No one seems to like the Lincoln Project anymore

“It is incredibly important that we all enter the upcoming election with a level of humility and fresh eyes on what the political landscape is going to look like,” Petkanas added. “It would be a mistake to know for sure who is easier to beat than anyone else. We’ve all seen this movie before and they have an occasional twist ending.”

Officials working for the Lincoln project claim that they are simply practical – even wise – about the new political climate, where Trump is likely to be GOP-nominated anyway, and tactics with bones are now the norm.

President Joe Biden even called one of the Lincoln Project co-founders Steve Schmidt after the 2020 election to say thank you for the group’s work in helping him get elected, according to a celebrity. The White House did not comment.

But a year after pleasing liberals with their insistence on bringing weapons to a gun battle, operators across the spectrum now say the group is inefficient and lost at best, counterproductive at worst. In particular, other never-trumpers and moderate Republicans have withdrawn for Lincoln Projects co-founder Rick Wilson’s recent encouragement for a 2024 Trump presidential nomination.

“I think this is the mother of bad ideas,” said Conservative commentator and Trump critic Charlie Sykes. “But also father, brother, sister and cousin to a really bad idea. [It] ignore the fact that Trump could actually be re-elected and you would have thought we had all learned our lesson from playing games with that option last time. “

Sarah Longwell, a Republican strategist and Trump critic who started Defending Democracy Together, joined a chorus of other anti-Trump Republicans who were amazed at Wilson’s strategy.

“It would have a huge impact on our democracy if Trump was re-elected and you will do everything you can to prevent him from getting one step closer,” Longwell said. “The best way to ensure Trump does not win the 2024 election is to make sure he does not become the nominee.”

In an interview with POLITICO, Wilson defended his position by arguing that Trumpism was a bigger issue now than just Trump himself. He pointed his response on Twitter and added that the idea that he actually wants the 45th president to re-elect is “reasonable.”

“That’s not what I want [Trump] to be here, I would love that he was eaten by a shark tomorrow, ”Wilson said. “I want Trump to run to destroy the people who are more sophisticated than Trump. I want to use Trump’s psychological problems to weaken him because I think the most dangerous thing we face is Trump with an Ivy League degree. All the abrasive authoritarianism and nationalism and none of the obvious shortcomings. “

The Lincoln project was started in 2019 by a number of prominent Republican agents who opposed the Trump presidency and feared the direction their party was taking. They faced accusations of self-trafficking and inefficiency – which they both vehemently denied. And along the way, the group raised tens of millions of dollars, largely because of the splashy web and TV commercials it ran after the incumbent president and his family in a visceral, personal way.

The post-Trump presidency has been a tougher era. The group was shaken by allegations that co-founder John Weaver sexually harassed young men, and the finger-pointing over the fallout has lasted for several months. A law firm, Paul Hastings LLP, hired by the Lincoln Project, found “no evidence that anyone at The Lincoln Project was aware of any inappropriate communication with minors at any time prior to the publication of these news reports.” Critics have questioned the independence of this study.

There are questions about who stays in the group and manages the daily strategy. There have been internal frustrations over resources that have been spent on things like an online streaming show. After the Weaver scandal was made public, one of the co-founders, Jennifer Horn, as well as other officials or advisers Kurt Bardella, Ron Steslow, Mike Madrid and George Conway all resigned, and some publicly called for the group to become permanent. closed.

Currently, the group’s website names co-founders Rick Wilson and Reed Galen, Tara Setmayer, Stuart Stevens and Steve Schmidt as involved in the project, though it is unclear how involved some are left. Two people close to the group said there have been internal tensions and strife with Schmidt, who resigned from the board of the Lincoln project after allegations of sexual misconduct against Weaver surfaced.

Ryan Wiggins, a spokesman for the Lincoln project, said the streaming shows “create hundreds of thousands of viewers each week and provide a unique, innovative connection to our millions of followers. In addition, the podcast has over 1 million downloads / month.”

