The Lincoln Project 2023: Making A Down Payment on Democracy
Thursday, January 19, 2023
TO: Interested Parties
FROM: The Lincoln Project
RE: The Lincoln Project 2023: Making A Down Payment on Democracy
“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present…as our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.” – Abraham Lincoln
American politics has undergone a fundamental change since 2015. Donald Trump’s entry into the 2016 presidential race altered the character of the Republican Party and the politics of the United States. His destructive and lawless presidency led to some of the darkest moments in our Republic’s history, culminating with an attempted coup on January 6th, 2021.
Donald Trump and his acolytes represent a nationalist and authoritarian political and ideological movement that we’ve come to associate with “MAGA” or “America First.” The Republican Party is post-ideological and post-conservative and while it retains the political branding of the old GOP, it is now a dangerous and destructive movement. In the next two years, we will build on our success in the 2022 midterms.
The long-simmering discontent that Trump’s appearance brought to a boil continues to drive the MAGA movement. Though he is still the leader of the MAGA/America First movement, many of its candidates have explored depths of political depravity and dishonesty that surpass even Trump. MAGA has become bigger than Trump and is considered a threat to our Homeland Security.
As the movement has expanded, so must our combat strategy. MAGA is now a dangerous multi-headed snake, and, while it is crucial that we continue to expose Trump for who and what he is and his real and present threat to democracy, so too must we fight those rising under him – the Taliban 20, the Congressional Republicans, McCarthy, DeSantis, the alt-right media, and the countless others who continue to push radical anti-democratic propaganda and lies in an effort to stir distrust and chaos in our nation.
Looking back, 2020 will seem like the ‘easy’ fight; COVID was an externality that illuminated Trump’s failures. We may not be so lucky in 2024. Trump has a new team of consultants working with him this time who are more disciplined and more experienced. Trump already has the infrastructure and name ID in early primary states to succeed in winning his party’s nomination and his support from his base is more than enough to carry him through. He already has a tremendous leg up on any potential Republican contender, and as we saw with the speaker’s race, eventually everyone in his party will fold and kiss the ring.
While last year’s mid-terms were an excellent training and testing ground for what we will face in the coming election, the struggle has expanded, as noted above, beyond Trump and into nearly every part of American life. The threat of MAGA is more real today than it has ever been.
Republicans will engage in cultural and political arson and continue sowing distrust of our democratic institutions, because they have nothing else. They have no forward-looking policy or ideological framework, and have embraced a profoundly pessimistic vision for the country. Like all authoritarian movements, they are necessarily stuck in the present-tense. The past is an indictment of their actions. The future is something they cannot control. Everything must be framed in the context of a base-riling crisis, no matter how lurid or absurd: think CRT, antifa, drag queen story hour, or Hunter Biden’s laptop.
Ahead of the 2024 campaign, this movement will not moderate, but move further away from the mainstream as its leaders attempt to appease their base supporters. MAGA and its allies are well-resourced, relentless, and have an advantage the left and center do not: they see this fight as existential. They believe their way of life is in danger and will do anything and everything necessary to preserve this fiction.
Pro-democracy forces must make the same degree of investment and commitment or this movement will defeat us. The world we knew in 2015 is gone. The rules have changed. The battlefield is political, cultural, and social. The GOP knows it.
What comes next is up to us.
Our best opportunity to preserve democracy in 2024 relies on preparing for the battle ahead, starting today. It is likely that the work we do in 2023 will be as important to the active campaigns of next year. We call this Making A Down Payment on Democracy.
Since we launched three years ago, The Lincoln Project’s compelling and award winning ad content moves voters like no other super PAC can. Our ads have served as the cornerstone of our efforts, and this will not change. After two election cycles we continue to break through the noise and into the public narrative by speaking with a sense of clarity and commitment.
Although widely imitated, The Lincoln Project’s full-spectrum of creative content sets the standard for effectiveness and emotional resonance.
In the next 12 months, The Lincoln Project will:
- Continue driving and shaping the national political narrative in defense of American democracy, individual liberty, decency and the rule of law;
- Integrate the strands of the Republican Party together, illustrate how the GOP is beyond repair, and drive down its national standing;
- Expand the pro-democracy coalition in key Electoral College states through The Union, our grassroots hub that recruited 70+ partner organizations and engaged more than 65,000 volunteers;
- Highlight President Joe Biden’s successes at home and abroad while contrasting it against the chaos on the right.
- Conduct research and outreach to our “Bannon Line” voters – those Republicans and Independents who voted against Trump-aligned Republican candidates in 2020 and 2022;
NOTE: Below is a breakdown of the above objectives.
Reframe and Reset
As the ‘off year’ begins, we must remind Americans of the stakes of the battle ahead. Most voters unsurprisingly want to be left alone, go back to what passes for normal life, and put their heads in the sand when it comes to politics. As Pericles noted, “You can ignore politics, but it won’t ignore you.”
January 6th and January 20th. The days are only two weeks apart on the calendar, but they represent the two poles of American political life. Two years ago, the Republic was only saved by moments of individual heroism as Trump-inspired rioters attempted to overturn a free and fair election, leaving blood and wreckage in their wake. Those responsible, from Trump down, must be held to account, publicly and legally for their crimes.
January 20th represents the best of American public life. The peaceful transfer of power continued unabated for 244 years before Donald Trump. Two weeks after the 1/6 insurrection, Joe Biden took the oath of office and ushered in two years of American restoration. With First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, they returned normalcy and decency to the White House. President Biden saved the Western Alliance in the face of Russian aggression. And he’s been the most legislatively successful president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. We will remind the American people of the value of having a Chief Executive committed to upholding his oath of office and protecting democracy, not working to undermine it.
