Volume 6       Number 282    

Since the election of Donald Trump, opponents had been lamenting the lack of opposition from within the Republican Party. Leaders have either kowtowed, like Senators Marco Rubio (FL), Ted Cruz (TX), and Susan Collins (ME), or chosen not to run in 2018, like Senators Jeff Flake (AZ) and Bob Corker (TN), and Representative Paul Ryan (WI). Or we have Senator John McCain (AZ), who died in office.

The cupboard of internal opposition to Trump’s earth-shaking presidency had become increasingly bare. That is until, lo and behold, after almost three years of his barbaric presidency, on December 17, 2019, the Lincoln Project was announced in The New York Times editorial page by its co-founders George Conway, Steve Schmidt, John Weaver, and Rick Wilson. They are all either current or former Republican operatives, and were joined by another four outspoken, notable Republicans: Jennifer Horn, Ron  Steslow, Reed Galen, and Mike Madrid. The fact that George Conway is the husband of White House advisor Kellyanne Conway, drew some attention right off the bat.

                                           Lincoln-Trump cartoon

                                                                                           Image by Mike Luckovich

The goal of this political action committee is simple: to prevent the reelection of Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election and defeat his supporters in the United States Senate. In their Times manifesto they said, “The 2020 general election, by every indication, will be about persuasion. Our efforts are aimed at persuading disaffected conservatives, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in swing states and districts. As for the name, we look to Lincoln as our guide and inspiration.” Their call words are “Never-Trump”. In April 2020, the committee announced their endorsement of former Vice President Joe Biden for the presidency.

By the end of June 2020, the Lincoln Project had raised $20 million, mostly they say from donations of $50 and $100. They use it to quickly react to the news cycle with rapidly produced, no-holds-barred direct attacks on Trump, often hanging him on his own words.

As former Republican political strategists, this group thinks they have the best idea of how Trump and his associates think. And they want to get into Trump’s head. For example, their limited television buys have been centered on swing states such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, as well as New Jersey and Washington DC, making it clear that their aim is to get many of their ads in the face of Trump himself, perhaps with the idea of getting him “off his rails”. They specifically spent a heavy $2.4 million on TV in early July, some of it in Washington DC on Fox News where it was sure to be seen by their most famous viewer—the president himself.

The tone of the ads themselves are dark, the way standard Republican accusatory ads are, the kind traditionally used against Democrats. Many of their ads are digital, never reaching television screens. A lot of money has been spent on ads like this one, posted on Twitter, following the president’s commutation of the sentence of former campaign associate Roger Stone:

Trump’s campaign manager is a felon.

His deputy campaign manager is a felon.

His national security advisor is a felon.

His foreign policy advisor is a felon.

His personal lawyer is a felon.

His long-time advisor is a felon.

It’s not a campaign, it’s a criminal enterprise.

Then, when he had difficulty walking down a ramp at the West Point graduation where he spoke, this resulted in the #TrumpIsNot Well” ad. This so agitated the president that on the next day, at the June 20 rally in Tulsa, he spent 15 minutes discussing his ability to walk down a ramp and to drink water (being shown having difficulty and finally using two hands to hold a glass). Still another mocked the small size of the Tulsa rally saying, “You’ve probably heard this before, but it was smaller than we expected.”

Sometimes the Lincoln Project ads go deeper than the Democrats are even willing to do. A hard-hitting ad accuses Trump of being played by China and ends with a photo of the White House entirely tinted red. And one ad implied that Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager, was using campaign funds to enrich himself. This resulted in Parscale getting canned, probably because the president couldn’t abide anyone making dough around him where he didn’t get a cut.

They have even gone on the warpath for Trump’s handling of the pandemic outbreak, blaming him for the deaths of thousands of “our greatest generation”. They attribute the many deaths of veterans who reside in senior citizen homes to his mishandling of the crisis.

One, that has showed that the strategy is working, was one called “Mourning in America”, playing off President Reagan’s 1984 reelection ad. It asked, “If we have another four years like this, will there be an America?” The president saw it, because he tweeted “group of RINO Republicans who failed badly 12 years ago, then again 8 years ago, and then got BADLY beaten by me, a political first timer, 4 years ago” are “doing everything possible to get even for all of their many failures.” (RINO is shorthand for “Republican in name only”.)

The president then called out members of the group individually, adding, “They’re all LOSERS, but Abe Lincoln, Republican, is all smiles!” This resulted in the Lincoln Project getting $1.4 million dollars in donations after the president’s tweets, proving the strategy of getting the president’s goat is working. It also suggests that not all 55 million Trump Twitter readers are fans of the president.

Surprisingly, there are those who oppose the Lincoln Project because they attribute it to a Republican conceit that by defeating Trump the Republican Party can go back to “normal.” Critics of the Lincoln Project argue that the problem is much deeper than Trump. It is pointed out that “normal” been festering maliciousness, deceit and disingenuousness within the Republican Party for over 60 years.

  • It started in 1968 with Richard M. Nixon and his campaign for Southern “states’ rights”, a code for encouraging discriminatory practices at the state level.
  • Then there was Ronald Reagan in 1972, who kicked off his campaign for the presidency in a little-known town of Philadelphia, MI, only known for the killing of civil rights workers.
  • This was followed in 1988 by George HW Bush racially attacking his Democratic opponent Michael Dukakis for having furloughed a Black prisoner, who proceeded to kill a woman, when Dukakis was governor of Massachusetts.
  • Then there was Newt Gingrich in the mid- nineties, who planted the seeds for not cooperating or compromising with the Democrats on anything.
  • There was the 2013 extremist Tea Party segment within the Republican Party, shutting down the government with the aid of Ted Cruz.
  • And of course, Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader from Kentucky, who made it his No.1 priority, starting in 2010, to defeat anything proposed by President Barack Obama and ultimately to defeat him.

All this led up to the administration of Donald J. Trump, who has carried the Republican mean-spiritedness toward decency and fairness to new heights, with an administration built on divisiveness and malice toward just about every minority group you can think of.

The Lincoln Project is certainly a bold and audacious movement that has added spice to the 2020 election. How effective is it? Well, the Lincoln Project has succeeded in getting the attention of the president and a lot of other people as well.

Is it an effective vehicle to move voters into the Democratic column? That’s anyone’s guess. Certainly, it won’t resonate with the hardcore Trump Republicans. There isn’t any real evidence that it has affected conservatives, borderline Trump voters and independents. But there are still months to go before the election. It may be that the Lincoln Project leaders will still move the voter column with new messages that are just the thing that voters will be thinking of as they approach the voting booth or prepare to fill out an absentee ballot.

Those who dismiss the Lincoln Project fear that the Republican Party with Trump has sold its soul to the devil. The new “normal”, they feel, will be a Trump clone. That might be so, but maybe there would be a Democratic president and Congress to suppress them. And, maybe along the line the “Never-Trump” segment will gain momentum in the Republican Party and bring about a “new normal” built on reasonable conservative values.

We can hope, can’t we?

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

–A. Lincoln

Contact Stolzie