“There’s no doubt about who runs the day or the strategy. Rick Wilson, Reed Galen, [Stuart] Stevens and Joe Trippi manage the strategy. Day-to-day is managed by our incredible team. Anyone who does not know does not spend any time watching and / or listening to us, ”said Wiggins.

Schmidt reappeared months later, promising that the group would fight on. But he also tore into the organization for being “ruthlessly stupid” and “dishonest” for the stunt that involved actors posing as Charlottesville white nationalist protesters at a stop like incoming Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin did.

A McAuliffe adviser admitted that the Lincoln project’s ads in the governor’s race were solid, but reiterated Schmidt’s assessment, saying the Charlottesville stunt backfired so spectacularly – at least in the cable news and social media bubble – that the group’s involvement was complete. inappropriate.

More generally, Democrats who once saw the Lincoln project as a useful compliment to their efforts to defeat Trump now see the group as a distraction and a drain on broader campaign funds.

“When it started, I thought, ‘This is so amazing. I love it, “said Tim Lim, an experienced Democratic digital strategist. Now, Lim added,” most of the left are not sure why they’re still there. That is the forecast in history after history, and it has been brutal for them. “

With fewer allies and Trump off the ballot, the Lincoln project has suffered financially. In the first half of 2021, the latest figures available, the group raised $ 4.8 million and spent $ 8.7 million, an extraordinarily high combustion rate. But digital strategists predicted that the organization, with its robust email list, could survive down cycles. The idea that it has so far been able to withstand so much scandal and conflict has surprised people familiar with the dynamics, including several who believe the Lincoln project has long exceeded its outlet.

Still, the group has a formidable online following and boasts as many Twitter followers as the Republican National Committee with 2.7 million followers, for example. And those involved in the group say their daily work and mission are simply different without Trump on the ballot right now.

The group has argued for its relevance by getting involved in races with down-voting. It tried, without success, to tie Youngkin to Trump and has gone after the legislators who have spread election fraud lies. But they also continue to go after the 45th president as part of a campaign it often describes as political psy-ops. The group also aired ads during Trump’s outings in Bedminster, NJ and Palm Beach, Florida, mocking him, and they plan to play an active role in the upcoming midterm elections.

Although Trump has not officially announced any plans to jump into the 2024 race, Wilson said the group remains relevant because they understand “how to attack Trump’s vertical power structure in the Republican Party.”

“Nobody’s here because it’s comfortable and fun or a great way to make new friends, we work hard against very tough people and villains who spend a lot of money attacking us and the individuals in the Lincoln project,” Wilson said. “Are we perfect? ​​Of course not, and we own these flaws, but what we do is fill a gap in the pro-democracy movement and we show people how to fight.”

In interviews, two major Republican donors to the organization defended its work, both claiming that the mere threat of Trump returning to the national stage – and the likely impact on American democracy itself – makes their support worthwhile. One emphasized that Lincoln Project’s work with so-called mobile voters – university-educated people and suburban women – went far beyond television and digital advertising. But two operators with insight into its operations said it mostly survives from donors with small dollars, thanks to the huge email list and its ability to generate internet buzz.

Despite the intense focus on rattling Trump, people close to the former president say he has not been touched by Lincoln Project’s recent attack. But he and his allies are still looking forward to digging into the organization.

In a statement, a spokesman for Trump said the Lincoln project was a “sad group.” “Democrats are leaving the group, not just because they’ve been terribly inefficient, but because they’re worried the last shoe hasn’t fallen. Yikes!”

There is an obvious self-interest in the Trump world’s enthusiasm for Lincoln Project’s problems. But the general criticism – that the organization has deviated from its overall mission and is plagued by controversy – is shared elsewhere, including by those who were once involved in it. Now, some never-trumpers are wondering where their efforts fit into the broader Republican Party.

“As for never-Trumpers, it’s a problem, people like us are without a home, we have no influence in the party, and even the best people who take a stand take huge political risks, like Liz Cheney, who was not even a never-trumper before January 6, “said former Lincoln Project leader and vocal Trump critic George Conway.” Forming a third party is a non-starter because research has all shown that a third party would help Trump. So it’s a mystery and I do not know how it will go. “

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