With Republican control of the US House of Representatives, we will make Kevin McCarthy and his conference pay a high price for deciding that Hunter Biden’s laptop and ending aid to Ukraine are the hills they want to die on politically. McCarthy will be a puppet to the likes of Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz, and Marjorie Taylor-Greene. Their agenda will be his agenda.
We also want to ask questions and offer answers to questions, such as “What is the Republican Party? Who are its leaders? What do they believe in?” Donald Trump, Kari Lake, Kevin McCarthy, Mitch McConnell, Ron DeSantis, Rick Scott Glenn Youngkin, and Marjorie Taylor-Greene are all part of the same movement. Some, like DeSantis and Youngkin may hold themselves out as ‘normal’ but they’ve rarely stood up to Trump or the worst in his movement. In fact, they endorsed, and campaigned for, the likes of Kari Lake and Herschel Walker in 2022.
In the first quarter of the year, we will ensure that none of them are able to escape the web they’ve weaved for themselves. Whether true believers, enablers, or cynics, they know they must bow to MAGA to have any hope of success. Whatever the mainstream media and ‘Establishment’ Republicans may say, the GOP belongs to its base voters.
For nominating states, we will develop messaging and tactics that allow us to drive wedges between the Republican candidates, keeping them fighting with one another, and specifically inducing them into fights with Donald Trump.
Wrapped in all of this is the most important question: Why? Why is the American Experiment worth fighting for? There are innumerable answers. For us, it is simple: We fight because it is the right of every American to pursue life, liberty, and happiness – as they see it. Freedom means responsibility to yourself, your neighbor and to your country. It is as much about the common good as self-interest. Only together can we win this fight. Only when we agree, that it’s time to put aside our differences, whatever they may be, to fight for something bigger than all of us. It’s only then that we’ll have the opportunity to succeed.
The easy answer is, “It doesn’t matter anyway.”
We choose the harder path. This struggle does matter, and when we win this fight, the work of restoring the American Experiment will have only just begun.
Building the Army
In 2020, an ad hoc coalition of Americans from across the political spectrum came together to elect Joe Biden. In late 2021 we set out to design a structure by which groups and Americans from different states, different political parties, and different interests could collaborate. In March of last year, we launched The Union, a grassroots hub that provided common calls-to-action, mutual assistance, manpower, and other resources, connecting volunteers with the pro-democracy organizations that needed help. By Election Day 2022, we’d recruited 70+ partner groups and more than 65,000 individual volunteers who worked in more than 60 races across 30 states, managed up to 2,500 events a week, and averaged 100,000 voter contacts a day.
State-based Union chapters took responsibility for organizing their actions and ensuring a steady stream of communications and social media postings. It is a truly grassroots, organic organization and we encourage you to learn more about it at jointheunion.us.
As part of this effort, we will also begin to personalize the pro-democracy movement. People follow people. We want local Union leaders to communicate within their states, counties, and communities, and recruit new leaders. This ‘distributed organizing’ model will allow for the greatest, most-efficient use of time, people, and resources.
We will work with anyone that wants to work with us.
As of this writing, Donald Trump is the only declared candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. We expect that by this summer, that will have changed, but it is still too soon to say by how much. There is a wild expectation that more than a dozen other Republicans could take on Trump in what will be a long, ugly, and divisive fight for the GOP standard. We will be there, just as we were in 2020, to encourage internecine fighting, spark chaos, enrage Trump with our ‘Audience of One’ strategy, and remind voters – Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, why Trump and his sycophants should never again occupy the Oval Office.
The Lincoln Project will take our knowledge of Trump, the Republican Party, and their guiding ethos – everyman for himself – to ensure that a year from now, whoever is left in the race is badly damaged in the eyes of our key electoral targets – soft Republicans and conservative-leaning independents. We will not allow any of them, Trump, DeSantis, Haley, Pence, or the rest, to go before voters unscathed.
We’ll bring together our pro-democracy messaging and content with our Union ground game to begin laying the traps we believe Republican candidates are most likely to stumble into. Other than Trump, all the Republican candidates are conventional politicians, and they will run conventional campaigns. It is our role, and our specialty, to disrupt those conventions. We know who they are, how they’ll operate, and how to encourage them to turn their sights on us, leaving them open to further attacks from their fellow presidential aspirants.
As the Republican field takes shape, we will continue highlighting President Biden’s leadership as he embarks upon what we expect will be a reelection campaign.
It is essential that we learn the lessons of the past and apply them to the future, not simply utilize the same tired tactics that are, in sum, a crapshoot. Presidential campaigns are made up of moments, large and small, most of which occur far outside the control of any one person or group. How do we position the pro-democracy movement to respond to and/or take full advantage of those moments when they arrive? This is what the fourth quarter of 2023 will be dedicated to as we look forward to the second year of our campaign.
This year will also feature several important off-year elections. Wisconsin’s state Supreme Court race and the reelection efforts of Kentucky Governor Andy Bashear and Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards will provide excellent opportunities for us to test our systems and messaging ahead of 2024. We also will keep close watch over the Governor race in Mississippi as the right ingredients may fall into place for an off year upset there.
We know that there is a desire among Americans to return to a sense of normalcy and that because of that, they are looking for signs the Republicans may be stabilizing and rejecting Trump. Make no mistake. Nothing has or will change. The Republican party that existed before Trump is dead. It will never return. It isn’t the same party. It will be imperative to our strategy to get this point across to Bannonline voters. To this end, we will be closely watching and directly targeting the 18 Republicans who won in Biden districts this next year to show Americans that MAGA is in complete control of ALL of the Republican Members of Congress.
The Lincoln Project understands the nature of the fight before us better than any organization. We know that we are not just up against a political party, but an authoritarian movement who will do whatever they believe is necessary to take power next year.