The Lincoln Project: Where are they now?

Luke O'Connell, Co-Editor

     In September, the Lance published an article pointing out the clear grifting occurring in the Lincoln Project, a #NeverTrump super PAC run by Republicans like Steve Schmidt and Rick Wilson. Since the election of Joe Biden to the presidency in November, the Lincoln Project has stayed its course. The project is now focusing – like many other special interest groups – on the Senate runoffs in Georgia. More and more information about the Lincoln Project has come out since election day, including its inefficiency and misuse of funds. So, where are they now?

Lincoln Project cofounder Steve Schmidt in an Aug. 2019 Frontline interview. Photo courtesy of PBS Frontline.

     First of all, the Lincoln Project didn’t do its job. While yes, President Donald Trump lost the election, this has nothing to do with the Lincoln Project, and more due to the work of progressives in key swing states like Georgia and Michigan. Despite the Lincoln Project’s overflowing war chest, President-elect Joe Biden did worse among Republicans than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. The Lincoln Project, and groups like it, didn’t swing Republican voters away from President Trump, meaning those millions of dollars in donations were wasted. 

     New York Times contributor Will Wilkinson provided analysis on this year’s election, pointing out that “Democrats needed to present a competing, compelling strategy to counter Republican messaging.” While constantly berating the horrific failures of the Trump administration is a good thing, groups like the Lincoln Project failed to offer a strong alternative. In place of policy and promises, the Lincoln Project and Biden campaign used platitudes and personal attacks. While those receiving the attacks – President Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) – are certainly deserving of them, it’s a risky campaign strategy. 

     Since 2016, many Republicans – politicians, pundits, and most visibly, voters – have based their entire personalities around President Trump and his allies. By making him the center of their world, they relate to his character and emotions. Personal attacks on President Trump insults his constituents, it doesn’t convince them.

     The Lincoln Project can’t really do much else: they oppose President Trump while holding strong to their conservative values, stating that their “many policy differences with national Democrats remain.” This whittles their political platform down to counterproductive personal attacks which alienated Republican voters rather than pulling them in. Like President Trump, and countless other politicians, the Lincoln Project’s founders are incredibly corrupt and morally repugnant. Take, for example, Schmidt’s work as a senior advisor in the Bush administration, or Wilson’s “Confederate cooler.”

     Secondly, the Lincoln Project came through on their grifting in an unsurprisingly corrupt way. Between Jan. 14 and Dec.12 of 2020, the Lincoln Project paid $24,818,273 to Summit Strategic Communications, owned by Reed Galen. Galen is a cofounder of the Lincoln Project. Here’s another one: between Dec. 18, 2019 and Nov. 23, 2020, the Lincoln Project gave $20,307,316 to Tusk Digital, owned by another one of the group’s cofounders, Ron Steslow. This election cycle, the Lincoln Project spent roughly $67 million. More than two thirds of that went back to those two organizations alone, both run by its founders. This is how campaign finance happens, but it’s surprising to see how blatant the Lincoln Project has been about it, and how much praise they’ve gotten in the process. Not only was the project unsuccessful in its efforts to push Republicans towards President-elect Biden, it was able to line its founders’ greedy and hypocritical pockets in the process.  

     The Lincoln Project is growing. Throughout this election, Schmidt and Wilson became regulars on news talk shows, covering the election and President Trump’s attempts to flip its result in his favor. They’ve also established a media presence outside of campaign funding, producing podcasts and working with United Talent Agency to develop an organization titled ‘Lincoln Media.’ The Lincoln Project, no matter how corrupt and unsuccessful they’ve been, are here to stay. 

     Just like plenty of other campaign funding organizations, the Lincoln Project is out for their own gain. By capitalizing on anti-Trump sentiments which have been popular since his election in 2016, they’re finding new and intuitive ways to profit off of Democratic or anti-Trump ideas while not actually having to believe in them. These guys are running one of the best political grifts in years, and Democrats are falling for it.