“It is extremely important that we all prepare for the next elections with a level of humility and a fresh outlook on what the political landscape will look like,” Petkanas added. “It would be a mistake to know for sure who is easier to beat than someone else. We’ve all seen this movie before and they sometimes have a crooked ending.
Officials working for Project Lincoln say they’re just practical – if not clever – about the new political climate, in which Trump is likely to be the GOP candidate anyway, and brass knuckles now the norm .
President Joe Biden even called one of the Lincoln Project’s co-founders Steve Schmidt after the 2020 election to thank him for the work of the group that helped him get elected, according to a familiar person. The White House made no comment.
But a year after delighting the Liberals with their insistence on bringing guns to a shootout, officers across the spectrum are now saying the group is at best ineffective and lavish at worst counterproductive. In particular, never-Trump brethren and moderate Republicans have recoiled at recent encouragement from Lincoln Project co-founder Rick Wilson to run for President Trump in 2024.
“I think this is the mother of bad ideas,” said conservative commentator and Trump critic Charlie Sykes. “But also the father, the brother, the sister and the cousin of a very bad idea. [It] ignore the fact that Trump might actually be reelected, and you would have thought we all learned our lesson by playing games with that possibility last time around.
Sarah Longwell, a Republican strategist and Trump critic who began defending democracy together, joined a chorus of other anti-Trump Republicans baffled by Wilson’s strategy.
“It would be a high impact event on our democracy if Trump were re-elected and you wanted to do all you could to prevent him from taking one more step,” Longwell said. “The best way to make sure Trump doesn’t win the 2024 election is to make sure he doesn’t become the candidate.”
In an interview with POLITICO, Wilson defended his position by saying that Trumpism is now a bigger problem than Trump himself. He pointed out his response on Twitter and added that the idea that he really wants the 45th president to run again is “laughable”.
“This is not what I want [Trump] being here, I wish it was eaten by a shark tomorrow, ”Wilson said. “I want Trump to rush to destroy people who are more sophisticated than Trump. I want to use Trump’s psychological issues to weaken him because I think the most dangerous thing we face is Trump with an Ivy League degree. All abrasive authoritarianism and nationalism and none of the obvious deficits. “
Project Lincoln was started in 2019 by a number of prominent Republican operatives who opposed Trump’s presidency and feared the direction their party was taking. They faced accusations of introspection and ineffectiveness, which they wholeheartedly rejected. And along the way, the group has raised tens of millions of dollars, in large part thanks to the splashing web and TV ads it ran to lash out at the incumbent president and his family. visceral and personal way.
The post-Trump presidency has been a more difficult time. The group has been rocked by allegations that co-founder John Weaver sexually harassed young men, and pointing fingers at the fallout has been going on for months. A law firm, Paul Hastings LLP, hired by the Lincoln Project found “no evidence that anyone at the Lincoln Project was aware of inappropriate communications with minors at any time prior to the publication of these reports.” Critics have questioned the independence of this investigation.
There are questions about who stays in the group and leads the day-to-day strategy. There have been internal frustrations over the resources spent on things like an online streaming show. After the scandal involving Weaver became public, one of the co-founders, Jennifer Horn, along with other officials or advisers Kurt Bardella, Ron Steslow, Mike Madrid and George Conway all resigned, with some publicly calling for the group to resign. is permanently closed.
Currently, the group’s website names co-founders Rick Wilson and Reed Galen, Tara Setmayer, Stuart Stevens and Steve Schmidt as being involved in the project, although it is not clear to what extent some remain involved. Two people close to the group said there had been internal tensions and disputes with Schmidt, who resigned from the Lincoln Project board after accusations of sexual misconduct against Weaver surfaced.
Ryan Wiggins, spokesperson for the Lincoln Project, said the streaming shows “bring together hundreds of thousands of viewers every week and provide a unique and innovative connection to our millions of supporters. Additionally, the podcast has over a million downloads / month.
