The Lincoln Project, lately dubbed the revenge of the Never Trumpers, is not just targeting the worst president in our history. It's also targeting his enablers — the GOP'rs who have no backbone or conscience.
And the project, actually an anti-Trump super PAC formed in 2019, isn't just a bunch of disaffected nobodies.
They are George Conway, Steve Schmidt, John Weaver, Rick Wilson, Jennifer Horn, Ron Steslow, Reed Galen and Mike Madrid.
Conway is an attorney and the husband of Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway. Schmidt managed John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. Weaver oversaw McCain's presidential campaign in 2000 and served as a political strategist for George H.W. Bush. Wilson is a long-time media consultant and Republican strategist. Horn is a Republican operative and former chairwoman of the New Hampshire Republican Party. Steslow is a marketing strategist and political consultant. Galen is an independent political consultant who worked with both George W. Bush and McCain. Madrid is a former political director for the California Republican Party.
These are long-time movers and shakers in the Republican Party. Repeat, the Republican Party — not the Trump Party. And their stated goal from the get-go was to ensure Trump is not re-elected. These also are folks with consciences. Remember the McCain who in a debate refused to allow a questioner to mislabel his opponent Barack Obama? Today we have a president who began his political career with the Obama 'birther' lie.
Wilson, a frequent guest on news shows, told CNN recently that The Lincoln Project wants "to save the country from a president who has hollowed out the old GOP like a parasite from the inside out."
Wilson says the group's founders are using their 120 years of collective political experience on behalf of the Republican Party to make "a meaningful difference: "We believe it's vital to put our country and the security of our country over the partisan instincts that we normally would have stuck with as Republicans."
They aren't just anti-Trump. They are explicit in their support for Joe Biden and their intention to defeat not only Trump but Trumpism.
With about 30 employees about $16.8 million they've raised just this quarter, they are expanding to include ground operations to coordinate more than 2,500 volunteers in Michigan. They also are targeting Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
They already are airing region-specific ads against Graham and Collins, and a national spot about all the Trump yes-men and women in the Senate.
You've probably also seen some of their jaw-dropping ads targeting Trump himself — some aimed not just at moving disaffected Republicans but also designed clearly to needle the president, like the 45-second spot that focused on Trump's health, showing his halting walk down a ramp at West Point. It worked. As if on cue, Trump went off script in Tulsa for nearly 15 minutes, rambling childishly about his West Point performance.
In early May the group released an ad titled "Mourning in America" pulling heart-strings about the more than 60,000 Americans who had, at that time, died "from the deadly virus Donald Trump ignored." In late May, they released another one: "100,000 dead Americans. One wrong president." That ad begins with a shot of seven white body bags and the voice of Trump at a February press briefing as he dismisses the COVID-19 virus and says the nation's cases will soon be "close to zero."
The president's last three words — "close to zero" — echo over and over as the camera zooms out to reveal row upon row of red, white and blue body bags in the shape of an American flag.
Democratic operative James Carville recently told MSNBC host Brian Williams that Democrats should watch and learn.
"Let me tell you, the Lincoln group and the Bulwark, these Never-Trumper Republicans — the Democrats could learn a lot from them. They're mean. They fight hard. And we don't fight like that," Carville said.
But there's another good thing to glean. The mood of these Republicans with consciences may reflect a broader trend in American politics that we hope might reshape a post-Trump America toward the cooperative and less partisan political landscape we all say we want.
Biden already is benefiting from an unusually broad coalition. Conservative activist William Kristol has formed a speak-out group called Republican Voters Against Trump, and John Kasich is expected to speak at the Democratic convention.
As CNN has noted, if Biden wins, organizations like The Lincoln Project will have new influence and options. But unlike most other influencers who helped elect him, those from The Lincoln Project, et al, are conservatives.
What's more, if Trump loses badly and brings the GOP down with him, these conservative leaders will have staked out a political space to be at ground zero for building a new — and needed — Republican Party. Perhaps one with a conscience.