The Never Trump super PAC, led by a dissident group of Republican strategists, unleashed some of the most blistering assaults on the 45th president in the past four years. This isn’t only in comparison to the other Never Trump political organizations. This is in comparison to all organizations and political ideologies.
The Lincoln Project commercials were very personal, having nothing to do with policy disagreements. Much as Trump relentlessly attacked his political opponents and other critics, the group’s ad creators scrutinized—and flayed—character Trump’s flaws.
The Lincoln Project cast a long shadow over other Never Trump outfits because of the money it collected (more than $85 million in less than two years), the celebrity of its founders, a splashy profile by CBS News’ 60 Minutes, and the viral videos.
Some of the most influential members of the Never Trump movement, however, questioned the Lincoln Project’s approach, doubting its efficacy with desired, fence-sitting Republican voters who supported Trump’s ideas but were appalled by his conduct.
However, the Never Trump movement awarded the Lincoln Project a thumbs up overall. The group’s founders were so well-known that several of them became prominent figures in their own right. The Lincoln Project’s very existence served as a giant permission slip for longtime Republican supporters who wanted to dump Trump but were uncertain if they could bring themselves to vote for a Democrat for president.
“At this moment, we’re as much Never Republican as we are anything else,” organization cofounder Reed Galen stated a few weeks after the 2020 election, as the Lincoln Project celebrated its victory lap.
Trump was not the sole target of the Lincoln Project. The group set itself apart from other Never Trump groups by proclaiming the whole Republican Party to be party non grata. The Lincoln Project argued that even pragmatic Senate Republicans, such as Maine’s Susan Collins, had to go since she was a Trump accomplice.
As a result, the organization launched an ultimately futile campaign to eliminate the Republican majority in the United States Senate. Republicans did, in fact, lose power. Trump, though, bears responsibility for the two catastrophic runoff defeats in Georgia that handed the chamber to the Democrats.
The Lincoln Project started to crumble even before Trump left the White House to make way for Biden. First, after being revealed in news stories, cofounder John Weaver confessed to sexually harassing young men while in his position.
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Top Lincoln Project officials, those who hadn’t already fled, claimed ignorance in the face of accusations that they were well aware of Weaver’s conduct. Following that, Federal Election Commission filings revealed that the Lincoln Project had turned into a cash cow for its most senior founders, with their pre-existing businesses—and, presumably, their personal bank accounts—earning tens of millions of dollars in revenue from advertising and other political services funded by donations.
George Conway tweeted on March 8, 2021, that the Lincoln Project “should shut down . . . I know LP’s supporters want to continue to ﬁght against Trumpism, and I urge them to do so in some other way.”
.@ProjectLincoln should shut down, absent full disclosure of its finances. As this detailed story shows, there's simply too much money that hasn't been accounted for, and, I fear, never will be. https://t.co/QUbeWVB5dS
— George Conway (@gtconway3d) March 8, 2021
This Never Trump Republican battalion, media savvy and trained in the dark arts of political warfare, would almost certainly choose the route less traveled and join hands for a no-apologies campaign effort to sever Trump’s second-term chances at the neck. And they would undoubtedly get the greatest attention.
Sarah Longwell was a pleasant surprise.
Longwell didn’t really do trench warfare politics, except from a time as board chairperson of the Log Cabin Republicans, a haven for Washington’s tiny but influential group of politically engaged homosexual Republicans.
Longwell was a lifelong Republican who ignored the party’s historic opposition to same-sex marriage and latent hostility toward gays and lesbians because she believed the GOP was a responsible governing party committed to Reagan-era, reformist conservatism on the majority of the critical issues that animated her personal politics.
Trump showed no aversion to same-sex marriage, which the United States Supreme Court has now proclaimed to be the law of the country.
Longwell was unconcerned. Trump was not a Republican. He was creating a shambles out of the Republican Party. Worst of all, the president threatened to destroy American democracy, fueling the Never Trump movement. Longwell’s reaction was catalyzed.
Longwell had established and oversaw a number of political groups that existed exclusively to remove Trump by the time Biden found himself hobbling through the early primary states of the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential race.
Despite the very real rebuke Trump received in the 2018 midterm elections, the 45th president survived the storm, emerging with his political position surprisingly steady and within striking distance of reelection. Despite these setbacks, a handful of Longwell’s initiatives produced fruit.
She took over as publisher of the Bulwark, the online Never Trump magazine she cofounded with Kristol and other Weekly Standard expatriates when the proprietors of the essential home for neo-conservative ideas shut it down.
Longwell also ventured into the field of focus groups. Longwell conducted hundreds of meetings with swing-state voters who backed Trump in 2016—particularly women—to escape the Beltway media bubble and figure out what motivated support for a candidate she couldn’t fathom supporting under any circumstances.
