“Over these next 11 months, our efforts will be dedicated to defeating President Trump and Trumpism at the ballot box and to elect those patriots who will hold the line. We do not undertake this task lightly, nor from ideological preference. We have been, and remain, broadly conservative (or classically liberal) in our politics and outlooks. Our many policy differences with national Democrats remain, but our shared fidelity to the Constitution dictates a common effort.”
The Lincoln Project
The New York Times
December 17, 2019
The Lincoln Project launched six months ago in a different time and place in America. The country was preparing to experience its third impeachment trial in the history of the United States. The impeachment of President Donald J. Trump for abuse of power ended in political farce as Mitch McConnell and his supine Senate majority looked away from the clear evidence that President Trump had extorted a foreign government to assist his re-election. It is in that context, and the previous three years of Trump’s administration that The Lincoln Project began its efforts with a clear message: To rid American politics of Donald Trump and Trumpism in the November general election. At that moment, saving the Republic from the worst of Trump’s behavior was paramount. That goal was ambitious, but we knew even then that it would be an uphill fight.
As the coronavirus made its way to our shores, Donald Trump’s inability to lead changed our outlook on how to conduct our efforts against him. As we learned – along with a horrified America – that Trump was repeatedly warned by the intelligence and public health communities that an immediate,
swift and comprehensive response was necessary to stem its spread, he did nothing. He delayed. He deceived the American people about the scope and severity of the disease. He didn’t listen to experts, and his failures have led America into a medical and economic calamity. We now know the all-too- awful consequences of Trump’s failure to perform the duties of the presidency.
With COVID-19 spiking across the country and thousands of Americans dying daily, it further crystallized The Lincoln Project’s mission: Political choices have consequences. In the case of the coronavirus, they were life-and-death consequences for American families and for the economy.
Trump’s defeat at the ballot box in November is about much more than simply who controls the levers of government. America’s decision this fall will be an indication of whether we care about our fellow citizens, and whether the American experiment deserves to continue.
George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers put the racial tensions in America into stark relief. Hundreds of thousands of mostly peaceful demonstrators took to the streets. Organizations such as the US Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and NASCAR banned the Confederate Flag. A long-overdue reckoning on race is underway.
Trump’s response? Division, violence, real and threatened against peaceful Americans, and the language of George Wallace and Bull Connor. When we witnessed a President willing to gas, beat, and deploy stun grenades against unarmed protesters to engineer a pathetic photo-op, it was clear this was no longer a simple political challenge; it was a moral challenge.
The events that began with Mr. Floyd’s killing continue today. They also further distilled for The Lincoln Project the nature of the fight we’re in this year. Politically, this race would always be a binary choice between a Republican and a Democrat. It’s also a binary choice between the forces of darkness and light, right and wrong. Ultimately, it’s America or Trump.
If the polling we see at both the national and state-by-state levels is to be believed, with all the attendant disclaimers, Donald Trump finds himself in an increasingly difficult position to win reelection this November. For all that he has fallen in the polls, Donald Trump is a dangerous candidate in the most powerful office in the land; our work, and the work of allied groups in this fight is far from over, and the months ahead will require the full measure from all of us. 2016 should remain a stark lesson; it’s not over until Joe Biden puts his hand on the Bible and swears the oath of office.
The three crises we face today: COVID-19, massive unemployment, and racial unrest must all be laid at Trump’s feet. He has personally refused to respond to or mitigate any of them. Instead, his behavior and actions have led to further infection and death, millions more Americans out of work, and racial tensions at a pitch not seen in decades.
The Lincoln Project will focus its efforts on the following issues during the remainder of the campaign:
● COVID-19: Trump’s failure to respond has cost more than 130,000 Americans their lives and three million more are currently infected;
● The Economy: Tens of millions of Americans are out of work and the number will grow as infection rates spike and states and cities are forced to shut down again;
● Unity vs. Division: We are in unprecedented times. The most divisive President in American history will seek to weaponize race, ethnicity, and class tensions for political gain.
● Competence, corruption, and character: Trump lacks both, and voters who were sold the reality-show image of Trump in 2016 will be starkly disabused of those illusions. Trump’s abuse of power, corruption, and lawlessness will strike an ugly chord with voters in a struggling economy.
● The Validity of the 2020 Race: Trump has already begun his attempts to call into question the legitimacy of an election he is likely to lose badly. We will not allow him to make this charge, and must beat him so decisively that he doesn’t have a legal or messaging leg to stand on.
● Election Security and Voter Rights/Voter Access: We believe that any American citizen who wants to cast a ballot should be able to do so safely. We will take substantive action to ensure that any and all voters who are able to apply for absentee ballots have the information and opportunity to do so;
● A Season of Surrender: Trump is unable to contend with any issue, large or small. Instead, he surrenders the nation to its fate as he takes to Twitter to express his grievances and sow further division.
As noted above, Donald Trump is trailing former Vice President Joe Biden by double digits in every national survey. Trump is well behind in most, if not all the so-called target states. Worse for him, in traditionally Republican states such as Iowa, Texas, and Georgia, Trump finds himself within the margin of error.
Despite the Trump campaign reserving more than $100 million in television advertising for the Labor Day— Election Day stretch, his campaign is currently advertising in such places as Texas, Georgia, and the Panhandle of Florida. This is not the strategy of a campaign that sees itself in the ascendant, but one that knows that its base is softening, perhaps beyond repair.
Trump’s decision to make this election about racial division should come as no surprise. Resentment and division were how he began his campaign five years ago, and they will be the reason his presidency ends next January 20th.
However, this does not imply complacency. This race will tighten before November as voters turn their attention to the election before them. The press will write stories about “the Trump comeback,” Democrats will panic, and Republicans will crow about how they know the country best.
