In an era where our country is divided at historically high levels, there seems to be one thing that draws people in across party lines, across generations, and larger political beliefs – voting Donald Trump out of office. On Wednesday, social media campaign #LincolnVoter trended on Twitter as hoards of people started sharing their stories of switching their vote from Republican to Democrat. “Converts” converged to open up about what made them switch. "I left the party when Trump was nominated," one person wrote. "I’m 50 and have never voted for a Democrat as president...until this year," tweeted another.
As the hashtag began garnering a massive amount of support from supposed Republicans who are "switching" their votes in the 2020 election to endorse Joe Biden, questions amounted about the Lincoln Project and what their motivations are. Particularly, is the Lincoln Project here to create actual political change in America that will benefit the masses, or is it a bunch of Republicans throwing themselves a pity party? Let's investigate.
The Lincoln Project is a conservative super PAC that aims to “defeat President Trump and Trumpism at the ballot box” in 2020, according to FactCheck.org. In the words of its founders, the organization draws its inspiration from the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, who “understood the necessity of not just saving the Union, but also of knitting the nation back together spiritually as well as politically.”
The Lincoln Project presents “sectionalism in the country and factionalism in government” as the source of the problem and voting out Trump as the solution. “Only defeating so polarizing a character as Trump will allow the country to heal its political and psychological wounds and allow for a new, better path forward for all Americans,” reads the Lincoln Project’s website.
Its mission statement continues by saying that the organization’s founders still maintain policy differences with national Democrats, but it is committed to defeating candidates who do not honor constitutional oaths, regardless of party affiliation. Basically, they would rather disagree over policy than keep someone in office that they believe does not act according to the pledges the United States makes to its residents.
The group of eight founders, including White House counselor Kellyanne Conway’s husband George Conway, is largely made up of political strategists, communications consultants, and state-level Republican party positions. As a super PAC, the Lincoln Project can accept unlimited contributions and counts billionaire hedge fund manager Stephen Mandel Jr., film studio executive David Geffen, and Silicon Valley venture capitalist Michael Moritz among its list of donors. Because of its status, it cannot coordinate with campaigns on its independent expenditures.
So why would an organization made up of Republicans want to get voters to support a Democratic candidate? They hope to appeal to Trump-skeptical conservatives who might respond to ads mirroring Republican language and iconography. In an interview with Vox, Lincoln Project communications director Keith Edwards said the project had no plans beyond defeating Trump. “We are focused [on] making sure Trump is a one-term president and ensuring Biden takes the oath of office in January. We’re not thinking of anything beyond that.” Emphasis on: "We’re not thinking of anything beyond that.”
With campaign operatives possessing deep ties to the pre-Trump GOP, many are wary — and for good reason. Lincoln Project board members worked on campaigns for George H. W. Bush as well as George W. Bush. Both of those campaigns used the same fear-mongering ad tactics used by Trump’s campaign that the Lincoln Project now appears to detest. So, prior to wanting Trump out of office, board members used strategies that look very similar to those that Trump is using to get reelected, and used them to push largely Republican agendas.
Another criticism of the organization is that much of the millions it has raised reportedly goes toward high ad production costs and firms run by members of the Lincoln Project’s board. According to Open Secrets, the Lincoln Project spent $1.4 million in March 2020. Almost all of that went to the group’s board members and firms run by them. Little is spent on direct political activity.
But perhaps the most baffling part of the Lincoln Project, and their campaign for #LincolnVoters, is the masquerade that the super PAC is suddenly promoting a Democratic agenda. But they are not: While their motives might seem unclear to the naked Twitter onlooker, this is a classic case of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The group's support of candidates who oppose values often rooted in Democratic policies, like abortion or reproductive rights, is storied. Now, they are trying to turn voters by using those same values against them.
“This is about doing the right thing for our country and that goes back to embracing Biblical principles, such as loving and caring for each other,” Sarah Lenti, executive director at the Lincoln Project told Politico.
The group, in truth, is interested in ousting Trump, which appeals to both party lines in a seemingly unifying way. But the motivation behind #LincolnVoters seems more self-serving for the project itself: They are promoting a right wing platform under the guise of a Democratic endorsement for Joe Biden, which comes across as self-congratulatory for Republicans that have long-opposed (and still oppose) progressive policies, but just happen to dislike our current president in all his ineptitude. It's also become a space on Twitter for "Republicans" (in truth, we don't know who these tweeters really are) to pity themselves for having a party leader like Trump, and explain away their motives for voting differently this election.
I digress, the nearly 20k tweets in support of switching votes from Republican to Democrat gives us all some hope in these #TryingTimes. But it can also be an illusion that will entice fewer people to vote come in the general election if there's a wide belief that Biden has this one in the bag (remember 2016?). So, just because it seems like fewer people are voting for Trump now, don’t be fooled into thinking you don’t need to vote. Every vote counts!
Refinery29 reached out to the Lincoln Project for comment.