A couple of erstwhile Republican operatives who notably failed to elect Republican presidents are now trying to elect a Democratic one.
They call their super PAC, self-importantly, The Lincoln Project. The operation is devoted to churning out harsh and often ridiculously over-the-top ads attacking President Donald Trump that are invariably praised by the media and progressives on Twitter, who are The Lincoln Project’s political base.
The project’s operatives tend to this constituency with a slavish devotion, catering to its long-standing hatreds and its momentary passions.
They know that without cable TV mentions and Twitter buzz, The Lincoln Project — which doesn’t spend much on actually broadcasting its much-vaunted ads — would be a complete irrelevance, and so far, they have proven more adept at this game than they did at electing John McCain or Mitt Romney.
It is certainly understandable to be a Republican who’s appalled at Donald Trump and refuses to vote for him. But it’s another thing entirely to go raise millions of dollars from Democratic donors and run ads not just against Trump, but against run-of-the-mill Republican senators whose only offense is having an R next to their names.
The Lincoln Project launched with its founders, including politicos John Weaver, Rick Wilson and Steve Schmidt, jointly writing a high-minded New York Times op-ed promising to reach persuadable voters and heal the nation’s wounds.
This was all self-serving tripe, as a glance at the insult-filled Twitter feeds, op-eds and cable appearances of the principals instantly demonstrates. These people aren’t resisting the coarsened political culture to which Donald Trump has contributed more than his share. No, they are happily embracing it, apparently believing that their spittle-flecked rage passes for wit.
The ads aren’t any better. The Lincoln Project churns them at the pace of the Twitter news cycle, and they are clearly meant to garner retweets rather than to speak to on-the-fence voters. A subgenre of ads is meant solely to get a rise out of President Trump. With his usual self-discipline, the president has obliged by attacking the project — to the delight of its Twitter following and media cheerleaders.
The idea of Republican political pros working against Trump is irresistible to The Lincoln Project’s progressive fans. But it’s not really true. John Weaver, for example, hasn’t been a GOP stalwart in about 20 years. He left to go work for the Democratic House campaign committee after John McCain’s 2000 primary campaign flamed out. He returned as the strategist to the 2016 presidential campaign of John Kasich, who will be speaking at the Democratic convention this year.
Steve Schmidt repaid John McCain for the opportunity of a lifetime running his 2008 presidential campaign by self-servingly dishing on the wreckage, and making a new career among the people who hated the McCain campaign. Just last year, he was the chief strategist to prospective independent presidential candidate Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks — showing he wasn’t going to let a self-evident absurdity get in the way of a good payday.
It’s hard to maintain the fiction of The Lincoln Project as a Republican group when Weaver gave a defensive-sounding interview to The Washington Post promising to support the agenda of a prospective President Biden and attack Republicans for opposing him.
If the media didn’t share The Lincoln Project’s political goals, it might cast a more jaundiced eye on the group and simply see political consultants doing what they do best — namely, separating gullible people from their money, in this case Democratic donors.
Most of The Lincoln Project’s ad buys are for show and, regardless, they are pittance compared with all of the other advertising out there genuinely designed to persuade voters. The group got a dubious write-up from the Center for Responsive Politics earlier this year, pointing out its unusual spending practices.
But, hey, it’s good work if you can get it — and lack the self-respect to turn it down.
Rich Lowry has been the editor of National Review since 1997. He’s a Fox News political analyst and writes for Politico and Time. He is on Twitter @RichLowry.