The Lincoln Project: Its Founders, Its Ads and Its Impact

National Freedom Day, National Freedom Day meaning, Abraham Lincoln Memorial

The Linocln Memorial in 2001. (Getty)

The Lincoln Project is a conservative-led political action committee dedicated to removing President Trump from office, according to its homepage. The committee has released several ads casting Trump in a negative light and at least one of its founders, George Conway, has questioned Trump’s behavior, judgement and mental wellness via Twitter.

According to the Lincoln Project’s website:

Today, we find ourselves divided again – sectionalism in the country and factionalism in government has led to ever uglier examples of how our political system is failing. President Donald Trump and those who sign onto Trumpism are a clear and present danger to the Constitution and our Republic. Only defeating so polarizing a character as Trump will allow the country to heal its political and psychological wounds and allow for a new, better path forward for all Americans.

The PAC was announced by Conway, Steve Schmidt, Rick Wilson and John Weaver in December 2019 in a New York Times article, where the four offered a scathing review of Trump’s efficacy as commander-in-chief: “Mr. Trump fails to meet the bar for this commitment. He has neither the moral compass nor the temperament to serve. His vision is limited to what immediately faces him — the problems and risks he chronically brings upon himself and for which others, from countless contractors and companies to the American people, ultimately bear the heaviest burden.”

However, the founders were clear to state that their opposition of Trump is constitutional, not ideologically driven: “We have been, and remain, broadly conservative (or classically liberal) in our politics and outlooks. Our many policy differences with national Democrats remain, but our shared fidelity to the Constitution dictates a common effort.”

There’s even a disclaimer underneath their bylines, which states, “The authors have worked for and supported Republican campaigns.”

Still, as conservatives, the four have consistently criticized Trump’s handling of various issues, including questions of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, impeachment, former Trump attorney general’s “zero-tolerance” border policy of separating children from their families (which has since been retracted) and the president’s handling of multiple natural disasters from hurricanes to the current coronavirus pandemic.

Here’s a quick rundown of the Lincoln Project:

These Are the Lincoln Project Founders

Getty/Wikimedia CommonsSteve Schmidt (top left), George Conway (top right), Rick Wilson (bottom left), John Weaver (bottom right)

One of the things that makes the Lincoln Project so unique is that its run entirely by self-professed ideological conservatives who are also Never-Trumpers.

There’s Conway who is a Washington Post columnist and the husband of Kellyanne Conway, a counselor and spokesperson for Trump who has been accused of lying to the public, violating the Hatch Act (according to the Office of Special Counsel, she did so by “disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity…”) and coining the phrase “alternative facts.”

According to their New York Times piece, Steve Schmidt worked for President George W. Bush, Senator John McCain and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as a political strategist. One of Schmidt’s most recent tweets was regarding an interview Trump conducted with Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace, where Schmidt wrote the following: “Trump was stripped bare and exposed this morning as the incompetent and mendacious buffoon that he is. “It is what it is” shows how sick and callous he is. He is a grotesque and abominable man. He is also weak, brittle and self pitying. He is the antithesis of manly virtue.”

John Weaver is a long-time Republican strategist who worked for McCain as well as President George H.W. Bush, Gov. John Kasich, Gov. Rick Snyder and Gov. Jon Huntsman, according to Ballotpedia. In a Washington Post article, Weaver said he is not only focused on defeating Trump, but improving the GOP as a party and reducing voter suppression, saying that it would force the party to “actually compete for votes” and that the GOP would be “the better party for the country if everyone participates.”

Rick Wilson is a former Republican media consultant and an author who has recently written two books about Trump: “Running Against the Devil” and “Everything Trump Touches Dies.” According to a New York Magazine report, Wilson said, “We’re working to play into Donald Trump’s whole portfolio, the constellation of psychological weaknesses that Trump displays every day. And every time we’re able to do that, it takes his campaign off track, costs him time, money, and space in the electorate.”

The Lincoln Project’s Ads

One of the Lincoln Project’s biggest investments has been in ads, with which, the New York Post said, the group has used to “needle President Trump repeatedly.”

In his New York Magazine podcast, Wilson said that they come up with the ads quickly, some of which are for that very reason: “Some of the ads are for an audience of one — psychological warfare with Donald Trump,” he said. “Those ads are very much meant to disrupt his campaign at a meaningful level.”

Here are a couple of the ads the project has released:

“Mourning in America” described the country as weaker, sicker and poorer than ever:

In response, Trump tweeted at 12:46 a.m., lashing out at Conway:

In March, the project released “Grifters: Episode One,” an ad targeting Trump’s children and accusing him of using the presidency to benefit him; a woman’s doing an impression of Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, narrates the article, referring to Trump as “daddy,” and saying “cha-ching.”

“Wall” was posted to YouTube July 18, points out that more than 140,000 people have died from coronavirus, and implies that their death will be used to pay for his border wall:

The ad, “How It Starts,” was posted to YouTube July 19. The video describes Trump as a “president out of control,” and shows images of unmarked militarized police in violent confrontations with protesters, before announcing Trump’s potential re-election – in comic-book style lettering – as the beginning of “how freedom dies.”

The most recent ad, “Trumpfield,” ads a laugh track to Trump’s responses during his interview with Chris Wallace:

The Impact of The Lincoln Project

The project has been attacked by both conservatives, liberals and questioned in the media.

A New York Post article implied that Weaver almost took money for a shady lobbying gig, described Wilson as having money woes and slammed Schmidt for not voting (despite Schmidt saying he voted by mail in the last two elections). The magazine said none of the members commented in time for the story, but Schmidt later tweeted about it, calling it a “hit piece.”

Trump called the group a disgrace and many conservatives have condemned its purpose.

And in a Washington Post editorial, Weaver tackled the suspicion of some ideological liberals who suggest the Lincoln Project is merely an attempt to rebrand conservatism while its underpinnings remain the same, or as the author put it, “But how deep does this commitment to democracy really run? One test is whether the Lincoln Project is breaking permanently with the GOP embrace of voter suppression, gerrymandering and other anti-democratic tactics.”

“Weaver insisted the break is genuine. He told me the Lincoln Project is committed to ensuring that the ‘drive-by Jim Crowism in many parts of the country is put to an end.’”

Wilson was even more unequivocal, telling New York Magazine:

The simplest thing in the world for me to have done, way back in 2016, would have been to shut up. I would have still made a whole lot more money than I did on two best-selling books if I had just shut my mouth. Instead, I grew a soul. So we’re in this fight. Now, the second part of this equation, criticism from the right, that’s very simple: We’ve burned our boats. There is no Republican Party for us to go home to. There’s no Burkey and conservative movement left in this country. The party has been so thoroughly, utterly compromised and destroyed by Donald Trump. If tomorrow Donald Trump and Mike Pence got eaten by wolves and you said, “Hey, Rick, reconstitute the Republican Party.” I’d say no.

The group seems to have admittedly changed from its roots of merely getting Trump out of office. That list of those whom the group wants to unseat include all Trump-supporting candidates and at least one member of the group is also advocating for the rebuilding of the Republican platform to attract more Black, Latino and Asian voters.

If nothing else, the group appears to be saving up for the endgame: Nov. 3. And at nearly $20 million strong, said they want to be part of a resounding backlash against “Trumpism”:

“You know what? Biden’s campaign and a lot of other groups have tuned up their edge. And if we’re leading the way on that at all, I’m proud to say we don’t bring any dull knives to this fight,” Wilson said.

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