After three years in office, President Donald Trump is widely regarded as a public menace—and threat to our democracy.
The president has blood on his hands because of his incompetent handling of Covid-19 crisis, which so far has afflicted more than 5.7 million people and killed over 175,000.
The economy is a shambles with mass unemployment unseen since the Great Depression, millions facings eviction, worsening economic inequality, the permanent disappearance of jobs and families flocking to food banks.
Our survival as a democracy depends on the defeat of Trump.
We watched as right-wing racists marched through Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 holding torches while waving swastikas and Confederate flags.
These neo-Nazis chanted “Jews will not replace us.” And Trump–whose international political brothers include authoritarian leaders like President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, and Philippine strongman Rodrigo Duterte–called them “good people.”
Later, Trump gave armed militias the green light to descend on state capitols. Carrying AK-47s, the armed goons demanded state legislators reopen the economy—and we witnessed the harm that’s done to our health.
Trump’s attack on the U.S. Postal Service is but the latest of our democratically-elected authoritarian president’s plot to steal the election.
Yet with Trump’s threat to democracy so clear and his poor track record on public health and the economy so apparent, some progressives and leftists are finding it necessary to attack anti-Trump Republicans and former members who are coalescing around The Lincoln Project, which is waging a relentless, effective and, yes, entertaining media campaign against the president.
It is no surprise that The Lincoln Project-has provoked howls of betrayal by Republican loyalists and Trump lackies.
But progressives should welcome The Lincoln Project into the broad coalition that is forming to kick Trump out of office.
The Left’s Political Malpractice
For progressives to loudly criticize the group out of a fear that it will become a powerful conservative influence on Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential campaign is a major political mistake. You might even say it amounts to political malpractice or political suicide.
A typical take on The Lincoln Project is one by the left/progressive ragingchicken.org media site founded by Kevin Mahoney.
“The Democratic Party Convention has come and gone,” raigingchicken.org commented recently, complaining that the party’s invitation to Republicans to the convention was a sign that the rebels are already winning influence.
“Looks like the Lincoln Project’s efforts to convince establishment Democrats to lead to the right have had an impact. I’m not sure that the Republican Convention will have as many Republicans as the Democrats did.”
“Progressives would do well to keep a skeptical eye on the Lincoln Project,” Jeet Heer warned in a July article in The Nation. “These ads should be seen as an attempt to stake a claim in Joe Biden’s victory so that if he becomes president he’ll give hawkish Republicans a seat at the table.”
“Everyone realizes the entire Lincoln Project/Never
Trump GOP stuff is all designed to make sure that after Trump loses, America is owned by Bush/Cheney Republicans and Wall St Demos. While progressives are cancelled…right?,” David Sirota, an advisor to Bernie Sanders, tweeted on July 7. “Everyone gets that, right? Just checking.”
The alarm on the Left suggests that the Lincoln rebels constitute a Trojan Horse, reactionary conspiracists plotting to become a conservative bloc within the Democratic Party.
But we believe the concern is misguided.
Progressives should instead embrace The Lincoln Project, whose avalanche of powerful political ads against the president provide strong ammunition for his defeat. The ads have hit Trump for his lack of leadership, playing loose with the truth, doing nothing about the Russian bounty on American troops, subservience to Russian President Vladimir Putin, weak China policy, and calling for a boycott of Goodyear.
Rather than wasting time debating whether the group will drive the Biden campaign to the right, progressives should use their time more productively by helping The Lincoln Project’s scathing—and effective–ads go viral. The group plans to sink $30 million in its effort to oust Trump and some of his allies in the U.S. Senate, including Susan Collins of Maine.
Getting Under Trump’s Skin
It was quite clear from the beginning that if nothing else The Lincoln Project’s media warfare would get under the president’s skin. Its first ad, titled “Mourning in America,” struck a nerve by suggesting that Trump has betrayed the legacy of Ronald Regan, whose sunny “Morning in America” campaign is widely regarded as a model for effective political advertising.
“A group of RINO Republicans who failed badly 12 years ago, then again 8 years ago, and then got BADLY beaten by me, a political first timer, 4 years ago, have copied (no imagination) the concept of an ad from Ronald Reagan, “Morning in America”, doing everything possible to get even for all of their many failures,” Trump tweeted in response to the ad.
Who is behind The Lincoln Project?
