It's difficult to put into words what is so distasteful about The Lincoln Project. Not that the words don't come to mind; they do, almost too readily. But seeing them all put down, next to each other – it starts to feel a little cruel.
The obvious starting point is last week’s revelation that Lincoln Project co-founder John Weaver allegedly offered young men jobs in exchange for sex. Those reports were enough to elicit criticism even from the left-wing press, which had previously fawned over the Lincoln Project for months. But the truth is that this was only the lowest act in a long string of lows for the group: the shameless grift, the questionable political strategy, and of course, the disgusting attacks on Trump supporters. Taken together, it’s almost pitiable to behold.
Not that they're in need of too much pity. They have, after all, raised more than $87 million in their short existence, much of which has gone to their board members or their board members’ firms. The firms of Ron Steslow and Reed Galen (the project’s treasurer) alone appear to have received more than half of the money The Lincoln Project has ever raised. The NeverTrump schtick seems also to have saved co-founder Rick Wilson from dire financial straits. And their anemic political careers have been salvaged too, pulled from the wreckage of failed campaigns past (John McCain, Jon Huntsman, John Kasich, Evan McMullin).
Maybe their moment has passed now that Trump is leaving office, but then again, maybe not. After all, Colin Powell is still trotted out every election cycle to announce that he is once again renouncing the Republican Party.
The Lincoln Project men have had their fair share of media appearances as well. They serve a useful purpose for the media, a sort of pet opposition, progressive on every issue but slightly more likely to say the word “Constitution” and show visible excitement at the thought of a drone strike. The media gets to pat them on the head as the right and true and only acceptable kind of Republican, and the Lincoln Project spokesman gets to blush with pride.
Turn to MSNBC after the vice presidential debate, and there is co-founder Steve Schmidt, with strangely vacant eyes, sitting alone in his dimly-lit kitchen and earnestly insisting that the fly landing on Pence's head was a sign of Satan’s favor. This understandably baffled the host, but, in fairness to Schmidt, the Lincoln Project usually gets a warmer reception for their inanities.
Last January, Wilson made an appearance on CNN during which he got to do his impression of what he apparently imagines the typical Trump voter to be: a “credulous boomer rube” who thinks (in a mocking Southern accent) “Donald Trump’s the smart one and y’all — y’all elitists are dumb!” He then went on about the Trump voter’s supposed ignorance of math, spelling, geography, and so on. By all appearances, this was the funniest thing that Don Lemon had ever heard.
But is this the purpose of the project? Approval from the Don Lemons of the world? It seems that way. The project doesn’t have any specific principle of conservatism they adhere to or advocate for. Even Susan Collins was too right-wing for them to bear — they spent millions trying to oust her. Besides making themselves rich, their only motivating force seems to be an obsessive hatred of Donald Trump. Every moment of their life seems to revolve around the man. The sum total of their being seems wrapped up in penning angry screeds against him to earn retweets from the #Resistance crowd.
Their whole strategy appears to have been to buy up provocative ads on Fox News (they must have single-handedly saved the channel amid the advertising boycotts last summer) in the DC area in the hopes that Trump would notice and send off a tweet or two. Not actually useful politically, of course, but it must have been gratifying to be acknowledged by the man who occupied their every waking thought.
All this is common enough among the Never-Trump set, but the Lincoln Projecteers set themselves apart as the most blatant, the most willing to go to any length or sink to any low to get their jollies. Their new big idea is to maintain lists of anyone remotely associated with the Trump administration and exile them from polite society (and employment) forever. The content of their advertisements is of the lowest sort. One, titled “Shrinking” is full of innuendo about Trump’s genitalia, a bizarre fixation of some Lincoln Project founders. The rest are either melodramatic recitations of Resistance Twitter memes, or childish taunts that they seem to think constitute “playing mind games with the President.”
None of their ads make any sense in the context of their original promise, which was to persuade Republican voters to oppose the President. Evidence suggests they had little to no impact in the elections — no surprise, given that it’s hard to appeal to voters one openly despises. For all their money and all their expertise, the end result of the Lincoln Project was that Trump got 94% of the Republican vote, slightly higher than Romney in 2012 and up 6 points from 2016. But at least they got the attention, and the paycheck, they wanted. We’ll see if it lasts.
At the end of the day, the Lincoln Project is a bunch of sad, washed-up grifters, momentarily fished out of the backwash of the Republicans-for-money consultant class to serve the interests of the progressive elite. But they couldn’t even do that well. Motivated by sneering contempt for their former party’s voters and an unfathomable level of self-regard, they have become a cautionary tale for anyone involved in politics. Without principle, it’s easy to sink to any low. The Republican Party should be glad to be rid of them — it’s a shame they didn’t leave sooner.
Terry Schilling is the executive director of American Principles Project. Follow him on Twitter @Schilling1776.