The Lincoln Project has become a powerful force in the evolving presidential campaign. It was founded by George Conway, Rick Wilson, Steve Schmidt, John Weaver, Jennifer Horn, Reed Galen, Mike Madrid, and Ron Steslow. They and their closest associates are a mix of Republican media consultants, campaign organizers and party regulars who have worked vigorously for both Bushes, Romney, McCain and numerous governors. Three have headed the state parties in New Hampshire, California, and Washington, and many are currently employed in mass media such as the Washington Post, CNN, USA-Today, The Week, the Daily Beast, and MSNBC.
The evocation of the legacy of Abraham Lincoln was chosen to emphasize the Lincolns’ view that President Trump and his sycophants have governed with such authoritarian malice that a second Trump administration would endanger American democracy. The project has created a website that provides details abouts its orientation, leading personalities, sample videos, podcasts, and commentary on breaking news. The project’s mission statement is explicit: “Defeat President Trump and Trumpism at the ballot box. Our many policy differences with national Democrats remain. However, the priority for all patriotic Americans must be a shared fidelity to the Constitution and a commitment to defeat those candidates who have abandoned their constitutional oaths, regardless of party. Electing Democrats who support the Constitution over Republicans who do not is a worthy effort.”
The project’s perspective is being asserted in scathing television ads, podcasts, and social media. Traditional Republicans, independents, and disaffected Democrats who voted for Trump in 2016 are being urged to switch to Biden, a third party, or leave the presidential line blank even when voting a Republican ticket. The Lincolns believe their efforts can swing the 10%-20% of these voters needed to oust Trump.
Rather than a fifty-state effort, they have targeted four major swing states, three possibly fIippable Republican states, and two Democratic states where Biden could use additional firepower. States that are strongholds for one party, such as Indiana (Republican) and New York (Democrat), are being bypassed.
The Lincoln Project does not coordinate its efforts with those of the Democratic party or single-issue groups. Rather than speak of Biden’s qualifications, the Lincolns concentrate on what Trump has said, done poorly, and failed to do. The task of grass roots mobilization of voters has been left for others.
The Lincoln Project is well funded. In the second quarter of 2020 it raised $16.8 million. Approximately 45% of this total came from individual contributions of $200 or less. This sum supplemented larger donations by a wide range of contributors that included conservatives tied to entities like Walmart, independents in Silicon Valley, and Hollywood-connected Democrats.
Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Florida, states Trump won narrowly in 2016, are prime targets. At this point, Michigan seems to be firmly in the Biden camp. Pennsylvania also is leaning to Biden. Wisconsin is more problematic but recent state elections have swept Trump supporters from office. In Florida, the make-or-break state in several recent elections, Trump has grown consistently weaker. A big shift has been that seniors who went for Trump by 13 points in 2016 are now polled as being pro-Biden by 10 or more points. All else being unchanged, that would give the state and likely the presidency to Biden.
Texas, Georgia, and Arizona have been solidly for Republican presidential candidates for decades, but the gap between the parties has been narrowing. The Lincolns believe their efforts could wipe out the existing gaps and perhaps swing one or more states to Biden. In any case, their initiative will make Trump spend time and money in states he otherwise would have taken for granted.
Although New Hampshire and Virginia were carried by the Democrats in 2016, the Lincolns aim to shore up Biden’s position in both states. Many Republicans in Virginia work directly or indirectly for the federal government. The Lincolns aim to remind such voters how severely their lives were affected by Trump’s two dubious governmental shutdowns, each of which lasted over thirty days.
While three months remain before the election, Trump’s numbers currently are at the level of incumbent presidents who failed to be re-elected. Trump has concentrated his political actions and honed his message in ways he believes will rally his hard-core supporters. In contrast, the Lincolns are taking aim at Trump’s soft-core supporters who may have buyer’s remorse. Trump’s colossal mishandling of the COVID-19 epidemic and the accompanying economic chaos have provided unexpected fodder for the Lincolns.
The Lincoln Project is not a traditional caucus led by an individual with a multi-faceted political agenda. If Trump is ousted, the Lincoln Project will likely dissolve. Depending on the scope of a Trump defeat, the Republican Party would be left to re-examine its present orientation and desired constituencies.