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'Never Trump' Campaign Now Seeks To Dissociate Trump From Republican Party

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

For months, super PACs with the tagline Never Trump spent millions of dollars trying to defeat Donald Trump. They didn't stop him from becoming the de facto Republican nominee. Still, the Never Trump folks show no sign of stopping either. Rory Cooper is the senior adviser to the Never Trump PAC, and he says the most important thing his group can do now is set Donald Trump apart from the entire Republican Party.

RORY COOPER: It's important that people not begin to tie Donald Trump's rhetoric or his positions to that of the larger conservative movement. The mantra of Never Trump has become a famous Alexander Hamilton quote. And it goes, if we must have an enemy at the head of government, let it be one who we can oppose and for whom we are not responsible and who will not involve our party in the disgrace of his foolish and bad measures.

And the idea behind that is if Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is going to be elected, let it be somebody who does not scar our movement or our party for decades to come, but rather somebody who we can legitimately oppose.

BLOCK: So you're saying given that choice, you would prefer to have Hillary Clinton win the presidency than Donald Trump?

COOPER: I would prefer to have another alternative, which we don't know whether or not that will occur at the moment. It is perfectly acceptable for voters to choose none of the above at the top of the ticket. But we certainly hope that Republican voters go out and support their Republican candidates for Congress or at the state and local level.

BLOCK: Well, let me pursue a couple of those points. There are Republicans who criticize the Never Trump groups for putting money into anti-Trump ads. They say this is money down the drain. You should be putting that money into down ballot races instead, really focusing your efforts there. Leave Trump aside.

COOPER: We will be focusing our efforts on down ballot races. If you look at the map right now, Donald Trump actually puts states that are traditionally Republican into a calm where they have to be defended. That puts Congress in a very perilous position. So we're going to absolutely focus efforts to make sure that conservatives and Republicans in the truest sense can get sent to Congress so that if the choice is Clinton versus Trump and Clinton defeats him that we will have a firewall in Congress against her liberal agenda.

BLOCK: Mr. Cooper, what about Republican Party unity?

COOPER: We had passed the point of nobody having hurt feelings a long time ago. But the best long-term approach for the Republicans is to continue to support the principles, the positions and the values that are essential to being a Republican rather than to abandon those for somebody who largely sides with Democrats on most of the platform and is a man of serious low character.

BLOCK: When you look, Mr. Cooper, at how successful Donald Trump has been through these primaries, winning in some cases by really commanding margins, does it occur to you that maybe you are out of step with Republican voters and he's tapping into something that needs to be paid attention to?

COOPER: There's absolutely no doubt that there is a frustration within this country. And I think that Republicans would certainly benefit from trying to understand why people have decided to express that frustration and anger by voting for Donald Trump. Unfortunately, if you look at his policy positions they don't match what people have wanted.

In fact, for the last several years the conservative movement and the Tea Party movement - the grassroots - have demanded that Republicans focus less about winning elections and more on putting our principles into action in Washington and stopping the liberal agenda. Right now, you generally are seeing the opposite of people saying well, let's just win the election even if that person's not a conservative.

So I think that there is some confusion that is caused by, frankly, a - you know, an Obama presidency that has angered a great deal of America. So I think Republicans should understand why that occurs, but that doesn't mean that they should try to mimic or copy Donald Trump's character issues or his policy positions. What they should be doing is trying to understand how they can better use conservatism and their principles to speak to those disaffected voters.

BLOCK: Rory Cooper is senior adviser to the Never Trump PAC. Mr. Cooper, thanks for talking with us.

COOPER: It's been my pleasure.

BLOCK: And you're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.