What they hadn’t expected, though, was that Trump would single out nearly every person involved in the Lincoln Project by name — Kellyanne Conway’s “deranged loser of a husband, Moonface” Conway, “Crazed” Rick Wilson, “LOSERS” who had consulted for “loser” candidates.
To Galen, it was a sign that the Lincoln Project — the first phase, at least — was working.
“It’s not just pissing off Donald Trump. Anybody could do that,” Galen said in an interview, though he admitted to “a modicum of enjoyment” from being the topic of midnight tweetstorm. “It’s, to what effect? Like, why are you doing it? And the point is to take him off his game and take his campaign off their game, strategically and tactically, so that the Biden campaign and Joe Biden can have the freedom of movement and the green air to do the things that they need to do.”
In the past few months, the Lincoln Project — a PAC with not much funding, as far as PACs go — has successfully established itself as a squatter in Trump’s mental space, thanks to several factors: members each boasting hundreds of thousands of social media followers, rapidly cut ads that respond to current events and a single-minded focus on buying airtime wherever Trump is most likely to be binging cable news that day, whether it’s the D.C. market or his golf courses across the country. And every time Trump freaks out — or every time the media covers his freakout — the Lincoln Project scores an incalculable amount of earned media, and millions of views online to boot.
But though the PAC has successfully caught Trump’s attention — The Daily Beast reported the campaign spent $400,000 on ads in the D.C. market in part so Trump would feel less threatened by Lincoln Project ads — Trump’s critics worry that the ads, as well cut and as troll-effective as they are, may not actually work to “prosecute the case” against his re-election, as the group vowed to do back in December.
“I love seeing their stuff. Their recent ad is my pinned tweet,” said Robert Wolf, a top Democratic donor who said he’s considering donating to the group. “All the Democrats love watching what they’re doing, but I’m not sure yet if they are preaching to the choir or actually moving Republicans away from Trump to Biden. Either way, it’s still a net positive.”
When the Lincoln Project — or “the LP,” as cofounder Rick Wilson, a veteran GOP ad maker, calls it — launched in December of 2019, the group included a trollish cadre of social media-savvy Never Trumpers with experience running campaigns, though several of them still have not met each other. The team promised it would prosecute the case against Trump, explaining to voters why a rising stock market (pre-coronavirus) wasn’t enough to reelect the president. Yet the group’s first round of ads, cut during Trump’s impeachment trial, got lost in the process, racking up hundreds of thousands of views at best.
With the pandemic, however, Trump has made the case against himself, Galen argued. From his early dismissals of the burgeoning outbreak to his suggestion that injecting “disinfectant” into the lungs might help fight coronavirus, and his flat-out insistence that he wanted to slow testing down in order to suppress the number of COVID-19 cases, the president has generated his own attack ad copy.
“We already had a plan in place which was prosecute him, prosecute him, prosecute him,” Galen said. “The difference is that he became a much weaker defendant, all on his own, because of his own faults.”