The most common charge is that, as Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel put it, the organization has a “record of grift” and “profiting off attacking President Trump.” This charge has been faithfully repeated with no evidence by the lap dog conservative press, e.g., the National Review and Ben Shapiro.
This is pretty rich coming from Trump’s acolytes, since there is no more glaring example of grift in our politics than the Trump campaign and the Trump White House. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the Trump campaign and affiliated committees have spent $22 million at Trump properties since he entered politics in 2015. Now we learn that Trump directed the U.S. ambassador to Britain to ask the British government to steer the British Open to his golf resort in Scotland.
Now that’s corruption. What the Lincoln Project is doing is simply politics as usual. There is no reason to believe, the Daily Beast writes, that “Lincoln Project executives are simply pocketing the money that’s channeled through their political consulting firms.” If those working on the Lincoln Project are compensated, well, they deserve it. They’re turning out brilliant videos at a relentless pace that puts most political organizations to shame.
The attacks on the Lincoln Project’s finances are a thinly disguised attack on its tactics — which are to attack Trump and the GOP from a perspective likely to appeal to middle-of-the-road voters. Right-wingers are especially perturbed that the group has targeted vulnerable Republican senators. How dare they?!? “The Lincoln Project has made itself a Democratic Party organization,” screams a headline in the Washington Examiner. This would seem to refute a charge heard from the far left — namely that the group is a bunch of unrepentant warmongers who haven’t really broken with the GOP.
In fact, the Lincoln Project’s founders have impeccable Republican credentials, but they are thoroughly disenchanted with the Party of Trump. One of the consultants affiliated with the Lincoln Project — Stuart Stevens — has written a forthcoming book called “It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump” that explains in coruscating and compelling terms why he is done with a party he has served his whole life. Stevens has run numerous GOP campaigns; he was Mitt Romney’s chief strategist in 2012. Yet he makes no attempt to paint Trump as an aberration. Rather, he sees the president as the distillation of decades of GOP dogma.
He calls the GOP “a white grievance party,” and writes that “there is an ugly history of code words and dog whistles in the party.” The rest of the Republican platform he dismisses as a convenient fiction: “How do you abandon deeply held beliefs about character, personal responsibility, foreign policy, and the national debt in a matter of months? You don’t. The obvious answer is those beliefs weren’t deeply held.… [I]t had always been about power. The rest? The principles? The values? It was all a lie.”
Stevens is particularly scathing about all the Republican politicians — many of them his clients — who have made common cause with Trump. “The most distinguishing characteristic of the current national Republican Party is cowardice,” he writes. “The base price of admission is a willingness to accept that an unstable, pathological liar leads it and pretend otherwise.”
If you accept Stevens’s searing critique of the Republican Party — and I do — then it is incumbent on the Lincoln Project to target not just Trump but also his enablers. That’s just what it has done with commercials such as this one urging the defeat of Republican senators.
Does that mean the Lincoln Project favors a Democratic takeover of the Senate? Yup. But that doesn’t mean, as Trumpites blare, that it’s gone over to the far left. Its members have stayed on the center right while the Republican Party has been taken over, as Stevens writes, by “paranoids, kooks, know-nothings, and bigots.” Even staunch conservatives such as former national security adviser John Bolton and Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) are being excommunicated by the Trumpkins.
If we are ever again to have a sane and sober center-right party in America — something we desperately need — then the Trumpified GOP must first be demolished. That is what the Lincoln Project is trying to accomplish, and more power to it. By leading the charge against the Republican Party, its founders have shown greater fealty to conservative principles than 99 percent of elected Republicans.