A group of social conservatives wants the president to embrace anti-transgender issues to reverse his sagging poll numbers. Some Trump advisers think it’s political suicide.
In late September, during the final tense weeks of the Kentucky governor’s race, a few hundred thousand voters started seeing ads in their Facebook feeds, YouTube channels and text messages. One spot showed a teenage boy dominating a high school girls wrestling competition. The other showed a boy easily winning a girls track race. Both ads posed the same question: Is this fair?
The ads were the brainchild of Terry Schilling, a conservative activist, who runs a think tank called the American Principles Project and thinks ads like these are precisely what Republicans need to win this fall’s elections. Schilling, 34, who works out of an office in the Washington suburbs, has a simple and slightly contrarian philosophy that social issues—not economics—win elections. In the fall, Schilling had watched from a distance as Matt Bevin, a Trump ally seeking to become Kentucky’s first two-term Republican governor, struggled to pull ahead of Democrat Andy Beshear despite flogging economic development records as part of his closing pitch to voters. Beltway Republicans were beginning to brace for a defeat that would not only cost the party a precious governorship, but potentially further weaken the president’s shaky hold on suburban voters.
That’s when Schilling and his think tank colleagues put the final touches on a risky plan to introduce an issue that, up until that moment, had not come up in the Kentucky campaign.