On the Lincoln Project

Because I just can’t discuss our constant COVID-19 policy failures all the time.

By now, you might have stumbled across a political ad by the Lincoln Project, a group of former Republican operatives and advisors who have committed themselves to defeating Trump (‘NeverTrumpers’). One reason is the Lincoln Project has gained notice is because they have put together some high-quality ads, a few of which clearly are living rent-free in his head:

That drove him around the bend.

Other ads make arguments that might appeal to some conservatives:

And the production quality is very good:

The Frank Miller-esque comic fonts are a subtle touch (again, they’re not trying to appeal to lefties). But the Lincoln Project should force Democrats to ask some difficult questions.

First, why are professional Democrats so bad at political advertising? While we shouldn’t overestimate the role ads play–and keep in mind, the Lincoln Project operatives have a vested interest in said overestimation (we’ll return to this)–if you’re going to pay people to make ads, why do Democratic operatives, on the whole, suck at making ads? And, for that matter, at everything else? (it doesn’t take much skill to win a gerrymandered district). It’s time, perhaps too late though, to stop supporting lovable Democratic losers.

Second, what do the Lincoln Project operatives expect in return? Some will expect policy concessions and will pretend that their pre-2016 careers never happened (e.g., Rick Wilson sliming Democrat Max Cleland as an Al-Queda loving traitor). My guess is they could really screw up foreign policy, if allowed. On the other hand, some, based on Greg Sargent’s reporting, seem truly repentant (boldface mine):

Should progressives and liberals view the Lincoln Project Republicans as full-fledged converts, or as temporary allies of convenience, or as an ideological Trojan horse virus that will co-opt the Democratic Party from within if allowed to ride anti-Trump sentiment into the party’s good graces?

…Pressed on this, Weaver insisted the break is genuine. He told me the Lincoln Project is committed to ensuring that the “drive-by Jim Crowism in many parts of the country is put to an end.”

…But will the Lincoln Project remain committed to concrete expansions of voting rights after Trump is gone? Weaver said yes, noting it will keep advocating for automatic voter registration and a restored Voting Rights Act, and continue fighting efforts to “make it difficult for black people or poor people to vote.”

…But this raises another question — whether the Lincoln Project accepts the GOP’s own role in laying the groundwork for the moment. That includes the “Southern Strategy,” toleration of the Confederate flag, and a less blatant anti-immigrant sentiment that Trump made more explicit.

Pressed on this, Weaver made an interesting concession. He allowed that he helped elect Jeff Sessions to the Senate in the 1990s. Given Sessions’s racially charged history and his longtime role in building a U.S. nativist movement, Weaver allowed this had contributed in its own small way to pushing the GOP toward a Trump takeover.

I have my own atonement to do every day about that,” Weaver told me. “Did I contribute to putting a brick in the road to where we are today? Yeah, I did.”

…Another major test of the Lincoln Project’s intentions will come if Biden wins the presidency: Will it revert to a traditional GOP donor-friendly advocacy posture, one that drives opposition to the Democratic economic agenda?

…“We’re not gonna do that,” Weaver told me when pushed on this criticism. Weaver insisted the group would actively work against Republicans who obstruct a Biden presidency, which would face a deeper crisis than in 2009, when Republicans tried to obstruct Obama in hopes of profiting off continuing economic misery.

“He will have a mandate to clean up the mess that Trump has created with the help of his enablers,” Weaver said of a Biden presidency. “That shouldn’t be held up. We intend to do all we can to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

I asked Weaver what the Lincoln Project would do if a President Biden and a Democratic Congress tried to raise taxes on the rich to help fund a multitrillion-dollar rescue effort. Weaver said he couldn’t directly address this until he saw specifics, but said: “We’ll be generally supportive of trying to get this country moving forward.”

…“Trickle-down economics has proven not to work,” Weaver said, allowing that “growing and growing” inequality is a big reason the American people are losing faith in government, which is often said to have helped Trump’s rise.

The third question, is what remains of conservatism? My guess is a hawkish foreign policy, but if they jetison conservative economic policy, then what? Is the difference between a conservative and liberal the size of the marginal income tax rate increase? If they are going to endorse much of liberal Democratic policy, a fair amount of which will incorporate TEH SOCIALISMZ! (which isn’t really socialism), then what remains? It also raises a final question: what was animating these conservatives to begin with? If it’s not a ‘conviction about small government’ or other conservative economic bromides–after all, they recognize economic inequality is a real problem, not a desired outcome for the worthy–then they’ve been pushing a lie all this time.