As of this week, The Lincoln Project believes that:
● Michigan is now all but lost to Trump. This puts a severe dent in his Upper Midwest strategy;
● Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are leaning heavily toward Biden as independents and soft Republicans move away from the president;
● Arizona is increasingly likely to go to Biden in November as a large Latino population makes its voice heard. The Democrats also have a very strong US Senate candidate in Mark Kelly, who may convince voters to cross the line;
● North Carolina is critical to this November’s outcome. 2016’s margin of 150,000 votes will likely be even narrower this fall;
● Republican stalwarts like Ohio and Florida will require far more time, money, and attention from Trump and his campaign if they want to ensure victory in November.
The United States Senate
The Lincoln Project pledged to remove not simply Donald Trump, but the scourge of his nationalist-populist movement—Trumpism—from American politics. Republicans in the United States Senate have been the exemplars of Trumpism during the last three and a half years.
Terrified of a mean tweet or a demeaning nickname, Republican senators, with the lone exception of Mitt Romney, have toed Trump’s line, regardless of the circumstance. In January, these senators, sporting Cheshire Cat grins, could not get to the cameras and microphones fast enough to downplay the evidence against the president and stand strong by his side, despite his actions against a small, allied nation living under the constant threat of Russian aggression.
Today, however, the cats seem to have their tongues. Regardless of the circumstance: the failed federal response to Covid-19, Trump’s racial arson, or the recent revelations that Russian security services offered bounties for dead American soldiers and Marines, not one of them will take him to the task.
It is now accepted in political circles and among many in the media that the Republican members of the Senate are mere “hostages” to Donald Trump and Trumpism. We reject this self-serving notion. The Constitution and governing rules of the U.S. Senate grant members important power and influence and unique ability to be a check and balance on an unfettered executive branch.
These members have aided and abetted Donald Trump with both their actions and their silence, never more evident than during the COVID response debacle and their craven silence about Trump’s refusal to deal with Putin’s bounty on American soldiers and Marines. To be a hostage is to acknowledge a lack of agency in the decisions one can or cannot make. If these United States senators have no agency over their actions, they don’t deserve to hold high office.
Their cowardice will be their undoing. If they criticize Trump, the retribution they fear from his followers and his media outlets will be unleashed upon them. If they continue to say nothing, voters will judge them accordingly. Don’t expect to hear from any of them before November.
But do expect to hear from us about them, collectively and individually. And, not being up for election won’t protect them; the Lincoln Project is here for the long haul, even after Trump himself is defeated. These Senators have a stain that won’t easily wash off.
As of this week, The Lincoln Project believes that:
● Arizona and Colorado are off the board for Republicans. Neither Martha McSally nor Cory Gardner has the talent, resources or record to be reelected;
● Thom Tillis in North Carolina is slipping in the polls to Cal Cunningham. If Trump’s numbers nationally continue to slide, it is unlikely Tillis wins a second term;
● Susan Collins and Joni Ernst face extremely difficult paths to reelection. Collins has long attempted to straddle a middle ground with her voters, publicly mouthing pieties while marching in lockstep with Mitch McConnell. Ernst has done little of note with her first term and must now rely on Trump’s coattails in Iowa if he has any;
● In Montana, Governor Steve Bullock is running a strong race and will likely defeat Senator Steve Daines in November;
● States such as Alabama, Alaska, and South Carolina are now toss-ups. In Alabama, Tommy Tuberville will have a much more difficult race than expected. In Alaska, Dan Sullivan will likely face a talented challenger;
● In South Carolina, Lindsey Graham’s continued role as Trump’s favorite golf partner/pilot fish harmed him significantly in the Republican primary and is dragging down his reelection chances against Jaime Harrison, who is running an excellent – and well-funded – campaign;
● Kansas could enter into the discussion as the voters in the Sunflower State are rejecting Trumpism and if extremist Kris Kobach is the nominee, all bets are off;
● Mitch McConnell will have a fight on his hands against a well-funded Amy McGrath challenge. This race is too close to call, but we do expect McConnell’s campaign and associated super PACs to pull money back into Kentucky to save him in favor of other seats around the country.
The Days, Weeks, and Months Ahead
Donald Trump, the President of the United States, has announced his reelection themes: Division, disunion, and racial animus. Over the next 120 days, we will see very little from Trump or his campaign regarding COVID-19 and the economy. We will see an overwhelming amount of George Wallace-like rhetoric, discussion of “heritage” as he continues to scare suburban voters into voting for him.
According to media reports, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has given Trump until Labor Day to get his message and his campaign turned around. After that, it is expected that he will allow his members to publicly break with the president. This will further accelerate the self-immolation of the Republican Party and further depress Trump’s numbers among GOP voters.
COVID-19 infection rates are soaring in those states in which Republican governors, afraid of upsetting Donald Trump, refused to take appropriate steps to mitigate and minimize the effects of the coronavirus. Governors Greg Abbot of Texas, Ron DeSantis of Florida, and Doug Ducey of Arizona now face massive spikes due to their unwillingness to listen to their public health experts. Their constituents are unfortunate and unnecessary victims of politicians who believed belonging to the cult of personality is more important than conducting themselves as leaders and protectors of their people.
We have seen other Republican governors, such as Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Mike DeWine of Ohio, and Larry Hogan of Maryland, listen to their experts, and attempt to keep their citizens safe while attempting to restart economic activity in their states. They are leaders who put their duty above loyalty to any one person or political party.
We know Election Day will be November 3rd. However, given the number of vote-by-mail ballots likely to be cast, we may not have the results in states for several days. The Lincoln Project’s mission will not be over until Joe Biden takes the oath of office on January 20th, 2021, and we will resist any and all attempts by Donald Trump and his allies to throw the results of the election into question during the interregnum.