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A Rising Never-Trump GOP

Terry H. Schwadron

July 5, 2020

The most virulent campaigning for the defeat of Donald Trump in November so far is not coming from the Joe Biden forces, but rather from Lincoln Project Republicans and former George Bush Republicans– a group of often conservative Republicans who find Trump so lacking as to be forcing a split in GOP ranks.

Republicans including George Conway, husband of White House adviser Kelly Conway, Reed Galen, Rick Wilson, Steve Schmidt, GOP consultants all, are spending a ton of money on advertising that accuse Trump of basic incompetence and a ego so strong as to ignore national interests for personal gain.

Interestingly, the aggressiveness of the ads, which show no sign of ending anytime soon, not only are reportedly getting under Donald Trump’s skin, but leaving Biden to take a higher road of policy and general good guy to Trump’s most aggressive political tendencies.

With social media ads bolstering some early television advertising, Lincoln Project members have distracted the Trump campaign’s focus, forced them into early spending in places they would not have planned counter-advertising, and generally continually drawn political blood from Trump himself.

The ads tend to focus on small bore visuals, as in Trump’s difficulties managing his way down a “slippery” ramp at West Point, and draw larger conclusions about Trump’s inappropriateness for office. The ads are totally negative advertising, and bring Trump’s physical and mental health into question as well as policies concerning, say, coronavirus that they say show Trump as uncaring and inept.

In other words, what we are seeing is an internecine GOP split that is doing the heavy negative work for Democrats. Let’s hope Democrats do their own work anyway.

Trump’s Predictable Anger Helps

Trump, in turn, has cooperated with the effort by going out of his way to personally insult leaders of the Lincoln Project and to take the criticism personally.

So, rather than being able to articulate an understandable agenda for a second term, he has spent his campaign rally time attacking other Republicans and defending his tentative steps down that ramp and struggling to sip water.

A Politico analysis of ads suggested, “As in 2016, ad makers are focusing on Trump’s character. But unlike four years ago, they are no longer focusing on his character in isolation — rather they are pouring tens of millions of dollars into ads yoking his behavior to substantive policy issues surrounding the coronavirus, the economy and the civil unrest since the death of George Floyd.”

Being experienced Republican operatives, the Lincoln Project folks have targeted times to advertise on the local Fox News affiliate in Washington, D.C. at times when Trump is likeliest to be watching, they say. Then they portray the president as making Americans “weaker, sicker and poorer” than ever before. The group has spent $2.75 million on television ads, as well as another $1.2 million on Facebook ads, Politico reports.

Galen, a former adviser to George W. Bush and John McCain, told The Daily Beast that the point is to take Trump off his game and take his campaign off their game, strategically and tactically, so that the Biden campaign and Joe Biden can do the things that they need to do.

The Lincoln Project has been adept at using social media to distribute rapidly produced video ads that respond to current events — and by buying airtime wherever Trump is most likely to be binging on cable news that day, whether from the White House or at one of his golf courses across the country. According to Galen, every time Trump freaks out, the Lincoln Project scores an incalculable amount of earned media, and millions of views online to boot.

Support for Democrats?

It is unclear, of course, whether being Never-Trump will translate into votes for Biden.

The Lincoln Project launched in December, 2019, amid impeachment maneuvering in the Senate, and it was hard to distinguish its distinct voice or impact immediately. With the pandemic, however, Trump’s actions have provided a runway for the Lincoln Project attacks.

The group is now looking to push for Biden more, and is looking at individual Democratic Senate candidates, including Gov. Steve Bullock in Montana, moves that may further splinter conservatives.

Republicans around Trump are quick to dismiss the Lincoln Project, arguing that no good can come of a Democratic majority Senate.

Rick Wilson said the group’s fundraising, email list and social media following had grown as a direct response to the president’s reported anger towards them, a phenomenon similar to the “Trump bump” that several media outlets experienced at the beginning of his administration.

These ads show that thinking Republicans are still out there and hoping for a better alternative than Trump.


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