When the late film producer Julia Phillips published her 1991 expose of Hollywood's depravity in the 1970s and 1980s, she chose a title that correctly forecasted the movie establishment's retributive response. "You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again" was summed up by one Hollywood power broker as "the longest suicide note in history."
The cadre of accomplished Republican political strategists who founded the Lincoln Project last December to organize against a historically crooked president from their own party knew they would be vilified, and they were right. Veterans of the presidential campaigns of George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and John McCain, they penned a mission statement that befit their reputations for no-nonsense, no-punch-pulled messaging. "President Donald Trump and those who sign onto Trumpism," they wrote, "are a clear and present danger to the Constitution and our Republic." In the last eight months, the group's withering television and internet ads have shredded the president mercilessly, if appropriately, and they are helping to shape America's conversation about what it means to have a thoroughly corrupt president. In June alone, their ads attracted 108 million internet views, fueling the growth of a grassroots movement that has hundreds of thousands of followers. After one ad, titled "Mourning in America," spotlighted his epically awful handling of the pandemic, the president unleashed a tweet storm attacking the Lincoln Project as "LOSERS," thereby advertising how worried he is that they are anything but.
The Project's ads, like those of aligned groups like Republicans for the Rule of Law and Republican Voters Against Trump, are gems. Day after day, new ones eviscerate the president in a way that traditional political campaign ads cannot. "The productivity of the group has just been astonishing," journalist John Heilemann recently told an audience during The New England Council's "Politics & Eggs" series. "They have been relentlessly all over the President in every news cycle." Their focus has been on Trump's trashing of the values that resonate most with Republicans and Republican-leaning independents: patriotism, family and honesty. Naturally enough, Trump, a draft-dodging, thrice-married launderer of hush money paid to a porn star with whom he was allegedly having an affair, whose obstruction of justice approaches in volume that of sand on the proverbial seashore, provides the group with a robust inventory of material. It is diligently working its way through that material with something that is not quite rage and not quite delight but certainly resembles relish.
Each passing week replenishes the supply of reasons that principled conservatives have to want Donald Trump expunged from our national memory. Last week was no exception. On Friday, Trump commuted the prison sentence of Roger Stone, who, quite apart from his special status as the only man on Earth whose absence of a moral compass is so complete as to make Trump look like a Jesuit by comparison, was a key link between the Russian government and Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. Trump spoke with Stone repeatedly about the latter's efforts on his behalf. Questioned by congressional committees about his communications with Russian government intermediaries and with Trump, Stone lied so baldly that he was convicted on seven felony counts by a federal jury. He vowed to stay silent until his dying day about what he did and at whose direction, for which the grateful Trump not only praised him but also handed him a stay-out-of-jail card. It was, Republican Sen. Mitt Romney said, "unprecedented, historic corruption: an American president commutes the sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very president."
The president who conned voters with the line that he would "drain the swamp" has in fact created his very own sewage pond. "There's a freedom that comes with being loose of the bonds of partisanship," says Lincoln Project co-founder Reed Galen. He and his colleagues are modeling patriotism at a time when Americans, in a crisis and at a crossroads, are badly in need of it.
Jeff Robbins, a former assistant United States attorney and United States delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, was chief counsel for the minority of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. An attorney specializing in the First Amendment, he is a longtime columnist for the Boston Herald, writing on politics, national security, human rights and the Mideast.