Dan Barkhuff fought in the US Navy, is against abortion and owns guns. But neither does he vote for Donald Trump. “I can see Trump for what he is,” he says, before adding, “A coward.” The former military man is the star of one of the most shared election advertisements in the last week in the United States. The ad, however, was not made by the campaign of Trump’s opponent, Democrat Joe Biden.
Created in December of last year, the Lincoln Project brings together former strategists and consultants from the Republican Party and is responsible for the production of this and other videos. With 1.2 million followers on Twitter, the group gained fame with productions that attack Trump, but with a speech more in line with former Republican voters dissatisfied with the current occupant of the White House.
The most shared of the videos caused the ire of the American president, who took to social media to attack the founders of Project Lincoln. Trump recalled that many of them participated in campaigns for candidates he defeated in the party’s 2016 primaries.
“A group of Name-Only Republicans who failed massively 12 years ago, then eight years ago and who were beaten by me, a political novice, four years ago, copied (unimaginatively) the concept of a Ronald Reagan ad, making as much as possible to get even with their failures,” Trump wrote late on Twitter.
The ad that infuriated Trump was released in May and has more than 2 million views on YouTube. The creators played on one of the most famous advertisements for President Ronald Reagan (1981-1989), a hero for Republicans.
Entitled “Morning in America”, the original play from the 1980s showed a country in rapid growth thanks to the economic policy adopted by the party. In May, however, the Lincoln Project used the same model to present an opposite view: “Mourning in America” showed decaying cities, rising unemployment and the failure of the federal government to deal with the new coronavirus.
“We waited as long as possible to form the group because we were hoping that someone, especially someone elected, would do it first. We want to put Trump on the defensive,” says John Weaver, one of the founders.
Weaver is a veteran of the US elections: he worked with President George HW Bush, former Senator John McCain, Barack Obama’s 2008 opponent, and was John Kasich’s 2016 strategist against Trump. In conversation with GLOBO, Weaver made clear the purpose of the Lincoln Project: to force the current president to run on two fronts: responding to attacks from the Democratic Party, but also from conservatives and independents.
So far, the strategy has worked. The latest polls in the country already indicate that the wealthy Republican campaign will have to disperse its spending, unlike what happened four years ago.
This year, Biden appears ahead of Trump not only in those states, but also in others that have historically voted Republican, such as Arizona and Georgia, which Democratic candidates have not won since 1996 and 1992, respectively. Concerned about the rise of Biden in recent weeks, the Republican Party and the current president’s campaign decided to spend on advertisements on local broadcasters.
It is moderate Republican and independent voters in those states that Project Lincoln wants to bring to Biden’s side in the election, according to John Weaver. They reject many of the more left-wing agendas of the Democratic Party, but they also disagree with Trump’s polarizing stance. In the first national poll by the New York Times, Biden appears 14 percentage points ahead of Trump and leads in six of the most contested states.
The Lincoln Project is not unique: other groups formed by Republicans have invested in anti-Trump propaganda in states with a republican tradition, forcing the president to defend himself and preventing him from being able to focus his efforts on so-called pendulum states. One of them, called Republican Voters against Trump, is expected to spend $2 million on propaganda against the president.