As the US presidential election nears, an anti-Trump group formed by former Republican strategists is making its presence felt. Over the past few months, the Lincoln Project has launched a vitriolic campaign against President Donald Trump on social media, with its videos raking millions of views.
The group caught public attention early in May when its video — ‘Mourning in America’ — went viral. The minute-long video is a critique of Trump’s governance over spiralling Covid-19 deaths and high unemployment. The video’s title is a play on the famous ‘Morning in America’ slogan run by Ronald Reagan, the second most popular Republican President after Abraham Lincoln, during his 1984 re-election campaign.
The video, which has been updated on August 26, ends with the question– “And now Americans are asking, if we have another four years like this, will there even be an America?”
Soon after the video was released, an enraged Trump launched a Twitter diatribe, calling the Lincoln Project a “disgrace to Honest Abe”, and launched personal attacks against its founders, branding them “RINO Republicans” (short for Republican In Name Only).
A group of RINO Republicans who failed badly 12 years ago, then again 8 years ago, and then got BADLY beaten by me, a political first timer, 4 years ago, have copied (no imagination) the concept of an ad from Ronald Reagan, “Morning in America”, doing everything possible to….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 5, 2020
The Lincoln Project’s mission
The Lincoln Project was started on December 17 last year, with four of its founders announcing the group’s launch in a New York Times opinion piece. George Conway, Steve Schmidt, John Weaver and Rick Wilson wrote in the article that their objective was to “stem the damage (Donald Trump) and his followers are doing to the rule of law, the Constitution and the American character,” and that the effort “transcends partisanship”.
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The Projects openly supports Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, and aims to convince enough conservatives and independents in swing states to ensure that Trump loses the Electoral College– “even if that means Democratic control of the Senate and an expanded Democratic majority in the House.”
Political analysts believe that the group’s principal aim is to hand back control of the Republican Party to more moderate figures, thus defeating “Trumpism”.
Who is running the group?
The Lincoln Project’s creators have all played influential roles in the Republican Party, and include conservatives who have been a part of the “Never Trump” movement. Strategists Rick Wilson and Steve Schmidt worked on the presidential campaigns of George H W Bush and John McCain, respectively, and John Weaver worked for both the Republican leaders. Another initiator, Jennifer Horn, has served as the party’s chair in New Hampshire state.
The conservative lawyer George Conway, the group’s most prominent founder, is the husband of top Trump aide Kellyanne Conway, and is known for helping the American civil servant Paula Jones sue former US President Bill Clinton for sexual harassment. Earlier this week, Conway announced that he was withdrawing from the group to spend more time with his family.
Activities of The Lincoln Project
Since its founding last year, the Lincoln Project has become an online sensation in the US for its personal attacks on Donald Trump. In its videos, the group has not only lambasted Trump’s performance as President, but has gone on to mock his physical and mental fitness, and targeted his family members such as daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner– both highly influential members of the Trump administration.
The group’s founders have fended off criticism that their videos are too aggressive, insisting that they intend to respond to Trump in what they believe are his own methods.
As a Political Action Committee (PAC) under US campaign finance law, the Lincoln Project was able to raise $23 million in April and June this year, although most of it came from Democrats and progressives, according to ABC Australia. This week, the group will be spending $4 million on anti-Trump advertisements to coincide with the Republican National Convention, CNBC reported. The TV and digital ads will be played in key states such as Florida, Texas, Ohio and Michigan, the report said.
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While videos made by the group are highly circulated among Trump’s detractors, experts are divided on whether the content could have a meaningful impact on the presidential election. Some have expressed doubts about the Project’s reach, still mostly confined to social media, and argued that the group would have to spend enough to make its presence felt on television to convince a substantial number of undecided voters before November 3.
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