Lincoln Project gearing for next Trump battle, former GOP insiders tell Drew Forum

Stuart Stevens and Rick Wilson of The Lincoln Project. will discuss national politics at a virtual Drew Forum.


Donald Trump will win the 2024 Republican nomination. And unless Democrats unite behind President Biden, Trump will win back the White House and drive the nation further towards autocracy.

That was the message Thursday from two former GOP strategists who advise The Lincoln Project, a political action committee of Republicans and ex-Republicans founded in 2019 to oppose the re-election of Trump and his supporters.

If Democrats “don’t get behind their own president, if they don’t help their president win, there’s not going to be any legislation on climate change or abortion or healthcare or guns or any other subject, except legislation that terrifies the living hell out of Americans and is profoundly destructive on a whole different bunch of levels,” Rick Wilson said during a virtual edition of the Drew Forum.

The GOP has devolved to a cartel with no governing philosophy except winning at all costs, said Stuart Stevens.  A majority of Republicans accept Trump’s dangerous lies and support a cast of characters including Kari Lake, who denies she lost the Arizona gubernatorial race, and Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, “a Russian agent.”

“It is a fealty test, which is a classic autocratic movement. You have to support Putin if you’re in the Russian government. You have to support Trump if you’re in the Republican party,” said Stevens, 70, an author, TV scriptwriter and chief political adviser for Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign.

Wilson, 60, got his start in national politics working for George H. W. Bush in 1988, and carved a reputation for infamous negative ads. At the Drew Forum last year, he asserted that unless Trump and his top enablers are prosecuted for Jan. 6, the Capitol insurrection merely will have been a “training exercise.”

That observation started to look prophetic on Thursday morning when Trump, implicated in multiple investigations, hinted on his social media platform of more violence if he is indicted.


Wilson said Americans still have not fully grasped how close the insurrectionists came to murdering elected officials on Jan. 6, 2021, and how Trump would have seized upon the bloodshed to suspend Biden’s election certification and remain in office.

That day was a dividing line between those who believe in the peaceful transfer of power–a cornerstone of U.S. democracy for more than two centuries– and those who “think it was okay to tell the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, the Boogaloos, the crazy people, the Q-Anoners, to storm the Capitol,” Wilson said.

 Lincoln Project ad references recent revelations from Dominion lawsuit vs. Fox News:

Republican lawmakers who now defend the riot as “a tourist visit” and who call Jan. 6 prisoners “political prisoners in a gulag” are polluting the country’s reputation and degrading the role of elected leaders, Wilson said. It’s why the Lincoln Project “didn’t fold up our tents after we beat Trump.”

In last fall’s congressional midterms, the Lincoln Project targeted 22 closely contested elections and won 17 of them, Wilson said. Next year, the project’s ads again will appeal to the consciences of moderate Republicans, he said.

“Our big strategy in 2020 was to block them, and keep reminding them that they were making a cultural and aesthetic and personal choice” that reflected on their brand, and on how they viewed themselves, Wilson said.

“And if they thought of themselves as a good person, if you thought of yourself as someone who wasn’t cruel or capricious or driven by crazy conspiracy theories, you’re going to vote for Joe Biden.”

Lincoln Project response to Trump announcement of 2024 candidacy:

Trump lashed out at the Lincoln Project at this month’s Conservative Political Action Conference; last year he threatened to sue Fox News for running a Lincoln Project ad that claimed the former president was pocketing political donations for his own use. The Washington Post could not verify the claim and gave the Lincoln Project “Four Pinocchios” for failing to do so.

Wilson and Stevens said it will be hard to tame bigotry unleashed by Trump and his imitators. After the Eisenhower administration, the GOP stopped courting Black voters and now strives to suppress them, Stevens said.

But voters who braved rain and long lines to elect Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock over Republican Herschel Walker in Georgia last fall proved “if you get mad enough, and loud enough about it, you will overcome the suppression,” Wilson said.

Even before Trump, a big chunk of the Republican party “hated Black people,” he contended during the hour-long livestream.

School busing, taxes and now, CRT (Critical Race Theory), are code words signaling to the GOP base “we don’t want Black people in your neighborhood. We don’t want Black people to hold office,” Wilson said.

“A lot of it was incredibly ugly. It was always there. Trump just said to these people: You can say it in public now,” Wilson said. “He let them have permission to be their worst selves.”


Stevens and Wilson said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a likely primary challenger to Trump, has shown a similar autocratic streak in his crusades against drag shows and his war with Disney World over its opposition to the state’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law.

“What, you’re going to fight Peter Pan?” Stevens said.

Responding to moderator Phil Mundo, who teaches political science at Drew University in Madison, Wilson said the entry of a third-party candidate would seal Trump’s victory.

The odds of eliminating the electoral college? “Go climb Mt. Everest, buck naked!”  Reform the primaries? Make them more diverse, instead of starting in Iowa (“far, far, far evangelical voters”) and New Hampshire (“full of really cranky, crazy people”), Wilson answered.

As for stolen elections, Stevens said “there are more cases of elephantitis” than voter fraud.

“Our problem in America is, we can’t get people to vote when it’s legal. Somehow, somebody’s going to wake up in the morning and go, ‘I’m going to commit a felony today’? Really?”

This story has been updated with information about former President Trump’s reactions to the Lincoln Project.

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