The Lincoln Project ads are as inescapable as they are brutal.
It’s rare for political ads to break through, much less trend on Twitter, but day after day they post a new video attacking Donald Trump that quickly becomes a mini-sensation.
It speaks to the unique politics of 2020 that a political action committee founded by former Republican strategists has become one of the most visible forces attacking the current Republican president.
What drives the founders of the Lincoln Project and what will they do after the November 3 election?
This week on the Reckon Interview, we’re talking about what comes next? There’s a fragile coalition from the far left to the center right united against Donald Trump. But what does that look like next year? If Trump loses, where does this energy go in January 2021? If Trump wins, what happens next?
Rick Wilson is a political strategist who has advised Republicans like George H.W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Rudy Giuliani. In 2019, he co-founded the Lincoln Project.
Wilson argues that Republicans have to lose up and down the ballot in order to wipe out the seeds of Trumpism and rebuild the conservative movement. He explains why he wouldn’t vote for a single Republican candidate in the South in 2020. We also discuss what the Lincoln Project will do in 2021 and beyond if Trump loses.
On the second half of the show, we speak with Aimee Castenell, a digital strategist with the Working Families Party in Atlanta, who also she organizes on campaigns in several Southern states. She explains how people can get involved if there’s a disputed election, drawing on the experience of the Georgia’s governor’s race in 2018, how to gear up for future campaigns and recruiting Black women to run to public office.
Here are a few excerpts from our conversation with Rick Wilson. We’ll post segments from our discussion Aimee Castenell tomorrow but you can listen to the whole episode here.
Rick Wilson on why a longtime Republican strategist co-founded the Lincoln Project
Donald Trump represents an existential threat to the country. I strongly believe that he is neither a Republican nor a conservative at heart. I think he’s going to be a destructive force, both in our politics and our national survival. And so my objective in helping to co-found the Lincoln Project was to provide a counterweight using the skills that I and others of my Republican colleagues had developed over many years to address that problem.
To go after Trump in a way that was not going to be the sort of standard issue Democratic Party approach to fighting elections. We don’t come into elections with an agenda of arguing policy. We come in to win. We come into knock them hard and to break things. And that’s our approach and our Democratic friends often were not able to perform in the same degree.
Rick Wilson on how Donald Trump differs from past Republican candidates
None of our candidates had Fox News completely shaping 80% of the Republican Party’s brain space. None of our candidates had Facebook. None of our candidates had Russian troll armies and Vladimir Putin’s GRU pushing behind them.
Donald Trump is sui generis in many, many ways.
And none of our candidates, by the way, that any of us have ever worked for, came from such unbelievably flawed moral and psychological stock.
Donald Trump is sui generis in a lot of ways. But the degree to which Donald Trump is a vacant evil vessel full of psychological malice, and horrifying narcissism is unique in our political history. None of us have ever worked for anyone even vaguely close to a Trump-like character.
I can tell you this after 30 years of work in Republican politics, and I’ve been very critical of our past on race issues, but not one of us ever worked for a president who would have put a kid in a cage. Not one of us ever worked for president would have said there were very fine people on both sides in Charlottesville.
In fact, when I worked for George Herbert Walker Bush, a bunch of young appointees like me, we had to take, well we didn’t have to, we wanted to take a leave of absence from our government appointments. Go down to Louisiana to beat David Duke’s ass. We put a Democratic governor in office in order to beat David Duke. Because our president George Herbert Walker Bush hated David Duke with the fire of a thousand suns and everything he represented and believed that if you even let that kind of person creep in the door, it would destroy the party. And he was right.
Rick Wilson on targeting Trumpism, not just Trump
We have been involved in nine US Senate races. And we did it because of a very simple principle. When we established the Lincoln Project, we told people we are going after Donald Trump. And we are also going after Trumpism. And its enablers.
Every person we’ve gone after has had plenty of chances to either denounce Donald Trump or defy Donald Trump or vote against things that he wants. Or speak out. And with the exception of Mitt Romney, not one of them has had the moral courage to do so.
We hear this undercover recording of Ben Sasse that leaked yesterday, where he talks about the president in the way he talks about him in behind closed doors. Well, it’s too late for that. You should have done that a year ago or two years ago or three years ago. But most of these guys are too cowardly. And they’re too afraid of what we call FOMT. Fear of Mean Tweets.
They’ve hidden in the tall grass. They pretended to publicly love the president while they privately loathe and despise him. And we’re against that kind of politics.
You know, we’re not an ideological organization. We’re not here to promote any particular set of policies at all. We are a political organization dedicated to the defeat of Trumpism and Trump. And if you’re an enabler of that, as my friend Steve Schmidt likes to say, you bought the ticket, you get to take the ride.
The Lincoln Project rarely agrees with Lou Dobbs, but today we join in his sentiments that South Carolinians should not re-elect the spineless, do-nothing, dead weight Senator Lindsey Graham.
Our full statement: pic.twitter.com/UPYdoqW4gO
— The Lincoln Project (@ProjectLincoln) October 24, 2020
Rick Wilson on continuing to target Trumpism after the election
Absolutely. Look, these people are a pernicious risk to this country. They’re a pernicious and ongoing risk to the small D democratic principles of the American Republic.
I don’t want anyone who thinks they can run Trumpism through the carwash and pretend it’s normal American politics to ever sleep well at night. I want them to think the Lincoln Project is going to come and they’re going to wreck their day. I want them to believe that because it’s true.
And I want them to understand that because of the idea that they have abandoned all conceivable conservative principle and substituted that for the adoration of an authoritarian. They’ve substituted that for the strong man politics of a Trump. They’ve substituted that for the idea that the only thing that politics is about now is owning the libs. It’s an absurdity. And it’s something that deserves to be both addressed and fought against.
Rick Wilson on whether he would vote for any Republican in 2020
In the south in 2020? I can’t think of one off the top of my head honestly, all the Congressional [races] are completely submerged in Trumpism. Even when they don’t really believe it, they’re pretending.
Like Matt Gaetz, in Florida, does not believe in Donald Trump. He is not a trumper. He is an opportunist hustler who wants to be on Fox News.
I can’t think of a single one right now that I would vote for. And it’s because they fail a fundamental test. If you’re going to be representing a state or the country as a Republican, and you can’t speak truth about what Donald Trump is, you can’t confess that Donald Trump is not the values that you claim to represent in this party, then we have we have nothing to discuss. It’s difficult for me to easily just say, oh, I’m just gonna let partisan inertia pick a candidate anywhere these days.
To hear more from Rick Wilson about the Lincoln Project, listen to the full episode here.
Reckon Interview Season Three
- One: The fight for the vote and how to ensure your vote counts
- Two: How the South created modern politics and what’s at stake in 2020
- Three: How the South nearly blocked women’s suffrage
- Four: To live here, you have to fight: Coalition building in the South
- Five: A system broken by design: The politics of health care
- Six: The death of ‘stick to sports’: The politics of football
- Seven: Can the South handle another recession?
- Eight: ‘It’s not random’: The origins of America’s broken justice system
- Nine: The South vs. The Establishment: Jaime Harrison discusses the South Carolina Senate race
- Ten: The “Doug Jones Effect”
- Eleven: SCOTUS and the South + Lilly Ledbetter’s message of perseverance