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Since early May, Fox News viewers have been seeing something quite unusual on the network – harsh criticism of President Donald Trump.
While most of the coverage of the president on the conservative news network is positive, an anti-Trump super PAC known as The Lincoln Project has been producing a series of flashy ads that have been appearing during commercial breaks and online.
While Trump remains overwhelmingly popular among members of the Republican Party, there have been conservatives who have opposed him ever since he first announced his run for the presidency in 2015.
These so-called “Never Trumpers” have made noise on Twitter and in newspaper op-eds, but The Lincoln Project is their most unified and direct attack on the president yet.
What is The Lincoln Project?
Started in 2020, The Lincoln Project is an independent political action committee (or super PAC), whose stated mission is to “defeat President Trump and Trumpism at the ballot box.”
While super PACs designed to support or oppose a particular politician are common, The Lincoln Project is unusual in that it has been created by members of the president’s own party.
The Republican Party is sometimes referred to as “The Party of Lincoln” because Abraham Lincoln was the first member of the party to serve as president. The party’s political alignment has changed considerably since Lincoln’s time.
For example, Lincoln oversaw a federal government that had vast power, which today would be much at odds with modern “small government” Republicans.
In an op-ed written for The New York Times, The Lincoln Project argues that “Mr. Trump and his enablers have abandoned conservatism and longstanding Republican principles and replaced them with Trumpism, an empty faith led by a bogus prophet.”
The authors of the op-ed go on to express their dismay that a majority of Republican voters now consider Trump to be a better president than Lincoln. This is why The Lincoln Project has vowed to unseat Trump, even if it means siding with Democrats with whom they have “many policy differences.”
Who are the founders of The Lincoln Project
The authors of The New York Times op-ed piece are four of the most visible members of The Lincoln Project: George T. Conway III, Steve Schmidt, John Weaver and Rick Wilson.
In total, there are eight people listed as “advisors” on The Lincoln Project’s official site. All eight have direct ties to the Republican Party and/or conservative organizations.
Conway is perhaps the most well-known of the eight, both because he has been one of Trump’s most vociferous critics on Twitter and because he is the husband of Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump’s top defenders and frequent media surrogates. Conway is a lawyer who founded the conservative law group, Checks & Balances.
Schmidt is a political strategist who has worked on the campaigns of President George W. Bush, Senator John McCain and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, all Republicans. His pinned tweet states, “29 years and nine months ago I registered to vote and became a member of The Republican Party which was founded in 1854 to oppose slavery and stand for the dignity of human life. Today I renounce my membership in the Republican Party. It is fully the party of Trump.”
Like Schmidt, Weaver is a political strategist whose Republican employers have included President George H.W. Bush, Ohio Governor John Kasich and Senator John McCain. He says he is a supporter of former Vice President Joe Biden in the 2020 election.
Wilson is a Republican media consultant and an author who wrote the anti-Trump book, “Everything Trump Touches Dies.” After Conway, Wilson has the largest Twitter following of all The Lincoln Project advisors, with one million followers. He frequently tweets criticisms of Trump and his Republican supporters.
Earlier this week, Caleb Hull, an editor for the Independent Journal Review, a conservative news site, posted a series of tweets alleging to show pictures from Wilson and his wife’s social media that include a Confederate battle flag and the phrase, “The South will rise again.” Both the flag and phrase are commonly used to reflect support for the losing Confederate rebellion in the American Civil War.
The four other Lincoln Party advisors are Reed Galen, Jennifer Horn, Mike Madrid and Ron Steslow.
Galen, Madrid and Steslow are all political strategists and consultants who have been or are currently members of the Republican Party. Galen and Steslow have both said that they left the party in 2016. Madrid was formerly a political director for the California Republican Party.
Horn is the only woman in the group and was the first Republican woman in New Hampshire to be nominated for federal office. She also once chaired the New Hampshire Republican Party.
The Lincoln Project videos
Much of the work of The Lincoln Project is creating stark, highly critical videos of Trump. These videos, which are generally between 30 seconds and one minute long, can be seen on YouTube and Twitter and have aired on television networks, including Fox News.
Video titles include “100,000 dead Americans. One wrong president,” “Making China Great Again,” “Mourning in America” and “#TrumpIsNotWell.” The super PAC has even produced ads criticizing Republican Senators Susan Collins and Cory Gardner, both of whom have publicly criticized Trump but still side with him on most votes.
After “Mourning in America” aired on Fox News in the first week of May, The Lincoln Project reported that they received US$1.4 million in donations. That ad criticized Trump on his response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The rise (and fall) of the Never Trumpers
In 2016, once it was clear that Trump had secured the Republican nomination for president, a select few high-profile Republicans broke ranks to publicly oppose Trump. Some even said that they would vote for his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
Among the Republicans who vowed not to vote for Trump were Senator Mitt Romney, General Colin Powell, who was Secretary of State under President George W. Bush, and both Barbara Bush and Jeb Bush, the 43rd president’s mother and brother.
Powell’s opposition to Trump remains unchanged nearly four years later. Powell has said that he will vote for Joe Biden in this election, just as he voted for Clinton in 2016 (Powell also voted for Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012).
Romney was the sole Republican to vote to remove Trump from office in the president’s impeachment trial.
At least one of Trump’s most vocal Republican critics during his first run for president has since changed his tune. Senator Lindsey Graham said in 2016 that he wouldn’t vote for Trump, but the senator is now one of Trump’s staunchest defenders. On May 3, 2016, prior to Trump securing the nomination, Graham tweeted, “If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed…….and we will deserve it.”
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