“I will just try to fit in with the team and see where I can be helpful,” Stevens said. “We’ll see how it goes.”
“They’ve proven to be effective,” he added. “They remind Republicans that it doesn’t have to be this way. They remind Republicans of principles that the party had said it long stood for. Clearly they’re inside Donald Trump’s head.”
When asked if he might be able to recruit Romney, now a Republican senator from Utah and occasional Trump critic, to the Lincoln Project cause, Stevens said, “No. Can’t imagine.”
The Lincoln Project’s leadership includes strategists John Weaver, Rick Wilson, Steve Schmidt and former New Hampshire Republican Party chair Jennifer Horn, who last year worked with Stevens on the long-shot GOP presidential primary campaign of former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld. Lawyer George T. Conway III, who is married to White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, is also involved.
“It’s a small tribe,” Stevens said. “I don’t know George Conway at all. Our paths never crossed. . . . But this core group is mainly people I’ve known one way or another for a long time.”
Weaver said in an email that Stevens is the “gold standard” and “to have him join us in the Lincoln Project in a senior role” will help the group convince voters that “Donald Trump must be trounced, along with his enablers.”
Stevens, who hails from Mississippi, has decades of campaign experience at the presidential and congressional levels, with stints working for former president George W. Bush and former senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole. He is also an author and his forthcoming book, “It Was All a Lie,” documents his disgust with Republicans’ embrace of Trump as they seek to hold or win power.
Last year, Stevens left Strategic Partners & Media, a political media and consulting group he co-founded, to join the Weld campaign, and is no longer affiliated with the firm.
On Thursday, the Lincoln Project accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in a new ad of neglecting his home state. The 60-second spot accuses McConnell of enriching himself during his long tenure in Washington, dubbing him “Rich Mitch,” while noting Kentucky’s low rankings among states in job opportunity, education and health care.
McConnell’s campaign was quick to dismiss the impact of the ad, citing a limited initial buy on television.
“No scam PAC of grifters has ever been less relevant and no group of DC consultants will be forgotten faster than these thieves who bet everything on three days of dishonest ads in Kentucky,” the campaign said in a statement.
When asked about the McConnell ad, Stevens said the group has generally hit the “right tone,” but added, “my focus is on Donald Trump. My efforts will be directed at trying in any way I can to bring Republicans to their senses about Donald Trump.”
Earlier this month, the Lincoln Project released an anti-Trump ad that was a dark twist on President Ronald Reagan’s famous 1984 “Morning in America” campaign spot — and sparked Trump’s wrath.
In a series of midnight tweets, the president angrily attacked the super PAC behind the ad and the group’s leaders, calling them “LOSERS” and a “disgrace.”
The ad, called “Mourning in America” and critical of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, went viral online, and within days, the Lincoln Project received about $2 million from 25,000 new donors — money it is now using to air the spot in battleground states.
The Trump campaign issued a lengthy statement in response to the ad, saying it inaccurately depicted the federal government’s handling of the outbreak and calling those involved “scumbags” and “scam artists.” (PolitiFact rated as false one of the ad’s claims that the bailout has not helped Main Street, an assessment disputed by the group.)
“The Lincoln Project is nothing but a transparent way for political bottom feeders to make easy money,” the Trump campaign said. “The Trump campaign encourages all Democrats to light their money on fire by sending money to line these losers’ pockets.”
Trump later piled on, telling reporters, “They should not call it the Lincoln Project. It’s not fair to Abraham Lincoln, a great president. They should call it the ‘Losers Project.’ ”
Stevens takes a different view: “Somehow when the world goes crazy, the only thing you can do is not go crazy with it. And I think they’ve been very good at playing that role.”
John Wagner contributed to this report.