The founders of the Lincoln Project include Steve Schmidt, a political strategist who worked for President George W. Bush, Sen. John McCain and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and is now a political commentator for MSNC; John Weaver, Republican strategist, who worked for President George H.W. Bush, Sen. John McCain and Gov. John Kasich; Reed Galen, who worked for George W. Bush’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns; conservative lawyer George T. Conway III, and Rick Wilson, a Republican media consultant and author of “Everything Trump Touches Dies” and the forthcoming “Running Against the Devil: A Plot to Save America From Trump and Democrats From Themselves,” who is president and co-founder of the group.
Another member of the group is Stuart Stevens, author of the book “It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump.” The chief strategist for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, Stevens spent four decades working for Republicans but grew disenchanted as its soul was overtaken by racism, xenophobia, the loss of a governing philosophy, a cult of the personality, the dishonesty and anti-democratic values. On the opening day of the Republican convention, former GOP Chair Michael Steele, an MSNBC analyst, announced he joined The Lincoln Project.
Republican Loyalists Fight Back
Republican Party loyalists have vigorously backed Trump’s attack on members of the group he inaccurately described as Republicans in Name Only. In fact, the Lincoln Project most prominent voices are so disgusted with today’s Republican Party that they have renounced their membership.
The conservative Club for Growth reacted to the revolt of the former Republican political operatives by running an ad that attacked them as a group of failed strategists who view the country’s toxic political climate as an opportunity to line their pockets.
“They don’t just hate him,” said the ad, called “We Lose,” which aired on Fox News. “They hate you.”
“After watching their careers go up in flames, they’ve set up a Democrat PAC, a get rich quick scheme pushing Joe Biden for president,” the ad said. “America pays the price. Higher taxes on the middle class, crushing regulations on small business, halting our economic recovery. If Biden wins, we lose.”
The National Review is running an aggressive campaign to counter The Lincoln Project ads and undermine the integrity of its leaders.
The National Review’s Steve Sampley called The Lincoln Project a “scam .” He described it as “little more than the most brazen election-season grift in recent memory,” run by a ragtag band of three otherwise unemployed strategists plus one lawyer.”
“The 2020 general election, by every indication, will be about persuasion, with turnout expected to be at record highs,” wrote Conway, Schmidt, Weaver and Wilson, when they announced The Lincoln Project in New York Times editorial in December 2019.
“Our efforts are aimed at persuading enough disaffected conservatives, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in swing states and districts to help ensure a victory in the Electoral College, and congressional majorities that don’t enable or abet Mr. Trump’s violations of the Constitution, even if that means Democratic control of the Senate and an expanded Democratic majority in the House.”
Weaken Trump’s Voter Base
In a tightening presidential race in which Trump appears to be doing whatever he can to hold on to his political base and is laying the groundwork to steal the election, Biden supporters need to make every effort to cut into the support for the president.
A New York Times survey found that 86 percent of Trump’s backers in 2016 are committed to sticking with him, which leaves a sizable percentage of voters who should be receptive to the Lincoln ads.
Negative political advertising works, despite the claims that such ads off voters.
The 1964 “Daisy Girl” ad—-regarded as the first negative TV ad in political history–is widely credited for helping Lyndon B. Johnson win because it painted Republican Barry Goldwater as someone who would recklessly launch a nuclear attack. The infamous ad about the convicted African-American murderer Willie Horton who committed assault, armed robbery and rape after being released early from prison helped torpedo the Michael Dukakis’ presidential campaign by appealing to racist fears and characterizing the Democratic presidential candidate as soft on crime.
“Like pornography, voters say that they don’t like negative advertising,” a political consultant said. “But, they read it and watch it–and it works!”
Should the race tighten up, a shift of a few thousands could ensure that Trump falls short of winning the Electoral College votes he needs to be elected.
Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes in the 2006 election in which nearly 138 million Americans participated. But her losses in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania by a margin of just 79,316 gave Trump the electoral votes he needed for victory. Biden needs every vote he can get, especially when Trump will undoubtedly cry fraud if the election is close.
The Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne got it right when he wrote, “If you believe (as I certainly do) that defeating President Trump is the prerequisite for anything good happening again in American politics, you should welcome everyone willing to help get the job done. And in light of Trump’s threats to challenge the results if he loses, the health of our democracy may depend on Biden’s winning by a landslide that would leave not a smidgen of doubt about what the voters were saying. This is an all-hands-on-deck proposition.”
This story was coauthored by thenew crossroads.com blogger Gregory N. Heires, who is a former president of the Metro NY Labor Communications Council, Raymond Markey is a former president of the New York Public Library Guild Local 1930.