By now, even the most politically-neutral Americans know about the Lincoln Project. This is the group of former Republicans who are now anti-Trump conservative media whizzes. In protest against Trump’s dictatorial leanings, the Lincoln Project lobbed everything but the kitchen sink at Trump’s campaign. Did the relentless negative ads move the needle to persuade disaffected Republicans to vote for Biden?
Leading this pack of ex-GOP strategists is Steve Schmidt and disgruntled lawyer and Kellyanne Conway’s spouse, George Conway. The original Lincoln Project group of eight members also worked on media campaigns for George W. Bush and Rudy Giuliani.
These hard-nosed Republicans know what it means to play hardball. This year, LP ads were everywhere. The Lincoln Project ads were in turn deadly earnest, hilariously sarcastic, and full of hope. They were especially prominent in every U.S. market during breaks throughout Fox and Friends, Trump’s favorite show. Seeing those ads with their scathing attacks was bound to get under Trump’s thin skin.
Now, Joe Biden is the president-elect but most Republicans can’t bring themselves to see Trump as a loser. Last week, Schmidt pointed to a lack of evidence in Trump’s allegations of voter fraud. Schmidt told Newsweek that Republican silence in the face of such lying is a “disgrace.” He also said, Trump’s inability to “look in the mirror and say ‘we lost,’” digs at the heart of America’s democratic process.
So, how did it come to this that born-and-bred Republicans would commit themselves to ousting their party’s leader? The general feeling is that today’s Republican Party did a 360 by going against its traditional conservative values.
As John Weaver, another LP co-founder explained on 60 Minutes in October, “We’ve gone from caring about character, rule of law, defending the constitution, a cogent national security policy, free trade. Where are all those issues?”
The Lincoln Project admits that the Great Republican Transformation didn’t start with Donald Trump. Schmidt candidly points to John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as one catalyst for the political shift. “The category of people that we have seen in our politics over the last decade or so, from Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz, to Sarah Palin is part of the reason the country’s politics are such a disaster.”
In 2018, McCain owned up to his disastrous undertaking of choosing Palin. Weaver told Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes that instead of being an enlightened pick, McCain made an error in judgment. Weaver lamented, “It was a reality TV choice.“
Once Republicans followed down that partisan Golden Brick Road, there was no turning back. Sarah Palin opened Pandora’s Box allowing the Freedom Caucus to emerge in 2015. More than anything, the new Republican Party basked in a style that was both audacious and over-the-top confrontational.
Today, you’re either “for” or “against” — there’s no middle ground. (This attitude also dogs the Democratic Party but that’s a discussion for another time.) By airing Republican dirty laundry, members of the Lincoln Project are, at least for now, exiled from their party. Having nothing to lose, they went all out against Trump. But, despite the relentless negative ads, did their efforts move the needle against the president?
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez aka AOC slammed the Lincoln Project’s efforts as not persuasive enough for disaffected Republicans to latch onto. AOC took to Twitter to lambast the group about the more than $67,000 the Lincoln Project raised to go up against Trump. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez complained that “It’s not too late for them to do the right thing. Lincoln Project should…publicly pledge to give a lot of their fundraising to the people who actually made a big difference.”
No doubt, it’s a sticky wicket for the Lincoln Project. They’re not Democrats and they’re not really Republicans, either. It’s a hard choice.
Moving forward, will the Lincoln Project continue to run up against Republicans who are stylistically at least, close to Trump? Or, will the Lincoln Project do a complete about-face, join the Democratic Party, and support Biden?
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