“There is no doubt as to who manages the day-to-day or the strategy. Rick Wilson, Reed Galen, [Stuart] Stevens and Joe Trippi are leading the strategy. Daily life is managed by our incredible team. Anyone who doesn’t know isn’t spending their time watching and / or listening to us, ”Wiggins said.
Schmidt reappeared months later, swearing the group would continue to fight. But he also tore the organization apart for being “recklessly stupid” and “dishonest” for the stunt involving actors posing as white nationalist protesters from Charlottesville during an arrest by Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin.
A McAuliffe adviser acknowledged that the Lincoln Project’s gubernatorial ads were strong, but echoed Schmidt’s assessment, saying the Charlottesville waterfall had turned so spectacularly – at least in the social media bubble – that the group’s involvement was quite unnecessary.
More generally, Democrats who once viewed Project Lincoln as a useful addition to their efforts to defeat Trump now see the group as a larger distraction and campaign drain.
“When it started, I was like, ‘This is so awesome. I love it,” said Tim Lim, a veteran Democratic digital strategist. Now, Lim added, “most of the left don’t don’t know why they’re still there. It’s the prognosis story after story, and it was brutal for them.
With fewer allies and Trump out of the ballot, Project Lincoln suffered financially. In the first half of 2021, according to the most recent figures available, the group raised $ 4.8 million and spent $ 8.7 million, an extremely high burn rate. But digital strategists predicted that the organization, with its robust mailing list, could survive downward cycles. The idea that he has so far been able to withstand so many scandals and internal struggles has surprised people familiar with the dynamics, including many who believe Project Lincoln is long past its expiration point. .
Still, the group has a formidable online audience, with as many Twitter followers as the Republican National Committee with 2.7 million subscribers, for example. And those involved in the group say their day-to-day job and mission is just different without Trump on the ballot right now.
The group has argued its relevance by getting involved in raffle races. He tried, unsuccessfully, to tie Youngkin to Trump and attacked lawmakers who spread fraudulent lies during the election. But they also continued to attack the 45th president in a campaign he often describes as political psychological operations. The group has also aired commercials in Trump’s escapades in Bedminster, NJ and Palm Beach, Florida, taunting him, and they plan to play an active role in the upcoming midterm elections.
Although Trump has not officially announced his intention to participate in the 2024 race, Wilson said the group remains relevant because they understand “how to attack Trump’s vertical power structure within the Republican Party.”
“No one is here because it’s comfortable and fun or a great way to make new friends, we work hard against some really tough people and bad guys who spend a lot of money attacking us and the individuals around. inside the Lincoln Project, ”Wilson said. . “Are we perfect? Of course not and we have these mistakes, but what we are doing is filling a gap in the pro-democracy movement and showing people how to fight.
In interviews, two major Republican donors to the organization have defended his work, both claiming that the mere threat of Trump’s return to the national stage – and the likely impacts on American democracy itself – justifies their support. One pointed out that the Lincoln Project’s work on so-called mobile voters – college educated people and suburban women – goes far beyond TV and digital ads. But two agents familiar with his operations said he mostly survived on small donors, that massive mailing list and his ability to generate buzz on the internet.
Despite intense attention to shaking Trump, relatives of the former president say he was not moved by the recent Lincoln Project attacks. But he and his allies always enjoy digging into the organization.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Trump said the Lincoln Project was a “sad group.” “Democrats are abandoning the group not only because they have been woefully ineffective, but because they fear the last shoe may not have fallen. Ouch! “
There is an obvious personal interest in Trump’s world celebrating the problems of the Lincoln Project. But the general criticism – that the organization has turned away from its global mission and is embroiled in controversy – is shared elsewhere, including by those who participated. Now, some never-trumppers are wondering where their efforts fit in the Republican Party at large.
“As far as the ever-Trumpers go, that’s a problem, people like us are homeless, we have no influence in the party, and even the best who take a stand take huge political risks, like Liz Cheney, who wasn’t even a Trumper until Jan. 6, “said George Conway, former Lincoln Project leader and Trump voice critic.” Forming a third is a failure because research has all shown that a third would help. Trump So that’s a conundrum, and I don’t know how it’s going to play out.