Your house is on fire. Do you care who the firemen are? That is a central question of the 2020 election. Donald Trump has managed to do one thing no other president has done: Bring Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and progressives, boomers and millennials together in unprecedented numbers to try to defeat him in November. For Americans who believe [Trump]
the presidentis a raging threat to democracy, purity tests are out. Results are in. Which explains the spectacular rise of the Lincoln Project, a group of Republican Never Trumpers who have moved rent free into the president’s head. Their viral videos and tweets mocking his leadership, his intelligence and his patriotism — aimed both at Republican voters who are wavering and Trump himself — have attracted millions of dollars, via donors from both parties. About 90,000 people showed up for a virtual town hall last month. Lifelong Democrats are organizing fundraisers for the project.
The “Mourning in America” ad attacks Trump’s mismanagement of the coronavirus outbreak. “#TrumpIsNotWell” questions his mental and physical fitness. “Bounty” asks why Trump won’t confront Vladimir Putin about U.S. intelligence reports that Russia offered bounties for the killing of American soldiers in Afghanistan.
The ads are slick, scathing and more shocking than anything Joe Biden’s official campaign has produced. The newest release, “Wake Up,” is a dark comic satire about a coma victim hearing about Trump’s last three years. “Republicans, we need to wake up. This guy was in a coma. What’s your excuse?”
“Donald Trump is so completely at odds with every institution in America and so completely at odds with anything that the Republican Party allegedly stood for: the rule of law, constitutional fealty, institutions, norms, traditions, all of those things are out the window,” says Rick Wilson, a co-founder of the group. “So you’re either going to make a choice between Trump or this country.
Pick your motto: Politics makes strange bedfellows. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
“I’ll be really honest with you: My time horizon is the election,” says Charlie Sykes, a conservative political commentator who is not part of the Lincoln Project but wants to see Trump voted out. “I feel like the house is burning. I want to put out the fire. I’m going to worry about the redecorating later.”
“Trump is a narcissist and he cannot help but react to threats to his delicate psyche,” explains Conway. “He is a very sensitive, weak human being who cannot take criticism.” The other factor, he adds, is that “he can’t think ahead. He merely reacts to things. And what we do is take advantage of both of those psychological defects.”
[T]he Lincoln Project ads are specifically designed to trigger [Trump]
the president. Whenever Trump is reacting to a Lincoln Project ad, he’s talking about things he shouldn’t be talking about. He’s explaining why he inched down the ramp at the U.S. Military Academy, or drank water with two hands. He’s shooting off a tweet about the “Mourning in America” ad, thereby raising millions of dollars . . . for the Lincoln Project.
[W]ith a few dozen staffers churning out new videos overnight. “We don’t mess around,” says Wilson. “It’s this concept of moving faster than your enemy’s ability to decide to act in a battle.”
You can call it trolling, and it is: The Lincoln Project buys ad time in Washington and Bedminster for an audience of one. . . . . “The fact that we’re able to use his mental infirmity and addiction to television to freeze him and manipulate him serves a broader purpose for the overall campaign in terms of taking him off message, disorganizing and disorienting him.”
Their unique skill is talking to conservatives in a way that Democrats can’t, with techniques that they’ve honed over many Republican campaigns. They’re also targeting “soft” Republicans who may be persuadable — such as those who voted for Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016.
“The one thing you can’t get back in politics is time,” says Sykes. “Every day that goes by that Donald Trump is off his game or distracted is a win. He can’t fix that. He can’t go back and get it. What they found is that a single video can take the president of United States off track for a day or more and you see it play out.”
But you would be mistaken in believing the Lincoln Project was created to atone for past sins. Yes, there have been plenty of Republicans who have asked if their efforts over the past decades made a Trump presidency possible. . . . . [Trump] is “a natural product of the seeds of race, self-deception, and anger that became the essence of the Republican Party” over the past 50 years. “Trump isn’t an aberration of the Republican Party; he is the Republican Party in a purified form.”
Sarah Longwell, founder of Republican Voters Against Trump, . . . What’s she hearing? Things like, “I voted for Trump in 2016 and I cried and I felt I needed to take a shower” or “I’ve been watching him since I voted for him and I just can’t stand how divisive he is.”
Longwell, a lifelong Republican, admits she believed her party would stand up to Trump’s worst instincts. And she was wrong.
[U]ltimately, they’re all working for the same goal. And that goal, says conservative commentator Rick Tyler, means alliances with ideological opponents are important in the short term — especially with voters who feel left behind by today’s Republican Party. “There’s no philosophy,” he says. “There’s no belief. There’s no core. It’s just about Trump and his popularity.” The value of the Lincoln Project is that it keeps reminding voters of all persuasions why Trump shouldn’t be reelected.
“Right now you’ve got to kill the alligator closest to the boat, the one that’s going to kill you, and that is Donald Trump,” says Tyler.
“You can’t take your foot off the gas, but he’s going to lose and he’s going to lose big,” says Conway. “The reason why I’m confident of that is not because of the polls, but because of his essential nature, his self-destructive nature. He doesn’t know how to handle the current situation. He can’t lie his way out of it anymore. And if we keep the pressure on, keep doing what we’re doing, he’s going to dig himself deeper.”