But first… Biden needed some assistance. The month was January 2020. Sanders was rising in the Democratic presidential race, while the former vice president was faltering, hoping that the South Carolina vote on February 29 would rescue his third presidential campaign and save him from a humiliating hat trick. Team Trump was rallying for “Crazy Bernie,” hoping to give the socialist Vermont senator a boost in his quest to eliminate the incumbent’s only real, deadly threat to reelection.
In fact, if Democrats were serious about electability, they’d nominate the guy who actually won primary contests and proved he can play David to Goliath in key places four short years ago. Sanders bested Clinton in 22 states in 2016, including battlegrounds such as Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, while earning more than 13 million votes and 1,800 delegates.
— Kellyanne Conway, President Trump’s advisor, writing in the Washington Post on January 23, 2020, thirty-seven days before the Democratic presidential primary in South Carolina.
The Crooked DNC is working overtime to take the Democrat Nomination away from Bernie, AGAIN! Watch what happens to the Super Delegates in Round Two. A Rigged Convention!
― Donald Trump, on Twitter on February 18, 2020, eleven days before the Democratic presidential primary in South Carolina.
Withheld money and arms to Ukraine for nothing.
"The Crooked DNC is working overtime to take the Democrat Nomination away from Bernie, AGAIN! Watch what happens to the Super Delegates in Round Two. A Rigged Convention!" (prez, this AM)
— originalscout (@originalscout11) February 18, 2020
Their interference sparked an idea in Longwell. If Team Trump could meddle in the Democratic primary, she could do likewise on favor of Biden, who had a greater chance of defeating Trump in the general election. Or, to be more specific, had any chance. Tim Miller, a longtime Republican strategist turned vocal Never Trump political operator, assisted in turning Longwell’s concept into a workable strategy.
Miller, who is gay, spent what seemed like a lifetime in Republican politics in Washington as a snappy, slice-and-dice communications strategist with a keen eye for narrative. Miller shifted his focus to Our Principles PAC, perhaps the first of the anti-Trump organizations, in an attempt to derail the Republican front-candidacy. runner’s Miller was more than a Never Trump hired gun; he was a genuine believer.
Dear Democrats: Only 10% of People Even Know What You Are Fighting For.
My latest on the Dems messaging problems with the BBB, human infrastructure, reconciliation bill. https://t.co/sqBNOmLEMG
— Tim Miller (@Timodc) October 12, 2021
Let’s fast forward four years. Miller had fled Washington and relocated to Northern California’s Bay Area. Miller and his like-minded group of Republican expatriates were discussing what they were going to do as the first votes in the 2020 presidential primaries were about to be cast.
Longwell and Miller married the ideas of giving Biden a leg up in the Democratic primary by playing in states that allowed non-Democrats to vote, as well as increasing the participation of disaffected Republicans and center-right independents, through Center Action Now, a political nonprofit they founded.
One important note, while these voters were frustrated with Biden, not a single person regretted their vote against Trump. https://t.co/f42HbN36pT
— Sarah Longwell (@SarahLongwell25) October 11, 2021
Longwell and Miller launched a fairly strong but under-the-radar digital campaign, text messaging and the like, targeting these people with the acquisition of new voter lists and strengthened by knowledge of the electorate acquired from her focus group work.
Bernie Sanders triumphed in New Hampshire, where the campaign began. Buttigieg and Klobuchar finished second and third, respectively. Biden revived his campaign with a stunning win in South Carolina, where Longwell traveled next.
Longwell and Miller hated Trump, but they learned something along the road that some of his critics, particularly Democrats, couldn’t accept. He won in 2016 because so many Republican people who would never vote for a racist, authoritarian, or criminal didn’t believe he was any of those things.
This image, as well as sheer, unadulterated mistrust in and disdain for Clinton, aided the 2016 Republican candidate in retaining core Republican supporters while broadening the GOP tent by attracting a slew of white working-class Democrats and former Democrats.
Longwell would assist center-right Republicans and center-left Democrats in contested primaries via Center Action Now and her umbrella of political organizations, with the aim of elevating pragmatists and kneecapping hyperpartisans on both sides of the aisle. And she would fight for “democracy” and good-government changes that might, via federal law, keep the worst elements of Trumpism at bay.
Longwell envisioned legislation that would prohibit a president from appointing his or her children to key, paid positions in the federal government; legislation that would prohibit a president from using his or her presidency to enrich his or her business interests; and legislation that would codify the practice of major party presidential candidates releasing their tax returns, a practice that had been followed by every major party nominee since Richard Nixon—until Trump.