The Lincoln Project Is No Savior

Reclaiming cultural stock is its main preoccupation - defeating Republicans is just an added plus.

“If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed…and we will deserve it,” once said Arizona Senator Lindsey Graham of then-candidate Donald Trump, describing him as an existential threat to the Republican party. Four years later, the GOP has merely become Trump’s instrument to wield for his own selfish political ends–concerned for their party’s future, those who harbored animosity for Trump’s antics came to dub themselves ‘Never Trumpers’, and in an effort to steer the Republican party clear of what they deemed to be its ultimate demise, “The Lincoln Project” was born.

Creators of this project had their eyes set on a clear goal–sanitize the legacy of the pre-Trump Republican party such that Democrats believe their most recent arrival to the Oval Office to be an aberration. This was most-evident when their Twitter account posted an image of Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush together with the caption “Retweet if you agree.” which had appropriately gotten them a lot of attention –the implication behind that image, and the rest of the project’s editorial vision, is that the Republican party of yesteryears was just as honorable as the Democratic party of today. The problem — as is the case with the premise of the Lincoln Project more broadly — is that it presents an ahistorical view of the Republican party and the conservative right-wing as a whole that is mired in false nostalgia and intent on whitewashing the legacy of a party whose mobilization of white suburbia against “the other” was most-crucial in derailing the course of civil rights reform in the Trump era, just as it was in the Nixon era before it.

The Lincoln Project presents a version of American history where Republicans followed the rule of law until they didn’t, but what it fails to acknowledge in its fervent antagonism of Donald Trump, is that his arrival was partly the result of Never Trumpers’ own complacency–if they were loud then as they are now, things could’ve perhaps taken on a different course. It’s far too late to claim the damage hasn’t already been done, and if hailing George W. Bush as an example of orderly governance is a stance they’re willing to stand behind, then their resistance to Trump remains superficial at best.

That’s not to say Democrats haven’t occasionally lost their way, but the drive to undertake the American project collectively is at least one of their very few binding agents–the Republican party undercut these values on every turn possible and made it a priority to sow discord within if only to distract from their own failings as they further consolidate power. Beyond the odd bone thrown to white evangelical christians, there’s not much to define the Republican party’s identity besides its commitment to making the lives of every group that does not adhere its principles absolutely miserable–that’s not what the Lincoln Project would like you to believe it is, but it has ostensibly always been the case.

Trump’s election was a boon to Never Trumpers–by supporting a vanity project tasked with helping his political opponents, it allowed them to assume plausible deniability whenever they’re accused of erstwhile supporting the goals of the Republican party; except that they still kind of do. “In many respects, Trump merely extended longtime bromides of right-wing foreign policy, like opposition to the Iran deal or the Paris climate accord, and support for anti-democratic forces globally, including the Israeli far right,” writes Samuel Moyn, professor of law and history at Yale University. “True, Trump sidled up to a wider circle of dictators than was fashionable even in Cold War Washington, D.C., but it was a move from a bit less to a bit more rather than from consistent advocacy for democracy to its opposite.”

Many Never Trumpers would like to believe that Trump is an anomaly, but it may so be the case that Trump is just the uncompromising version of what prior Republican administrations couldn’t quite deliver. It’s rather the unpopular view in political history that Trump’s ideas are closer to the Republican party’s core than his predecessors’, but it serves nonetheless as a plausible explanation for why after eight years of Democratic rule under Obama, the Republican base was eager to swing the political pendulum in the polar opposite direction. This recontextualization of the last twelve years in American politics basically posits that John McCain and Mitt Romney both lost not because they weren’t Republican enough, but because they were far too Democratic–with Trump’s advent, those needs for a further rightward political shift have essentially been met.

So far the project seems to just be preaching to the choir–if the goal was to convert Republicans into pussy-hat-toting Democrats, then they’ve decidedly already failed. A sampling of the reactions to the Lincoln Project’s social media posts will reveal that it is mostly pandering to a base where its ideas already have purchase–what it is doing is less so turning Republicans against Trump, but rather acting as a plea for Democrats to save them from impending political irrelevance.

What the project has successfully achieved however, is giving Never Trumpers a narrative wherein they get to act as if their slights against the American left never were–when the Bernie Sanders campaign was still ongoing, Never Trumpers were rather preoccupied with undermining it because of some ill-conceived reservations about socialism as a viable political doctrine. What David Brooks, Ross Douthat, George Conway, Bret Stephens, Rick Wilson and many others like them want, is to see the recent leftward trend of the Democratic party reversed–what that would mean for them is a party they can get more easily behind the ideals of, but perhaps more crucially, it would render the Democratic party’s existence rather moot as it becomes a mere pale recreation of its Republican counterpart, only with less blatant prejudice involved.

More to the point, the Democratic party would be foolish to seek salvation from those who seek its failure. The presence of Republican dissenters to Trump’s authoritarian antics may provide momentary solace, but it should never take precedence over the work of building the all-encompassing leftist coalition necessary to defeat the evil residing in the Oval Office–here’s hoping Democrats learn that lesson soon, or elsewise they’re doomed to defeat.