I feel like this is a minor betrayal of the plot dynamics of the reality show we collectively live in now. Obviously, for maximum drama, George Conway is supposed to primary Trump himself, thus forcing Kellyanne to make a wrenching decision about whom to back.
Nah, I’m just kidding. She’d back Trump. And it wouldn’t be wrenching.
Instead Conway’s forming a new Super PAC called the Lincoln Project with other well-known righty Never Trumpers like Steve Schmidt, Rick Wilson, and John Weaver. The wrinkle is that they’re not just out to defeat Trump; apparently they’re headed into battleground states to try to stop Trump’s apologists in Congress too. Does that mean if Susan Collins and Cory Gardner vote to acquit Trump next month, there’ll be Lincoln Project ads running against them in Maine and Colorado, potentially putting Chuck Schumer in charge of the Senate? Sounds like it. From a joint op-ed written by the PAC’s co-founders published today in the Times:
The 2020 general election, by every indication, will be about persuasion, with turnout expected to be at record highs. Our efforts are aimed at persuading enough disaffected conservatives, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in swing states and districts to help ensure a victory in the Electoral College, and congressional majorities that don’t enable or abet Mr. Trump’s violations of the Constitution, even if that means Democratic control of the Senate and an expanded Democratic majority in the House…
Indeed, national Republicans have done far worse than simply march along to Mr. Trump’s beat. Their defense of him is imbued with an ugliness, a meanness and a willingness to attack and slander those who have shed blood for our country, who have dedicated their lives and careers to its defense and its security, and whose job is to preserve the nation’s status as a beacon of hope.
Congressional Republicans have embraced and copied Mr. Trump’s cruelty and defended and even adopted his corruption. Mr. Trump and his enablers have abandoned conservatism and longstanding Republican principles and replaced it with Trumpism, an empty faith led by a bogus prophet.
Their goal, explicitly, is to defeat not just Trump but Trumpism. How? The idea, I assume, is to show Trump’s base that there are enough anti-Trumpers on the right who are willing to vote Democratic in protest of the president that the GOP will simply have no choice but to change if it wants to win national elections going forward. I thought the 2016 election already disproved that theory but arguably those results can be ruled out on account of Hillary’s singular unpopularity having influenced the results. They’re going to re-run the experiment with a less objectionable Democratic nominee, like Joe Biden, and hope that the exit polls show that a small but decisive Republican crossover vote boosted Biden to victory in key states.
Then what? Unclear. If the Lincoln Project fails and Trump is reelected, it’ll confirm (again) that Never Trumpism is a completely negligible force on the right. If the Lincoln Project succeeds and Trump and a handful of Republican senators are toppled, we’ll have four years of Democratic government with Never Trumpers being blamed by the base for every bad thing the administration does — which seems like not a great way to convince Republicans that anti-Trumpism will ultimately lead the right to victory. “Better a Democrat than you” isn’t a rift that can be healed.
Which means, as I understand it, that this project amounts to a declaration of war. The LP is going to try to convince a small but meaningful part of the right that it’s worth electing and reelecting Democrats until Republican voters get tired of losing and conclude that they need to try something else besides Trumpism. That is, it’s an attempt to convert Republicans into Democrats — hopefully temporarily but indefinitely if need be in the name of thwarting right-wing populism. (Actually, would the Lincoln Project accept Republican populism that was led by a less Trumpy figure than Trump? Also unclear right now.)
Mrs. Conway was reached for reaction by the AP:
Asked about the super PAC, Kellyanne Conway acknowledged her husband’s involvement and said: “It’s kind of disappointing to see some of the people who are involved, but not surprising.”…
“They never got a president elected into the White House. I’m sure that hurts, very much. But they never really accommodated the growing Republican Party and understood how to beat Democrats and we did,” she told reporters at the White House.
Tim Murtaugh, the communications director for Trump’s reelection campaign, called the effort a “pathetic little club of irrelevant and faux ‘Republicans’ who are upset that they’ve lost all of their power and influence inside the Republican Party.”
I actually don’t think there’s a huge strategic component to the Lincoln Project. All of these guys are pros; they can read the polls showing near-unanimous support for Trump within the GOP as well as you and I can. No doubt all of them would also agree with this superb Jonathan Last piece explaining in agonizing detail just how completely Trump owns the GOP now, in a way no modern Republican leader — maybe no modern American political leader — has quite matched. “Trump is forever,” Last laments, arguing (correctly) that Trump’s influence over the party is apt to last for many years after he leaves office. There really is no “post-Trump GOP” unless Trump takes such a drubbing next fall that it convinces even diehards that they’ll need to try something different going forward. But that’s unlikely, and even if does happen, it’s not the Lincoln Project that’ll be credited. Their influence potentially would be felt only if the race goes down to the wire and Trump-skeptical Republican votes appear decisive.
So the strategic consideration is minor. The reason Conway et al. put this thing together, I suspect, is because they were simply exasperated watching the likes of Doug Collins and Jim Jordan bark Trumpist spin at them on cable news 12 hours a day. If you’re a Never Trumper, you can bang your head against the desk at that or you can try to channel your energy into something constructive. Conway and the rest chose a PAC. It’s hard to see a truly constructive outcome — Trump is forever — but their options were limited. They can’t replace the electorate so they’ll try to replace the leadership instead.