Anyway, like the curse goes, we live in interesting times.

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8 Responses to On the Lincoln Project

  1. dr2chase says:

    The thing that I am waiting to hear admitted is that yes, actually, the DFHs were right again, and right early, and this is not some accident of default DFH positions, it’s actually the case that we are excellent judges of character and policy, and they should listen to us.

    The only thing I have learned over the years is that younger me was wrong in being too conservative — it’s like watching the global warming estimates get blown over and over again, if earlier scientists had been predicting accurately instead of hedging, we’d see 50-50 over/under. Earlier me was constantly hedging, “surely things aren’t that bad, surely they don’t do that, surely this proposal is too extreme”. Actually, no, in hindsight my pre-hedged opinions were the correct ones. And, ahem, right wing propaganda has a role in inspiring that hedging.

    I am worried WTF we’re supposed to do about foreign policy, that’s where shit breaks down and gets annoyingly game-theoretic.

  2. Dave Dell says:

    Currently reading Kelton’s Deficit Myth. I don’t think the Lincoln Project types will stop being deficit hawks during a Biden administration.

    I’d give this book out to family and friends but I know none would read it. I need something pamphlet-like to include in Christmas cards.

    • Thomas says:

      You might consider giving out a copy of J.D. Alt’s Diagrams & Dollars, Modern Money Illustrated.

  3. SideshowBill because I can't use my real name for business reasons says:

    Maybe they’ll start listening to scientist after being shown that not listening kills people and has a huge economic impact. Maybe they’ll become John Cole’s over at Balloon Juice. Although I don’t have too much hope for the latter, maybe the former will happen.

    I’m working at at startup making hydrogen generators to decarbonize as much of that portion of the fertilizer and chemical manufacturing business as possible. We’re starting to get attention from some pretty conservative investor groups that realize it’s A) important and B) you can still make money.

  4. JDM says:

    There is the problem of the refs having been worked for so long, so for the first few years of campaigns with harder hitting Democratic ads we’d no doubt continually see media going along with “Dems are mean!” backlash from rightwingers. Something they don’t do with Republican ads, including these.

  5. “…why are professional Democrats so bad at political advertising?…”

    1) Learned helplessness (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learned_helplessness)

    2) Even without this, they would be conflicted, for two primary reasons:
    2a) They are not comfortable with power, because hardly anyone alive today has seen it used legitimately, and because in this environment, it cannot be used legitimately, by any actor, to any purpose, because the audience is made up of infants and infants can only regard any action as arbitrary — hence illegitimate.
    2b) They are conflicted between a pseudophilosophical notion of majoritarianism and a suppressed recognition that they represent a tiny superminority, viz. persons who are not infants. Do not adduce polls at this point, because most of the people who vote Democratic, and have and will continue to, do so out of habit, but they are nonetheless infants, entirely without understanding, insight, or perspective. In other words, there is no Democratic message, no intellectually respectable message, no ethically valid message, no morally acceptable message, that can resonate with an audience whose emotional age is three seconds, who are totally overwhelmed and blinded by the birth trauma, and who have never been given any guidance, by anyone nominally responsible for doing so, to grow or develop beyond that point. Until you have grasped the existential meaning of the child’s first cry, do not ask why, or express any perplexity that, such-or-so a human institution is failing.

  6. Min says:

    I have long since given up my belief that the Democrats are lousy politicians. How many times do you hear Democratic politicians and pundits talk about the importance of voter turnout? Sometimes, but rarely, do you hear them talk about voter registration. Despite the fact that unregistered voters are more likely to vote Democratic than Republican. The Reps jumped at the chance to reinstate Jim Crow voter suppression, but the Dems have not responded with voter registration drives which were a force in ending the Jim Crow system in the South. I have concluded that the Dems don’t really want poor people to vote, because their rich donors do not really want them to vote. The Dems are satisfied to be Republicans Lite.
    There is evidence that this is changing because of the backlash against Trump. Fingers crossed.

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