Lincoln Project cracks the code: Trump’s real fear is GOP defections
In the 1984 campaign, Republican President Ronald Reagan successfully framed the campaign as a referendum on his first four years. In an iconic political spot known as the “Morning in America” ad, Reagan positively drew a metaphor as a new American awakening with a nation’s revitalized sense of pride, confidence and economic energy.
In early 2020, Republican President Trump believed he could run on the same playbook to an equally historic victory. But, through a series of incompetent decisions, Trump finds the country in a starkly different set of circumstances. As a direct result of his failed leadership America is weaker, sicker and poorer than at any time in living memory.
The Lincoln Project, a group of current and former Republican political consultants whose mission is to defeat Trump and Trumpism at the ballot box, launched a new ad — “Mourning in America” — to lucidly illustrate the differences between the positive aspirational vision of Reagan’s America and the dystopian dysfunction of Trump’s.
Trump’s reaction to the ad provided an insightful road map on how we can defeat a president who has survived far more than any other politician’s missteps, fabrications and malfeasance.
While the ad rolled out to strong public support, it exploded onto the national scene when Trump started rage-tweeting at the Lincoln Project from the White House at 1 a.m. The resulting national attention drove media attention, which caused him to react again, driving more media attention. When the dust settled after 48 hours the ad had more than 15 million views, millions of dollars in small donations had been raised and millions of energized voters finally felt assured there was a pathway to defeating Trump.
So why did Trump react so viscerally to our ad? Put simply, Trump needs unanimous Republican support if he is to be re-elected. He has no path to victory without record levels of Republican support. The whole house of cards collapses whenever there’s a break in the ranks. This is why Trump vociferously seeks to crush his detractors, moreover, he demands his followers do the same.
Trumpism is about fealty, not ideology. This campaign will not be won on policy or ideas. It will be won solely on Trump’s ability to maintain overwhelming support among Republican voters and their motivation to turn out. Angering Democrats and taunting them to elicit predictable attacks is what holds the Republican base together.
He doesn’t have the strong levels of support he needs to be re-elected. He knows it. We know it. His campaign knows it — and it’s why the ad works so effectively.
Republicans opposing Trump is Trump’s Achilles heel. It’s why he works relentlessly to assure there is no break in the ranks on impeachment. It’s why he is still haunted by the deceased John McCain and the living Mitt Romney. Republican disaffection not only undermines his false narrative of historically high Republican support — it exposes a weakness in a man who demands subjugation. It’s worked for Trump in scaring politicians fearful of losing re-election. It’s completely ineffective against a renegade group of skilled political professionals with nothing to lose. It will cascade downward for him as Republican polling numbers crater and more rank-and-file “Lincoln Project Republicans” speak out.
The future of the republic, let alone the Republican Party, rests in the hands of a relatively small number of Republicans courageous enough to stand up and refuse to watch this continue to happen to our country.
The Lincoln Project has shown the way to defeat Trump. As long as there is a perceived external threat Trump can coalesce his followers. The undocumented, the Chinese, Muslims, the media — all serve as a useful target to frighten, anger and mobilize his base. The defensive response from these groups further entrench both support and opposition.
Trump cannot win if he’s got trouble in his own base. We believe there are more than enough “Lincoln Project Republicans” willing to abandon Trumpism, especially when they see others doing the same. Donald Trump’s weakness comes from within — in more ways than one.
Mike Madrid is a California-based Republican political consultant and founding member of the Lincoln Project. Twitter: @madrid_mike
Originally published at https://www.sfchronicle.com on May 11, 2020.