How Turning Point, once spurned by the RNC, is becoming Trump’s ‘force multiplier’ in battleground states

DETROIT — When Donald Trump takes the stage in Detroit on Saturday, it will mark the second time in two weeks that he has headlined an event organized by Turning Point Action — a group known for its growing political heft as well as its pugilistic founder, Charlie Kirk.

It’s a longstanding partnership tying Trump to a lightning-rod commentator who’s made headlines this year for saying women in their 30s are “not at their prime” for dating, and volunteering that he now thinks twice about flying with Black pilots because of diversity, equity and inclusion targets.

But it has also armed Trump’s presidential campaign, lagging in fundraising and organization in the battleground states, with a powerful operational ally.

Once spurned by top officials at the Republican National Committee, Turning Point’s stature has rapidly grown from a controversial student movement into one of the most active organizations in conservative politics.

Now, Turning Point is pouring tens of millions of dollars into an ambitious get-out-the-vote operation in three battleground states, making the 2024 election a major test of the organization’s operations — with ramifications not only for Kirk and his organization, but for Trump and the GOP at large.

“They’re very influential,” said Jay Shepard, the RNC committee member from Vermont. “Effective? That depends on what your measurement is. They are certainly a messaging juggernaut and fundraising juggernaut.”

While lauding the organization’s large number of “boots on the ground,” he said, “The real test is always the day after the election, and who wins and who loses.”

Turning Point has been a controversial presence in GOP politics for years, with millions of Kirk’s listeners tuning in to hear his rebukes of feminism, diversity initiatives and college campus progressivism. But no longer is the group just loud. Now, after filling a few dozen seats on the RNC with allies and spending tens of millions of dollars on an aggressive get-out-the-vote program this year, it has become a central player in the party apparatus — especially as some older, more traditional activist groups have seen their influence in the party wane.

The group’s field program is a “force multiplier” of the Trump team’s resources in key battleground states, said Brian Hughes, a senior adviser on Trump’s campaign. It’s part of recent collaborations between the campaign, RNC and outside groups following a recent FEC advisory opinion that allows coordination.

“We’ve always known there would be, ultimately, a fundraising gap between Biden and the DNC and Trump and the RNC,” Hughes said.

While maintaining that Trump’s team is building out its infrastructure in every battleground state, he said partnerships like the one with Turning Point allow them to “more efficiently deploy campaign and RNC assets.”

It’s a stark contrast to the RNC’s position toward the organization at the start of the year, when then-chair Ronna McDaniel had long viewed Turning Point as a nuisance to be ignored, and Kirk openly called for her removal. The Trump campaign welcomed Turning Point in when it took over the RNC, with Trump calling on McDaniel to leave her post just days after the organization held a meeting in January to bash her leadership. Some RNC members were among the attendees at the weekend conference in Detroit, and attended an exclusive dinner Turning Point Action held for them Friday night.

Through a spokesperson, Kirk declined to be interviewed.

A Trump campaign official aware of Kirk’s relationship with the former president and granted anonymity to describe it said the pair have a “warm” relationship, speak on occasion and “share a like mind for the common sense conservative cause.”

McDaniel was not the only Republican who viewed Turning Point with skepticism. Oscar Brock, the RNC committee member from Tennessee who is a vocal Trump critic but who found himself on the same side as Turning Point when he opposed McDaniel’s 2023 reelection as RNC chair, said he has worked well with members aligned with the group, including Arizona committeeman Tyler Bowyer, a top Turning Point official. Bowyer, who did not seek reelection to the RNC this year, was among 18 indicted in Arizona in April in connection with an alleged alternate elector scheme after the 2020 election. He has pleaded not guilty.

But Brock said the Turning Point brand itself comes across as “all about making money.”

“They raised a ton of money, and then they turn around and poo poo and badmouth the Republican Party left and right until they get a seat at the table,” Brock said. “It’s just not the way you operate, in my opinion.”

Turning Point’s dominance in Republican activism comes as the most powerful conservative groups of recent decades have lost their pull, bleeding money and hanging room dividers across sparsely filled convention ballrooms.

Once-mighty groups like CPAC and the NRA have endured leadership scandals in recent years. Longtime economic policy influencers like the Koch Network and Club for Growth have found themselves at odds with Trump, and top anti-abortion groups are now fighting for relevance as Trump has moved to distance his platform from their initiatives.

Turning Point has rushed in to fill the void. It’s placing allies on the RNC. It has spent tens of millions of dollars so far this election, according to a spokesperson, on hiring hundreds of field staff in Arizona, Wisconsin and Michigan.

And Turning Point’s approach to social issues and domestic life — its online shop features women’s shirts like “Got raw milk?” and “Buy me chickens and tell me I’m pretty” — appears to have resonated with a young generation of conservatives, thousands of whom travel from around the country for the organization’s highly produced events.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that Turning Point has really stolen a march, so to speak, on a lot of the conservative movement,” said Gregg Keller, who a decade ago served as executive director of the American Conservative Union and CPAC.

Just last week, Turning Point hosted Trump at a megachurch in Phoenix for a live “Chase the Vote” town hall, where the line of people hoping to enter exceeded the venue’s capacity. They held a Young Women’s Leadership Conference in San Antonio, featuring prominent speakers like Megyn Kelly, Candace Owens and Lara Trump. The same weekend, Turning Point Action’s field representatives were scattered across the country, holding an Ohio Faith Coalition kickoff event outside of Dayton, while staff in Georgia registered voters at a rodeo.

It’s all complementary programming to Turning Point Action’s larger mission this year of acting as “America’s ballot chasing army,” a plan in which the group is deploying hundreds of staff per state in Arizona, Wisconsin and Michigan, in addition to the existing staff they already had in other states across the country.

The ballot chasing plan was originally announced as a $108 million goal to get out the vote, and fundraising is ongoing. The new hires are assigned to small, custom-drawn territories where Turning Point Action has determined there are several hundred conservative low-propensity voters who need urging to get to the polls this fall.

Andrew Kolvet, a spokesperson for Turning Point, said the group’s internal data show that engaged swing voters may need up to 20 interactions to convince them to show up and vote Republican, but low-propensity voters only take five.

“Previously, the consultant class would go to swing districts to try to win. We’re saying ‘No.’ The philosophy is fundamentally different,” Kolvet said. “We want to run up the score where people already like our ideas and our values.”

In Arizona, for example, where Kirk and the organization are based, Kolvet said their research found that a substantial number of registered Republican voters didn’t vote in either the 2016 or 2020 elections. In GOP Rep. Paul Gosar’s district, more than 121,000 Republicans didn’t vote in one of the last two presidential elections, and more than 58,000 voted in neither.

Keller, who previously worked with CPAC, said Kirk “took a really calculated gamble on the MAGA populism angle,” which paid off.

“I think Charlie was the right person at the right place at the right time who made the correct prognostication,” he said. “And when you get all of those things together at once, it’s like catching lightning in a bottle.”

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