The Swindlers of the Lincoln Project

Aaron Kliegman, 

If you want to see how ugly and dishonest politics can get, go to Manhattan. There in Times Square, you’ll see two new billboards. One shows a smiling Ivanka Trump gesturing toward the number of New Yorkers and Americans who have died from the coronavirus, as if she’s celebrating their deaths.

The other billboard shows Trump’s husband, Jared Kushner, also smiling, alongside body bags and the following quote: New Yorkers “are going to suffer [during the pandemic], and that’s their problem.” Citing an anonymous source, Vanity Fair attributed the quote to Kushner, who denied saying it.

The billboards are outrageous. They portray President Donald Trump’s daughter and son-in-law — not even the president himself — as monsters who are so evil, they want Americans to die. And the billboards do this by displaying unrelated photos and unconfirmed quotes out of context.

Does anyone seriously think Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are so sadistic they get pleasure from watching Americans die from a virus? Only people unencumbered by the restraints of shame and morality could post such images.

Which is why the principals at the Lincoln Project, a political action committee with a militant dedication to defeating President Trump and Republicans who support him, are the ones who put them up.

Founded by “Never-Trump” Republicans (and ex-Republicans), the Lincoln Project has demonstrated a willingness to lie, defame, demonize, and whatever else it deems necessary to destroy President Trump. The group’s goal is to purify and cleanse American politics by erasing all vestiges of the 45th president from public life.

And in order to embark upon this self-righteous crusade, the Lincoln Project’s leaders —erroneously labeled “conservatives” — have allied with the political left, embracing the progressives’ agenda and sacrificing all principles.

“Our many policy differences with national Democrats remain, but our shared fidelity to the Constitution dictates a common effort,” four of the group’s co-founders wrote in December when announcing the formation of the Lincoln Project.

It’s simply impossible to take the people who wrote those words seriously. Because they love and want to preserve the Constitution, the so-called conservatives of the Lincoln Project are going to back those who want to pack the Supreme Court, thus politicizing and destroying the legitimacy of an entire branch of government, and not those who seek to appoint textualists and originalists to the bench?

Just last week, the principals of the Lincoln Project penned another op-ed, this one claiming, absurdly, that the 2020 election is a choice between Trump and America, autocracy and the republic. In other words, a vote for Trump is a vote to destroy American democracy.

The tired melodrama and histrionics are nauseating — and simply false. Just to be clear, the candidate who expressly wants to preserve “our beloved American way of life” is the problem for these self-proclaimed conservatives, not the candidate whose party wants to abolish the filibuster and Electoral College and create new states to secure a permanent majority in the US Senate.

Most striking of all is the Lincoln Project’s style, which reveals a group eager to engage in the false, misleading, and vulgar attacks that it purportedly finds so appalling about the president’s messaging. On the latest anniversary of 9/11, for example, one of the group’s co-founders called President Trump “the greatest threat to the safety and security of Americans.”

But video advertisements are really what have made the Lincoln Project so famous.

Earlier this year, the group released an ad about President Trump’s claim at a rally that he asked his “people” to slow down coronavirus testing. The president later said the remark was “semi-tongue in cheek,” and his spokesperson said it was made “in jest.”

And yet, the Lincoln Project drew, to quote the Atlantic’s Andrew Ferguson, “the implausible inference that the president actually wanted to slow testing, which would only inhibit the reopening of the economy, the one thing he doesn’t want to do.”

Apparently when you see yourself as so noble that you’re beyond reproach, you have the authority to decide what’s true, no matter the mental gymnastics required.

In another ad titled, “Shrinking,” the Lincoln Project mocked Trump for 45 seconds using a not-so-subtle sexual innuendo.

And that just scratches at the surface. The group has released other ads suggesting the president is suffering from a disability and unfit for office, depicting him as a murderous monster from a fairy tale, blaming him for literally every death caused by the coronavirus, calling him “un-American” based on unconfirmed news reports, deriding him as “America’s worst president,” stoking fear that he’ll stay in office for a third term and become a dictator, and dehumanizing senators who support him as parasites that “drink the lifeblood of their hosts.”

Forget about President Trump: The self-proclaimed moralists at the Lincoln Project are the ones using shock and outrage to score political points. Indeed, it is deeply ironic that they’re practicing precisely what they accuse President Trump of doing — being vulgar, dishonest, divisive, and immoral.

But worst of all, for the principals of the Lincoln Project — Steve Schmidt, Rick Wilson, George Conway, and others — it’s not actually about politics, or ideology, or the health of the republic. They’re doing what they’re doing for the money. And they have certainly raked in loads of cash during this election cycle.

From July through September, the Lincoln Project raised an astounding $39.4 million, courtesy of Democratic donors. Rob Pyers, research director for the nonpartisan California Target Book, found that $23.9 million of that total was channeled to independent expenditures, “mostly routed” to consulting firms owned by two of the group’s co-founders, over the three-month period. Specifically, Reed Galen’s Summit Strategic Communications received $18.8 million, and Ron Steslow’s TUSK Digital received $8.7 million.

This self-enrichment isn’t new. In May, the Center for Responsive Politics, a watchdog focused on campaign finance, wrote that the Lincoln Project “has come under scrutiny for funneling money to its advisory board members” and “hides some of its vendors by stealthily paying subcontractors, making it difficult to follow the money.” Indeed, through March, the group had spent nearly $1.4 million, almost all of which “went to the group’s board members and firms run by them.”

Pyers also found that the Lincoln Project “burned a staggering $13 million on operating expenditures” from July through September, noting that Galen’s company “logged $129,668 in expenditures for lodging reimbursement in August” alone.

And if all that’s not bad enough, we learned Tuesday that the Lincoln Project is now trying to use its monetary success to become a media empire.

“The group is in talks with the United Talent Agency to help build out Lincoln Media and is weighing offers from different television studios, podcast networks, and book publishers,” Axios reported. “Lincoln’s plan is part of the new trend of activists developing massive audiences for political influence that they are then able to spin into commercial media success.”

Even Hollywood is interested, as several media and entertainment companies are looking to launch franchises from Lincoln’s brand.

According to Oxford’s English dictionary, a swindler is a person who uses deception to take someone’s money. Few words better describe the principals of the Lincoln Project.

Life is sure good for them. It turns out it’s easy to make a quick buck when you ditch your principles and no longer feel shame. Sure, you sacrifice your soul, but everything has a price, right?

Perhaps most shameful of all, the Lincoln Project claims Abraham Lincoln as its namesake. True, there was a time when Lincoln launched stinging, partisan attacks in his political youth, but he grew to become a leader for all times, someone who wanted desperately to unite the union.

The swindlers at the Lincoln Project, however, want to divide us, and they want to do so for money, fame, and power.

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