Props to the Lincoln Project, but it's clear we have to step up now

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

As the Trump presidency comes to an end, more and more Republicans have taken to denouncing his irresponsibility and “stupid political obsessions,” as Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) terms it. However, it all comes too late: “Courage exercised only when the coast is clear is not courage; it is opportunism,” writes Tom Nichols, a founding member of the Never Trumpers. In the past four years, pieces like Senator Mitt Romney’s (R-UT) editorial decrying our lack of presidential leadership have rarely come from the right.

Bold and conscientious endeavours that actively fight against tyranny, violence, and racism are more important than ever. As Lincoln once stated, “It’s not enough to know something is wrong, when it’s very wrong, and not do something.”

In an attempt to spur on some much-needed change, several figures gathered to announce the founding of the Lincoln Project in December of 2019. These included George Conway, husband of past Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway; Steve Schmidt, who worked on campaigns for President George W. Bush, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and presidential candidate Senator John McCain; John Weaver, who also worked for the McCain presidential campaigns; and Rick Wilson, Florida field director for the George H. W. Bush presidential campaign. All of them have long been outspoken critics of Trump.

Its task? To “[restore] to this nation leadership and governance that respects the rule of law, recognizes the dignity of all people and defends the Constitution and American values at home and abroad.” In short, defeat Trump and Trumpism at the ballot box. Over the course of 2020, this super PAC has released aggressive advertisements with the same overwrought relish the president shows in his jokes and insinuations. It has also taken to social media: the Project went on Twitter to call for photographs of veterans with the hashtag #WeRespectVets in September 2020, to counter Trump’s denigrating comments on the American war dead. Within an hour, the hashtag became Twitter’s leading Politics topic.

For all of its popularity, however, the effectiveness of the advertisements, into which $67 million was invested, has come into question. In the 2020 election, President Trump won more than 73 million votes and broke the previous GOP record he set in 2016. Of the seven Democratic congressional candidates in key races supported by the Project, none won. It seems the advertisements only accomplished what co-founder Reed Galen calls “‘an audience of one’ strategy, which is clearly aimed at the president”: in response to the scathing attacks, Trump has angrily labelled the Project’s founders “Republicans in Name Only” who do not know how to win at the ballot box.

The Project has also come under fire for funneling money to its advisory board and spending relatively little on airing political ads, resulting in an unusually high rate for production costs compared to other super PACs. Even so, these critics fail to take into account how the founders of the Lincoln Project have already “[burned] personal and financial bridges to the Republican Party that sustained them.” Nichols also points out that in the past few years, holding firm for democracy has been uniquely taxing and destructive for conservatives: “While some lost money, all lost friends. A few needed law enforcement to step in because of threats to their lives and to their families.”

Regardless, the Project’s popularity and media success have helped secure record levels of fundraising and suggest that it may continue as a media business, with the potential to create a non-fiction film and a House of Cards-like fiction series. More concretely, the Lincoln Project has made clear that it will continue to operate against widespread misinformation and political polarization at both the state and federal levels, holding senators who have enabled Trump or abetted America’s adversaries accountable and detangling the Trump family from the Republican party.

However, this hefty mission, undertaken by a single super PAC, will be nowhere near enough.

Weeks before President-elect Biden’s inauguration, Trump was still contesting the Biden win with debunked conspiracy theories and wreaking havoc on our democratic institutions. On Jan. 2, he “alternately berated [Georgia’s secretary of state], tried to flatter him, begged him to act, and threatened him with vague criminal consequences” if Trump’s defeat in Georgia (by 11,779 votes) were not overturned, as was reported by the Washington Post.

Trump also incited the chaotic breach of the Capitol building during the counting of electoral votes. Rioters pushed through barriers, vandalized the building, and even engaged in an armed standoff with police. It must be pointed out that a complicit police force met this violent insurrection, which resulted in not just broken windows but also five deaths, rather than the militias and armed forces responding to Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020.

So, even with President Trump’s overdue concession of the 2020 election, the difficult journey continues for us as a nation in solidarity. The Guardian reminds us that “Removing Trump from the White House is one thing — fixing America is another.” In the United States, Trumpism is up there on the list of severe, debilitating universal issues along with the stark racial wealth gap, corrosive inequality, and the climate crisis, to name a few. To exacerbate the issue, Trump has already begun preparations for the 2024 candidacy, and thus will be stoking the injustices and racism still present today.

There is still hope. As long as we continue to denounce those who have manipulated our system of government and betrayed our democratic principles, and as long as we continue to harness our power as voters and activists to eradicate what the Lincoln Project rightly recognizes to be an “empty faith led by a bogus prophet,” we can still prevent Nichols’ worst nightmare: the “first iteration of an American dictatorship.”