Day 6·Q&A

The Lincoln Project's slick ad campaign is trolling Trump in hopes of a Biden win

In the lead up to the election, the Lincoln Project has targeted the president and those closest to him with caustic messages in an effort to ensure his ouster. Politico's Tina Nguyen explains how.

Tina Nguyen says the campaign aims to push undecided Republicans toward Democrat Joe Biden

Comprised of U.S. Republican Party insiders, the Lincoln Project is a group opposed to President Donald Trump, right, working on encouraging people to vote for Democratic nominee Joe Biden, left. (Jim Watson, Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

In the week since Donald Trump announced he tested positive for COVID-19, a political action group called the Lincoln Project has used their massive social media presence to mock the U.S. president.

The group is made up of Republican insiders who oppose Trump's re-election.

"The target audience are independents who do not particularly like Trump, but are not inclined yet to vote for Biden because they either don't think that Trump is all that bad or they still don't believe that Biden is up for the job," said Tina Nguyen, White House reporter for Politico.

"They're trying to make the Republican Party and Trump, and Trump's allies, look really, really bad, and Joe look good — or good by comparison."

In the lead up to the election, the Lincoln Project has targeted the president and those closest to him with caustic messages in an effort to ensure his ouster.

Nguyen, who has written about the Lincoln Project, spoke with Day 6 host Brent Bambury about their approach.

Here is part of that conversation.

The people behind the Lincoln Project have deep roots in the Republican Party and their fingerprints are all over the party's recent past.… One of the co-founders is [former White House adviser] Kellyanne Conway's husband, George Conway. How did this group come together?

Primarily, they were a bunch of anti-Trump Republicans who met on Twitter. I'm not kidding. A lot of them just had never really known each other in person. They probably ran into each other at the same parties, but primarily they became aware of each other and their shared antipathy towards Donald Trump because they were all really vocal on Twitter. 

George Conway, the reason that he became a big deal, was because he was someone so close to the White House and so close to a figure that is universally regarded as one of the loudest pro-Trump figures in his orbit. And Rick Wilson was a big conservative establishment political operative. So was Stuart Smith. So was Kurt Bardella. 

The Lincoln Project was co-founded by George Conway, right, husband to Keyllanne Conway, right, a former counselor to Trump. (Joshua Roberts/File Photo)

The list really goes on and on and on. But basically, from what they've told me, they met each other on the internet. Literally, they were meeting on Zoom before anyone else decided that meeting on Zoom was the primary mode of communication.

Democratic strategist James Carville said Democrats could learn a lot from the Lincoln Project. He said the Lincoln Project is mean and they fight hard and we don't fight like that. What do you think of what Carville had to say? Is it true?

Democrats and the Biden campaign, in particular, have a very weird position where they're coming off of the hope, change, big blowy future rhetoric of Barack Obama, and they have to pivot directly to this emotional, impulsive, nationalistic rhetoric coming out of Trump and the national populist base that he represents. 

Biden is so connected to the Obama administration and they want to present him as someone who's above all of this. And it's a little hard for them to do that, but also engage in the same tactics as Trump, which is where the Lincoln Project has said that they would fill in that gap because they are going to be mean where the Biden campaign cannot be mean.

The Lincoln Project is often only aiming at one person that's Trump himself. And here's an example of an ad that speaks directly to the president:

What is the value of this tactic of only trying to reach one person?

It was one of the tactics that got them through the first hurdles of their PAC [political action committee]. 

They didn't have that much money to begin with, but they started realizing that they could specifically target Trump because they always knew that he would be watching television between certain hours, and it will always be cable news. Most of the time it would be Fox. 

Primarily, they were a bunch of anti-Trump Republicans who met on Twitter. I'm not kidding.- Tina Nguyen

What that did was, one, get him rattled and get his attention focused directly on them, and then Trump would feel compelled to tweet about the project. And that is exactly what happened. 

That got them a lot of attention and therefore a lot of money. 

So that worked for them, but beyond punking the president of the United States, do they have a broader agenda when it comes to other Republican politicians?

They would like to draw attention to ways that those politicians have aided and abetted the president, and in swing states that could move the needle in either way. 

South Carolina, where [Senator] Lindsey Graham is, is close for the first time in decades. I think it's virtually neck-and-neck with Jamie Harrison. Maybe a couple of ads like those could get Harrison over the finish line. I mean, we're maybe talking about 20,000 votes here. 

So they want to salt the earth when it comes to all of the politicians who've enabled the Trump agenda, who have jumped on the Trump bandwagon. But do you think that any of their ads have actually changed the votes of traditionally-Republican voters?

It really could, and that's where the Lincoln Project's background comes in. Since they're all Republican operatives who have in one way or the other dealt with Trump's base prior to them becoming [pro-]Trump, they can speak to the voters in an authentic way.

So there is a pretty large section of Republican voters who are up for grabs, who are highly-reluctant Trump supporters.

Either they're going to be hacking off their tolerance of Trump and saying, "OK, we're exhausted and we can't tolerate this man anymore. We're not voting for him." Or maybe, maybe, maybe tilting them in the other direction to be like, "OK, we're going to vote for Biden then."

Written by Jason Vermes. Produced by Pedro Sanchez. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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