Who would’ve thought that turncoats and grifters make poor allies? We’ve reported in the past on the so-called Lincoln Project, a group of former Republican political operatives and opportunists who created a much-hyped anti-Trump PAC, collected $67 million in from leftist donors on promises of turning Trump voters, and accomplished approximately nothing. Now in the wake of the Democrats’ down-ballot carnage on Election Day, those same leftists are understandably miffed.
“The Lincoln Project was a giant grift,” declared the radical magazine Jacobin, burning $67 million “that could’ve been spent better on real political organizing.” Socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said the group’s failure put it in “scam territory.” Left-leaning Fast Company called the Biden campaign’s “Lincoln Project electoral strategy” an “epic miscalculation.”
The insurrectionist Lincoln Project was supposed to tap into an imagined mass of anti-Trump sentiment within the Republican Party. As these offended parties point out, President Trump massively increased his share of Republican votes—as well as votes from every demographic save for white males—and won close to 10 million additional votes, bringing his share to at least 72.6 million (as of writing).
Where the Money Went
That’s after the Lincoln Project blew almost $20 million in ads targeting Trump and spent another $872,000 backing Biden. It also reported spending over $20 million on operating expenses—an unusually large amount that suggests the group had a rather expansive and perhaps self-serving definition of “operating expenses.”
On down-ballot races, Lincoln Project spending produced similar lack of results:
- $1.9 million supporting Democrat Steve Bullock in Montana’s Senate race; he lost by 10 points to Republican Steve Daines.
- $1.8 million supporting Democrat-backed Independent Al Gross in Alaska’s Senate race; he lost by over 13 points to Republican Dan Sullivan.
- $1.5 million opposing Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) reelection; he won by 10 points.
- $1.4 million opposing Sen. Susan Collins’s (R-ME) reelection; she won by 9 points.
- $464,000 opposing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) reelection; he won by a whopping 19 points.
- $202,000 opposing Joni Ernst’s (R-IA) reelection; she won by 6 points.
- $197,000 opposing election of Thom Tillis (R-NC); he won by 7 points.
To be fair, the Lincoln Project can take some comfort the $158,000 the group spent against Arizona Sen. Martha McSally (R) that may have helped hand the Democrats a new Senate seat. Ditto for the $20,000 the group spent against Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner (R) who narrowly won election in 2014, but lost in 2020 in a purple-trending-blue state.
But by any standard that’s a poor return on investment for the group’s liberal donors. The donors include the “dark money” Sixteen Thirty Fund ($300,000); Democratic donor and hedge fund manager Stephen Mandel ($1 million); Gordon Getty ($1 million), son of the late oil tycoon J. Paul Getty; liberal Walmart heiress Christy Walton; film producer David Geffen, a donor to the Bill Clinton and Barack Obama presidential campaigns; and Silicon Valley billionaire Ron Conway, credited with helping the Democrats retake the House of Representatives in 2018.
The Lincoln Project made out like bandits. Still, even if the Biden campaign survives President Trump’s wave of post–Election Day litigation—built on scandal after scandal of alleged voter fraud, machine ballot-switching, and constitutional violations—it’s hard to see the Lincoln Project having much of a future on the Democrats’ payroll beyond 2020. Maybe next time they’ll simply call themselves the Lucre Project.
That said, the Lincoln Project con—not the personalities involved—almost inspires admiration à la Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988), The Sting (1973), or Catch Me If You Can (2002), with the added feature that its victims have no legal recourse to recover their losses. The Lincoln Project fed these well-heeled leftist donors a line that played to their anti-Trump biases, and they swallowed it.
Now that they’ve been outed as easy marks for the next imaginative scam artists, expect copycats.