Founders of the group, which include Kinzinger advisers, are also launching a sister nonprofit to “build a grass roots army,” according to documents reviewed by The Washington Post.
Unlike traditional PACs, both organizations can accept unlimited contributions. Nonprofit groups are not required to disclose the identity of their contributors.
The effort will be up against significant head winds, as Trump still holds vast sway over the Republican Party — even after his supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol in an effort to stop the certification of President Biden’s victory.
The new groups, which aim to mobilize the kinds of anti-Trump donors who backed the now-embattled Lincoln Project, are being launched as the former president is planning to expand his political operation with his own super PAC.
Kinzinger voted to impeach Trump in January and has positioned himself as one of the party’s most outspoken critics of the former president. He unveiled his leadership PAC Country First with a six-minute campaign-style video.
“Republicans must say enough is enough. It’s time to unplug the outrage machine, reject the politics of personality and cast aside the conspiracy theories and the rage,” Kinzinger said in the video.
Kinzinger declined to comment on the launch of the two groups. Federal officials are not allowed to establish or directly coordinate with independent big-money organizations, but they can appear at their events.
“Americans Keeping Country First has a clearly defined mission to provide air cover for the members of Congress who took votes of conscience to impeach or convict President Trump,” Mario Castillo, one of the group’s advisers and a Republican lobbyist, said in a statement.
Castillo said the super PAC would back lawmakers in primaries and general elections, if necessary. He said the group has “received real interest” from GOP donors and expects to be well-financed for primary season.
Officials with the super PAC declined to say which donors had committed support or how much money they had pledged. They said former lawmakers are expected to join in upcoming weeks but declined to name them.
The super PAC is expected to back the 10 House Republicans who voted for impeachment, as well as Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who is up for reelection in 2022. The goal is to target donors who would support Republicans such as former House speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah) — contributors who want to stay with the GOP but consider Trump noxious.
Some Republicans such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley have criticized the president in recent weeks, only to be repudiated by his supporters. McConnell recently said he would support Trump if he was the 2024 presidential nominee but noted that many others were likely to challenge him. Some Republicans who initially were critical of the president’s role in the riots, such as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina, have moved back to support him.
Trump’s traditional PAC has raised more than $70 million so far, and he is planning to launch a super PAC to collect unlimited sums from donors. During a speech Sunday at the Conservative Political Action Conference, he was expected to criticize Republicans who have spoken out against him. And he has begun using his political firepower against them: On Friday, he backed a former White House aide against Rep. Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, one of the 10 Republican House members who voted to impeach Trump.
The ex-president has a particular disdain for Kinzinger, advisers said, and wants to draft a primary challenger against him.
It remains to be seen whether major party donors will invest in the new anti-Trump efforts.
George Conway, a longtime anti-Trump conservative who advised the Lincoln Project, said he mainly saw interest from Democrats to support that group. “I don’t really know about the interest of Republican donors,” said Conway, adding that some libertarian and anti-Trump donors might give.
Sarah Longwell, who leads Republican Voters Against Trump, said she remained realistic about the odds of attracting anti-Trump donors, adding that her constituency has “slightly to moderately” grown since Jan. 6.
“I’m not saying it’s great — I’m not saying we aren’t woefully outnumbered,” Longwell said. “But there are actually people out there standing their ground right now, like [Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.)] and Adam Kinzinger and Lisa Murkowski. There are more than there were before.”
Dan Eberhart, a Republican donor who has criticized Trump at times, said many mainstream donors were still interested in giving money to lawmakers like Cheney, who spoke out strongly against Trump. He said he thinks Trump’s ability to raise money against Republicans is diminished without Twitter, which kicked him off the platform after the Capitol riot.
“Anyone with a stake in rebuilding the economy and addressing tough policy challenges is going to come down on the side of establishment Republicans,” he said, adding that Trump’s influence could wane if the party’s internal battle costs Republicans in 2022.
Brendan Buck, a former top aide to Ryan, said he appreciated the effort from Kinzinger and his allies because “things are not going to change on their own.”
“One of the thriving dynamics that keeps at least elected officials on the Trump side of things is a fear of political repercussions for not doing so,” Buck said. “If you can create a system where people are less fearful and can be more confident in being independent, that can change behavior. Putting some money behind that is really important. The more they can see there are alternative political universes to live in, the better. It will be an inch-by-inch effort, but that’s better than standing still.”
Buck said there was no lane for Republicans to win without Trump right now. “So it’s either self-loathing people like me, or they have departed the party and they’re no longer there,” Buck said.
Castillo said the group wants to help broaden a “big tent” of Republicans where members can vote their consciences without fearing a backlash that ends their political careers.
“This effort isn’t so much about President Trump himself as it is about building a GOP where members are able to pursue a path beyond Trumpism,” he said. “I’m personally not looking for the next Lincoln or Reagan, but simply to help leaders not mired in spittoon politics and who resolutely put the good of the republic before political self-interest.”