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The spectacular rise and fall of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project


The Lincoln Project’s members’ fall from their perch of anti-Trumpist fame to political grifters sidestepping sexual predation in their midst has had the velocity of a super collider.

The depth of the crater from the detonation may not be known for weeks or months to come, as more victims of co-founder John Weaver’s sexual advances come forward and the group’s craven cash grab is unwound.

The group’s questionable spending and tactics were in plain sight last year even before the election.

Public disclosures showed that the Lincoln Project was not making strategically minded media buys, but rather was producing provocative ad content, usually targeting Donald Trump, that brought cathartic joy to millions of Americans and helped pry donations from them. And in the end, the founders paid themselves millions of dollars while probably creaming unreported millions more in “commissions” from ads and fundraising.

But it wasn’t just the hinky self-dealing finances that went ignored. The group’s tone and crass language regularly mirrored Trump’s own demeaning rhetoric. Founder Rick Wilson called Trump supporters “tin-toothed rubes” and mocked them by using a stereotype Southern accent. Senior advisor Jeff Timmer’s constantly profane tweets included one directed at Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., with the sentiment to “f— yourself.”

I could go on with other countless examples of crassness and bullying.

Although the premise was that they were Republicans, or former Republicans, fighting Trump, the group found a mother lode in shifting into essentially being a Democrat Super PAC going after incumbent GOP senators.

The content of the advertising was stock Democrat messaging. For example, they attacked Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, for voting with Mitch McConnell, hardly a message that would persuade Republicans to oppose her.

The group hired Democratic fundraisers and contributions poured in from big-name Democrat donors. Groups aligned with Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Majority PAC and Majority Forward, plowed almost $2 million into the Lincoln Project.

At this point, it was clear to many of us anti-Trump Republicans that the Lincoln Project was not interested in fighting for the GOP, but rather burning it to the ground for its own gain.

For those of us who vehemently despise Trump and his hijacking of the GOP, the Lincoln Project was obscene. They had taken the anti-Trump category and turned into a huge money maker for themselves while cultivating a multitude of fans who sincerely believed they were doing virtuous work. Meanwhile, others were left to do the difficult work of trying to save the party from within.

An example of the work to change the party from within is Rep. Randy Feenstra’s campaign in Iowa. Feenstra scored more than 62% of the vote to win Iowa’s Fourth District, but to get there he took on and defeated incumbent Steve King in the June primary. King was a deep stain upon the party, banished by GOP House leadership for racist comments and beliefs. Feenstra, a businessman and state senator, was successful in defeating King with the support of roughly $500,000 in independent PAC campaigns run by Iowa GOP operatives. Their efforts purged a racist from the party. The Lincoln Project did not participate.

In fact the Lincoln Project never spent a penny in support of a Republican, including those who have courageously stood up to Trump in the past year.

When the Lincoln Project started announcing its plans for its post 2020 iteration, it never included any mention of using its substantial influence and resources to protect the 10 brave Republican House members who voted to impeach Trump and will now face Trumpist primary challenges. But of course not, their donor base doesn’t want to support Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming.

So, after a year of self-righteously calling for Republicans to show the courage and character to stand up to Trump, when 10 of them did, the Lincoln Project left them for dead on the battlefield of politics.

Trump is out of office, but obviously his influence over the GOP persists. During the next two years, many GOP professionals will be struggling to shape the party away from Trump and his sycophants. This won’t be easy, and we might fail. But we’ve stayed in the contest.

Going forward the struggle for the GOP will be better without the Lincoln Project around. I hope many in the media will self-examine their role in fueling this disastrous enterprise.

And the country also needs the media to facilitate a better dialogue about what the future of the party will be and how the struggle will unfold. It’s going to be messy and it’s going to require nuance and finesse and if Trump’s influence is to wane it will take time and be gradual. The press should better report that story rather than constantly declare the party dead. It is not.

Onto the primaries of 2022, a critical front line that the Lincoln Project had already abandoned.

Rob Stutzman is a veteran GOP consultant and campaign alumnus of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mitt Romney and several members of Congress.



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