The Lincoln Project is an American political action committee (PAC) formed in late 2019 by former and current Republicans. During the 2020 presidential election, it aimed to prevent the re-election of Donald Trump and defeat all Republicans in close races running for re-election in the United States Senate. In April 2020, the committee endorsedDemocratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
The Lincoln Project’s output has been prolific in terms of both tweets and videos. The group’s ads sometimes made use of comedy, as in the ad Trumpfeld (a spoof of Seinfeld), in which laugh tracks are laid over segments of a Chris Wallace interview with Trump,and in Nationalist Geographic (a spoof of National Geographic), which mocks Trump as “Impotus americanus,” “the most corrupt of its species.”
Joanna Weiss of Northeastern University‘s Experience magazine wrote in Politico that most of the Lincoln Project’s ads “pack an emotional punch, using imagery designed to provoke anxiety, anger and fear—aimed at the very voters who were driven to (Trump) by those same feelings in 2016”, citing scientific research indicating that fear-mongering ads might be effective with Republican voters. Project co-founder Reed Galen described the strategy as “(speaking) to Republican voters with Republican language and Republican iconography”
The Lincoln Project was criticized by former Romney campaign staffer Oren Cass, who described it as “a group of political operatives who are not conservatives.” Writing in The Atlantic, Andrew Ferguson described the ads as “personally abusive, overwrought, pointlessly salacious, and trip-wired with non sequiturs.” Rich Lowry, writing for the conservative publication National Review, described the Lincoln Project’s stated goals as “self-serving tripe, as a glance at the insult-filled Twitter feeds, op-eds, and cable appearances of the principals instantly demonstrates”, and described the group’s advertisements as being “clearly meant to garner retweets rather than to speak to on-the-fence voters.” Jeet Heer wrote in The Nation that “To the extent that the ads articulate any political vision, it is a desire to return to the hard-line military aggression of the George W. Bush era.” Heer also wrote in March 2021: “The ineffectiveness of the ads should be no surprise. Twenty twenty was a polarizing election… In that environment, the Lincoln Project made the wrong arguments to the wrong voters”, and described the group as a “successful scam”.
In addition to targeting the Washington media market and thus Trump himself, the project has also targeted swing states like Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, and has spent money against Republican Senate candidates in Arizona, Iowa, Montana, and other states. As summarized by Lenti after the election, “we were focused on Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia. […] We were looking at college-educated women, suburban women, older men.”The project has identified a faction within the Republican Party which seems to disenfranchise African American voters as the Jim Crow caucus.
Fundraising and expenditures
OpenSecrets, which tracks money spent on politics, reported that the Lincoln Project raised $87,404,908 and spent $81,956,298 during the 2019-2020 election cycle. $51,406,346 came from individuals who had donated $200 or more. (An earlier estimate was $78 million from its creation until the November 2020 election.) By the end of March 2020, it had raised $2.6 million in contributions. Its fundraising substantially increased in subsequent months; from July to September 2020, the Lincoln Project raised $39 million.The group started out with few major donors; as of October 2020, about 39% of contributions to the group came from small donors ($200 or less). This is an unusually high proportion of small-dollar donors for a super PAC; most super PACs are almost exclusively funded by wealthy contributors. The top contributors are classical musician and Getty family heir Gordon Getty ($1 million), Stephen Mandel ($1 million); and the Sixteen Thirty Fund ($300,000). Six-figure contributions came from Hollywood producer David Geffen, investor John Pritzker and financier Jonathan Lavine. Other major donors include Silicon Valley investors Ron Conway, Michael Moritz and Chris Sacca, financier Andrew Redleaf, Walmart heiress and philanthropist Christy Walton, Martha Karsh (who is married to billionaire financier Bruce Karsh), and Continental Cablevision CEO Amos Hostetter Jr.As of May 2020, the group’s expenditures were mostly in producing, buying, and placing ads. OpenSecrets, a campaign-finance watchdog group, wrote at the time that (like most PACs) most of the Lincoln Project’s money had gone to pay subcontractors, “making it difficult to follow the money” to vendors, and that “almost all” of the money raised had gone to firms run by the group’s board members, specifically Galen’s Summit Strategic Communications and Steslow’s Tusk Digital. $50 million of the $90 million raised went to firms controlled by the group’s leaders, according to a February 2021 AP News report. The Lincoln Project eventually grew to an organization of over 40 employees and over 60 interns.
Members of The Lincoln Project
- George Conway (has since left the organization)Steve Schmidt (has since left the organization)John Weaver (has since left the organization)Rick WilsonJennifer Horn (has since left the organization)Ron Steslow (has since left the organization)Reed GalenMike Madrid (has since left the organization)
- Kurt Bardella (until February 12, 2021)
- Rachel Bitecofer
- Sally Canfield
- Zack Czajkowski
- Susan Del Percio
- Molly Jong-Fast
- Sarah Lenti
- Windsor Mann
- Tom Nichols (until February 12, 2021)
- Tara Setmayer
- John Sipher
- Michael Steele
- Stuart Stevens
- Jeff Timmer
- Chris Vance
- Fred Wellman