Lincoln Project co-founder Steve Schmidt: That tiki torch stunt in Virginia was “recklessly stupid,” “dishonest,” and “cheap"

He’s not the first member of this organization to berate it publicly for its ethical issues. George Conway and Kurt Bardella, both former advisors, called on it to shut down after the John Weaver scandal last year. Steve Schmidt, who co-founded the group and reportedly viewed it as his ticket to “generational wealth,” hung on despite the fallout from the Weaver affair. He stepped down from the board in February amid accusations that he knew Weaver had been harassing young men (some underaged) but remained with the group in an unspecified “executive capacity.”

Per the clip below, it sounds like that executive role isn’t hands-on. Just as he denied knowing what Weaver was up to, he denies having had anything to do with the LP stunt in the closing days of the Virginia race, when activists carrying tiki torches like the neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville in 2017 gathered outside Glenn Youngkin’s campaign bus.

You believe him, don’t you?

He’s been on quite the political journey. From McCain campaign manager in 2008 to MSNBC contributor to harsh Republican critic to Lincoln Project co-founder to most recently being the addressee on a letter from the Charlottesville City Council asking that his group stop traumatizing the residents of their city. If you find yourself getting official correspondence requesting that you desist from impersonating Nazis, your career has gone badly wrong:

For many of our residents who confronted the Nazis and white supremacists on our streets on August 11 and 12, seeing your operatives in white polo shirts and khakis carrying (even unlit) tiki torches caused a PTSD flashback to those traumatic days. Many of our residents were badly hurt that weekend, and they still struggle with unpaid medical and living expenses. For many more who may not have witnessed the events of August 11 and 12 but who know how our friends were traumatized that weekend, your insensitivity caused great anger. And to have those images flashing again when the victims were testifying was particularly upsetting. Some thought that the 2017 attackers had returned because of the ongoing trial…

You seem to regard “Charlottesville” as nothing more than a political meme, and parading mock white supremacists around our city as nothing more than political cosplay. You clearly do not understand the extent to which your “prank” inflicted real emotional pain on innocent people here in Charlottesville.

I’m skeptical that the LP incident mattered much to the results in Virginia. Youngkin was going to win on the strength of his pro-parent campaign, not because a well-known anti-Republican group sh*t the bed with a PR stunt. But it might have intensified the sense in the race’s closing days that the messaging effort against Youngkin in VA was hapless and hysterical. Between the LP backfire and Terry McAuliffe spending most of his time either sputtering about Trump or hand-waving away parents’ concerns about school, swing voters must have been overcome by the stench of ineptitude. That can’t have helped McAuliffe with undecideds.

So long as the Lincoln Project remains a vehicle for “generational wealth” I assume Schmidt will stick with it. But does it? What’s left of their reputation and donor base after the Weaver scandal, its poor track record in Senate and House races last year, and now the Charlottesville fiasco?

Last year, the Lincoln Project raised more than $90 million, with more than half of it split among its leaders in consulting deals, according to the Associated Press . And while they helped bring down Trump, a review of its last election cycle shows they weren’t so successful in lower-profile races.

During last year’s election, the Lincoln Project failed to keep 11 GOP senators it targeted from being elected, including influential leaders such as Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell, Tom Cotton, Joni Ernst, and Susan Collins. Only Sens. Raphael Warnock, Jon Ossoff, Mark Kelley, and John Hickenlooper were in the win column.

The election data, found on OpenSecrets , showed an expenditure of $49,633,016 on the various campaigns for 2020. This year, the Lincoln Project’s coffers are substantially emptier, albeit in a non-presidential election year. According to the Federal Election Commission’s website, they only received $12,179,825 in contributions between Dec. 17, 2020, and June 30, with $1.6 million in cash at the end of the period.

Never Trumpers are often accused of secretly pining to have Trump back in politics as a matter of restoring their relevance. That’s rarely true, I think; I’d be thrilled to see him retire and let a new crop of GOP candidates step forward. But watching the trajectory of the LP over the past year, and in light of Schmidt’s apparent view of the outfit as a moneymaking venture, you do wonder if they might quietly celebrate upon hearing 45 announce his 2024 candidacy.

Then again, increasingly they seem like more of a pro-Democratic shop than an anti-Trump or anti-Republican one, in which case why would they need Trump back on the scene to make bank? This recent ad caught my eye because the emphasis is less on denigrating him (although it does taunt him) than it is on celebrating Biden’s infrastructure victory. Some Never Trump conservatives believe they should cast their votes for Democrats until a post-Trump GOP emerges that can govern responsibly again, but that support for Dems is typically reluctant due to ideological differences. This ad scans like more of an eager Biden campaign ad. Oh well.