The Lincoln Project
|God, guns, and freedom|
|Starting arguments over Thanksgiving dinner|
|Persons of interest|
The Lincoln Project was founded in 2019, with the explicit purpose of defeating Donald J. Trump in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. For this purpose, they created several provocative campaign videos, either explicitly supporting Joe Biden or targeting specific GOP candidates in several swing-states. They also created several ads whose only purpose was to infuriate Trump, including videos mocking Trump's gait after addressing West Point graduates in 2020, and mocking Trump's 'triumphant' return to the White House after being treated for Covid-19. Though they were primarily distributed via social media, ads were often placed in Washington, D.C. TV market (where there aren't really any swing voters), but Trump, watching TV basically all day, definitely saw them.
TLP's co-founders include various former-GOP political operatives including, but not limited to:
- Jennifer Horn — Former chair of the New Hampshire GOP, who twice ran for Congress
- Rick Wilson — Worked for George H.W. Bush's presidential campaign, as well as Rudy Giuliani's mayoral campaign and short-lived 2008 presidential run.[note 2]
- George Conway — Conservative attorney; is best known for representing Paula Jones in her lawsuit against Bill Clinton, and is closely associated with Ann Coulter and Matt Drudge.[note 3]
- Steve Schmidt — Campaign advisor to George W. Bush, John McCain, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
- John Weaver — Political consultant to McCain and John Kasich. He has been alleged to be a Russian asset and sexual predator.
- Reed Galen — Deputy campaign manager for McCain and Schwarzenegger; also served in G. W. Bush's administration.
- Ron Steslow — Founder of the Citizen Super PAC.
- Mike Madrid — Former press secretary for the California Assembly's Republican leader, and former political director for the California Republican Party.
The videos they produced ranged from standard political advocacy, to standard political fearmongering, to the aforementioned goofy bullshit. Frequently, they got free marketing, making the rounds on traditional media, as well as frequent media appearances by Wilson, Schmidt, and Conway. There is some debate onto exactly how much influence their advocacy actually had. There is certainly an argument that their targeted advertising in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, Ohio, and Arizona didn't hurt Biden's effort. The efforts of Fair Fight helmed by Stacey Abrams in Georgia, BIPOC grassroots organizers in Arizona and aggressive efforts to expand mail-in ballots for Michigan and Pennsylvania likely played a larger role.
Spoiler Alert: Trump lost, and despite his best efforts, Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on January 20th, 2021. Following the election, the Lincoln Project announced that they would be shifting gears to target Trump apologists still in Congress. They also clearly hope to use their considerable media presence to attempt to influence GOP politics, as it navigates a post-Trump world.
Following the 2021 U.S. Capitol riot and subsequent Impeachment, the Lincoln Project has focused specifically on those representatives whom they believe to be culpable, primarily the junior Senators from Missouri and Texas, Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz. They also have taken aim at several high-profile Republicans in the House; Elise Stefinak (R-NY), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and Marjorie Taylor Greene(
QR-GA). Additionally, they have produced videos supporting conviction for Trump in his second impeachment trial. Apparently, they plan to advertise in the southeast Florida market for some reason.
The grift is real
Because they took up the cause of attacking Trump, they earned a fair amount of cred from some high-profile celebrities, who filled their coffers. By registering as a 501(c)(3), it allowed them to raise unlimited funds with which to spend as they saw fit. In fiscal year 2020, they raised nearly $90 million. However only a third of those funds went toward paid advertisements. Much of this money seems to have found its way into the founders' pockets. Firms controlled by Galen and Steslow each were paid over $20 million. Schmidt was directly paid $1.5 million, which he quickly returned. In fairness, the quality of their production is exceptionally good, and legally they can do whatever the hell they want with the money. But they certainly aren't noble patriots sacrificing everything (they're not poor, either; they probably could have paid for all this themselves).
Weaver specifically seems to have benefited significantly. After decades of failure to pay taxes, defaulting on loans, and threats of litigation from creditors, he made payments of more than $300,000 to the IRS and back rent. Which makes the next bit all the more disgusting.
In early January 2021, allegations arose that Weaver was grooming several young men over the last several previous years, including propositioning sex as part of a job offer. At the time the allegations were revealed, Weaver was not involved with the Lincoln Project, on a "medical leave of absence" since August. The Lincoln Project issued a statement condemning Mr. Weaver and calling him "a predator, a liar and an abuser" shortly after the revelation. However, there are records which show that Steslow knew about the allegations since June, and that he had discussed removing Weaver with Galen and corporate counsel. Weaver took full responsibility for his actions, apologizing to "the men I made uncomfortable", and stating that his closeted homosexuality "led to this agonizing place".
Horn found this response insufficient, claiming that some in the group had known about the accusations long before the allegations were made public. Horn resigned from The Lincoln Project after, according to Horn, the group rejected a demand in her contract negotiation to "properly address the Weaver issue publicly and issue a call to action to take on sexual harassment and power imbalance/exploitation issues." The Lincoln Project dug themselves into a further hole by posting a Twitter message containing private conversations between Horn and journalist Amanda Becker on February 11, 2021.
All of this is a return to form for political activists who for decades supported candidates who courted racists, racialists, homophobes, misogynists, and Libertarian woomeisters. The response has been particularly terrible from Wilson and Schmidt, who seemed to have at least gained some level of awareness about their previous tactics, but a zebra can't change its stripes any more than a Republican can blame everyone but themselves.
All this chaos has been delicious for conservatives who felt that the Lincoln Project betrayed the GOP and for liberals who had raised ethical and moral concerns.
- Though keep in mind they defined this in comparison to the borderline fascist Trump administration, which still puts them pretty far to the right compared to Europe.
- Before he went completely insane, that is…
- Also married to Kellyanne Conway, who was employed as a Trump administration spokesperson, notorious for personally coining the term "Alternative facts".
- "WE ARE REPUBLICANS, AND WE WANT TRUMP DEFEATED" By George T. Conway III, Steve Schmidt, John Weaver, and Rick Wilson
- Ron Steslow's personal site
- "Citizen SuperPAC PAC Profile"
- "LINCOLN PROJECT TAKES AIM AT THE JIM CROW CAUCUS"
- https://www.opensecrets.org/political-action-committees-pacs/the-lincoln-project/C00725820/summary/2020 The Lincoln Project PAC Profile, Open Secrets
- "How a leading anti-Trump group ignored a crisis in its ranks" by Steve Peoples and Brian Slodysko, AP News, 2021 Feb 12
- "Lincoln Project capitalizes on Trump’s rage as its spending comes under scrutiny" By Karl Evers-Hillstrom, Open Secrets, 2020 May 7
- "The Lincoln Project’s Predator" by Ryan Girdusky, American Conservative, 2021 January 11
- "21 Men Accuse Lincoln Project Co-Founder of Online Harassment" by Maggie Astor and Danny Hakim, New York Times, 2021 Jan 31
- "Lincoln Project’s avowed ignorance of Weaver texts undercut by leaked communications" by Chris Johnson, Washington Blade, 2021 Feb 09
- Lachlan Markay, John Weaver, Lincoln Project co-founder, acknowledges “inappropriate” messages, Axios, 15 January 2021.
- "Jennifer Horn, Lincoln Project Co-Founder, Says Group Knew Of Sexual Harassment Allegations" by Dominique Mosbergen, Huffington Post, 2021 February 11
- "Lincoln Project tweeted a co-founder’s private messages after leaders promised to probe sexual harassment claims" by Andrea Salcedo, Washington Post, 2021 February 12