The consultant Sarah Longwell, who heads a group called Republican Voters Against Trump, said, of the leaders of the Lincoln Project, “They’ve very successfully tapped into the rage that a lot of people feel, including me.” The Project’s scorched-earth approach distinguishes it from similar organizations: the founders, some of whom have entirely shed their Republican identities, have left themselves no clear path of return. (Wilson and Schmidt are now registered Independents.) Longwell said, “In many ways, this is their last stand.”
Most of the Project’s core founders are in their fifties and came of age under Ronald Reagan. They were drawn to Reagan’s optimism and to his belief in fiscally responsible government, which, as Galen points out, “doesn’t necessarily mean lower taxes—it means being smart with taxpayers’ money.” Socially, they favor individual liberty: worship however you want, marry whomever you want. They support responsible gun ownership and a judiciously interventionist foreign policy. Weaver served in the Air Force, and Wilson worked in the Defense Department, but all the founders revere military service. In 2015, Trump disgusted them when he mocked McCain—a fighter pilot who was a P.O.W. during Vietnam—by saying, “I like people that weren’t captured.”
After Obama won his second term, the Republican National Committee commissioned a study that became known as the “autopsy report.” The country’s voting population was diversifying rapidly, and, the report said, young voters were “increasingly rolling their eyes at what the Party represents.” It noted, “Many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country.” In a recent book, “It Was All a Lie,” Stevens writes, “How do you go from dedicating a political party to expansion and inclusiveness and two years later rally around a man who calls Mexicans ‘rapists,’ and called for a religious test to enter the United States?” He goes on, “For decades, conservatives attacked liberals for living by ‘situational ethics,’ but the ease with which Republican leaders abandoned any pretense of being more than a whites-only party is the ultimate situational ethic.” In January, Wilson told Trevor Noah that Trump “has broken the Republican Party—it doesn’t believe in anything.” Stunningly, the 2020 Republican National Convention put forward no new platform, signalling that the Party’s sole position was fealty to Trump.