a television advertisement questioning his connections to Russia.
"Stand Up Republic" is a new 501(c)4 political nonprofit organization. McMullin and Finn, both Republicans, waged a long-shot independent bid for president in 2016 to block Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton from winning 270 electoral votes, and throw the election to the House.
They envision their new group as a home for conservative grassroots opposition to Trump, but plan to partner with activists on the left who share their concerns about the threat they believe Trump poses to the Constitution, equality and liberty. Stand Up Republic's first television spot questions Trump's ties to Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, and suggests that the new president is hiding something and needs to come clean about his connections to Moscow.
The ad is clearly intended to provoke the president. It's slated to run for two weeks in the Washington and New York markets only — and only on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," because Trump is known to be an avid watcher of the cable news network's morning program.
"Our goals are to grow a grassroots movement that will be able to exert influence over both the president and members of Congress," McMullin said during an interview in which he provided the Washington Examiner a first-look at the group and the television ad.
"Vladimir Putin is carrying out a campaign to subvert democracies across Europe, and here," McMullin added. "We're standing up to that."
McMullin and Finn spent most of their time last year campaigning in Utah. McMullin is a Mormon and he has relationships in the state. They finished with 21 percent of the vote, in third place behind Trump (45.9 percent) and Clinton (27.8 percent). They didn't do any better elsewhere.
But they said during the campaign that part of their plan was to create a new conservative movement that spurned Trump's populist nationalism.
McMullin and Finn want to create a path for Republicans who want to stay loyal to traditional conservative principles, cannonized by President Ronald Reagan, of small government, an internationalist foreign policy, and fidelity to liberty and equality.
Finn conceded that some on the right, including Trump skeptics, might accuse her and McMullin of being sore losers who can't get over the new president winning the election. She dismissed that argument.
"We are conservatives who have concerns about this administration taking this country further away from liberty," Finn said. "A huge number of people on the right share those concerns — and they're valid concerns — and we believe someone needs to stand up for them. We need to do that in a constructive way."
McMullin and Finn declined to detail the financial backing behind Stand Up Republic. McMullin said the group was spending "tens of thousands of dollars" on its first television spot.
They said that the group has received a positive reception from political donors and expect it to be financed by both wealthy contributors who write big checks and grassroots donors who give a little at a time online.
McMullin, 40, is a former CIA operative and who served as a House Republican policy aide before running for president. Finn, 35, is a Republican political consultant that advises clients on digital strategy.
They're still in the process of figuring out how Stand Up Republic is going to operate and be active. But they hope to use social and digital media platforms to harness grassroots activism interested in holding Trump and Republicans in Congress accountable.
McMullin and Finn have a host of concerns about Trump on domestic and foreign policy issues, and about his honesty.
But for now, their focus is on Trump's relationship with the Putin and the Russian government. The president, a real estate developer with properties worldwide, has said flatly that he has no business ties to Moscow or Russian businessmen.
But Trump has been unusually gracious toward Putin and his adversarial agenda since launching his presidential campaign in 2015. He has declined to criticize Putin for invading Ukraine and annexing Crimea, for his harsh treatment of his political opponents and journalists, and for other strongman tactics.
Trump also previously defended Putin against charges, supported by U.S. intelligence gathering, that he meddled in the presidential election. Trump has since said he agrees with the intelligence findings.
That has led to questions that served as the basis of Stand Up Republic's first television ad. Here's the script:
The President has a secret.
What is it?
It's the reason Donald Trump always puts Vladimir Putin first.
Why Trump insults and abandons our allies, but basks in Putin's praise.
Why he compares American intelligence officers who protect us to Nazis ... and covers for Putin's attacks on our democracy.
He hides connections to Russians ... and troubling stories keep coming.
Is Donald Trump compromised?
How can we trust him if he won't he come clean?