Just before 1 a.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, President Donald J. Trump fired off a four-tweet broadside at The Lincoln Project, a group of Republicans, conservatives and independents dedicated to his electoral defeat in November, of which I am a founder. Our offense? A commercial, “Mourning in America,” outlining the massive loss of life and economic damage incurred in part as a result of Trump’s mismanagement of the coronavirus response.
The video was based on President Ronald Reagan’s iconic “Morning in America” commercial from his 1984 re-election campaign. Reagan’s video painted a picture of an America ascendant and was designed to make Americans feel good about his first term. The contrasts between the two videos were, of course, very much on purpose.
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The ad is running on cable news networks in the Washington, D.C., market, and the president likely saw it during Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show. In his tweets, Trump does his best to humiliate us, calling us “a group of RINO Republicans who failed badly 12 years ago, then again 8 years ago.” Calling us out by name — some of us even got nicknames — he broadcast our supposed weaknesses to his 80 million followers. (And many of his more rabid fans were all too happy to express their displeasure; as they say, RIP our Twitter mentions.)
That Trump would attack Republicans who oppose him is no surprise. He has long been guided not by a sense of morals or mission but by loyalty. And there is nothing more infuriating to him than conservatives who speak openly and honestly about his flaws. Even worse, we are working specifically to defeat him come November.
Still, it is surreal to see your name (even misspelled) scroll across a Twitter feed in the middle of the night. We thank him for all the free publicity he has given our movement and our efforts, but his inability to contain himself further illustrates his unfitness for office.
As he rather inelegantly pointed out, we are political consultants. Most of us worked in Republican politics for decades before — almost exclusively because of Trump’s nomination in 2016 — we walked away from the GOP. That the leader of the free world is this thin-skinned is, of course, monumentally concerning. It also shows he’s ignoring his much greater responsibilities.
On the other hand, this is not a city councilman railing at the local scold at a town hall meeting. Trump is the commander-in-chief of our military. He is charged with running the executive branch of the federal government and its millions of employees. None of that matters to him. It never has, and it never will.
As someone who had the honor and privilege to work in the White House under President George W. Bush, I still find it shocking, more than three years in, how quickly the country’s chief executive flies into a very public rage. I agree that the video was powerful (although I’m biased). But no commercial should have the power to derail the leader of the free world.
Even someone as distanced from reality as Trump now knows he has failed mightily in his duties. Those failures are costing over 1,500 American lives a day and billions of dollars in economic activity. But it’s becoming harder and harder to hide from these facts.
Trump’s best, most powerful trait has always been his ability to retreat into an alternate reality. And for 50-plus years, it didn’t really matter to the wider world that he was a pathological liar, a fabulist or a bully. But when 320 million people are counting on you, it’s difficult to escape the pressure that must be building inside the cracked crucible that is the Trump White House.
There is satisfaction in knowing that your work is having its intended effect. In politics, it’s rare to see an idea go from the storyboard to the airwaves and then straight into your opponent’s brain.
But that satisfaction shouldn’t be confused with jubilation. Yes, we are thrilled that Trump responded in the way he did because it highlights, once again, his profound lack of self-control. And that is just one more reason we believe it is so crucial, to all Americans, that Trump is a one-term president.
At 1 a.m., you hope your president is asleep, getting ready for the next day’s challenges. Trump, though, wasn’t on Tuesday. And that is because he is a small man for whom American lives and economic fortunes are a distant second to his own ego.
What The Lincoln Project accomplished this week wasn’t something to be celebrated. It was a further reminder that come November, there is no higher political calling than to wash Donald Trump and Trumpism out of American politics for good.
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