The Lincoln Project is trolling Trump. But can it sway voters?

As President Donald Trump began tweeting at 12:46 p.m. about the "RINO Republicans" in the Lincoln Project who had just placed an ad attacking his response to the pandemic, Reed Galen knew that his guess was correct: you can trigger a Trump freakout with a bit of planning and pop psychology.
Galen was a co-founder of the Lincoln Project, a Republican-run anti-Trump PAC, with the goal of persuading Americans to vote against him in November. In May, the group believed that Trump's response to the pandemic had created the perfect opportunity to stand up for both of them. Due to a brain wave that co-founder George Conway suspected during a conversation with his wife, White House advisor Kellyanne Conway, Galen and his small team suspected that Trump would be particularly angry with a recent ad in which the president called " weaker "has been portrayed for Americans, sick and poorer" than ever. And they thought the best bet to get to the president would be to meet Trump where he was, Washington, DC, on the channel he sees, Fox News when he's most likely to watch at night.
"He'll always see Fox News at the residence at night," said Galen, a GOP consultant who had worked for George W. Bush, John McCain and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
What they didn't expect, however, was that Trump would pick out almost everyone involved in the Lincoln project by name - Kellyane Conways "husband's crazy loser, Moonface" Conway, "Crazed" Rick Wilson, "LOSERS" who this had been consulted for "loser" candidates.
For Galen, this was a sign that the Lincoln project - at least the first phase - was working.
"It doesn't just make Donald Trump angry. Anyone can do that, ”said Galen in an interview, although he admitted“ having a little bit of joy ”as the subject of the midnight tweet tower. "In what way? Why are you doing this? And it's about strategically and tactically taking him out of the game and taking his campaign out of the game so that the Biden campaign and Joe Biden have the freedom of movement and green air to do the things they need to do. ”
Donald J. Trump

Most of the money the RINO losers in the so-called “Lincoln Project” have collected go to their own pockets. With what I did in terms of judges, taxes, regulations, healthcare, military, veterinarians (choice!) And protecting our great 2A, you should love Trump. The problem is, I'm beating them all!
9:18 p.m. - May 5, 2020
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In the past few months, the Lincoln Project - a PAC with little money when it comes to PACs - has successfully established itself as an occupier in Trump's mental space thanks to several factors: members with hundreds of thousands of social media followers each, quick-cut ads that appear on Current events are responding, and a single-minded focus on buying airtime where Trump is most likely to release cable news that day, be it on the DC market or on his golf courses across the country. And every time Trump freaks out - or when the media reports about his freakout - the Lincoln project gets an incalculable amount of earned media and millions of online views.
But although the PAC has successfully garnered Trump's attention - The Daily Beast reported that the campaign has spent $ 400,000 on ads in the DC market to make Trump feel less threatened by ads from the Lincoln Project - Trump's critics fear that the ads are both cut and troll-effective as they may be may not really work to "pursue" the case against his re-election, as the group had already promised in December.
"I love to see their things. Your latest ad is my pinned tweet, ”said Robert Wolf, a top democratic donor who was considering donating to the group. "All Democrats love to see what they're doing, but I'm not sure yet whether they preach in front of the choir or actually bring the Republicans from Trump to Biden. In any case, it is still positive. "
When the Lincoln project - or "the LP," as co-founder Rick Wilson, an experienced GOP advertiser, calls it - started in December 2019, the group included a troll cadre of social media-savvy Never Trumpers with experience in implementation from campaigns a few of them have not yet met. The team promised to pursue the Trump case, explaining to voters why a rising stock market (pre-coronavirus) wasn't enough to re-elect the president. However, the group's first round of advertising, which was suspended during Trump's impeachment process, was lost, generating at most hundreds of thousands of views.
However, Trump went against himself with the pandemic, argued Galen. From his premature discharge of the burgeoning outbreak to his suggestion that "disinfectant" injection into the lungs could help fight the coronavirus, and his tireless persistence in slowing down the tests to suppress the number of COVID-19 cases , President made his own copy of the attack notice.
"We already had a plan that chased, chased, chased," said Galen. "The difference is that he became a much weaker defendant because of his own mistakes."
In terms of spending, the Lincoln Project barely manages the nation with these ads. Since the start of the group, the group has spent $ 2.75 million on television advertising and an additional $ 1.2 million on Facebook advertising - far less than the ten million that some larger Super PACs have planned for 2020.
According to the advertising tracking company Advertising Analytics, two-thirds of TV spending is focused on the president's race. The spots boost both Biden and Trump. It is noteworthy, however, that the group's recent ad, which is currently displayed at the top of their Twitter account, outshines Biden's leadership skills. The PAC has also started to file advertisements for Democratic Senate candidates like Governor Steve Bullock in Montana - a sign that, according to GOP critics, nullifies members' argument that they are conservatives concerned about the party's soul .
"I think it's one thing to have your own opinion, and if you choose not to support Trump's reelection or to support someone else," said Matt Mackowiack, an experienced GOP communications strategist, president of the Potomac Strategy Group, and Trump supporters. "I think it's another thing to go far beyond what you do and try to basically turn the Senate around. You cannot call yourself a Republican and support a democratic majority in the Senate. "
The group's mission to troll the president is evident in their ad purchases. The longest-lasting television presence is a series of ads that have been appearing almost continuously on cable stations in Washington, DC since the beginning of March and are aimed at an audience. The group spent nearly $ 380,000 on television advertising on MSNBC, Fox News, and C-SPAN.
Twice in June, the group also dropped purchases on the New Jersey cable markets, timed to match Trump's expected weekend golf trips to his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. A planned visit for this weekend was canceled at the last minute. A minute-long ad was also shown in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which coincided with the president's campaign rally last weekend, and side by side clips of segregationist George Wallace, the former governor of Alabama, and Trump.
And of course, going viral online is basically free, given the Lincoln Project's more than a million Twitter followers and the combined millions all following Conway, Wilson, Schmidt and the others.
Galen said that a single video can be viewed a million times in three hours and two million times at the end of the day.
"Look, Twitter is not the real world," he admitted. "But you generate enough heat and enough energy there, it starts spinning things into the real world."
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway with her husband George, a co-founder of the Lincoln Project, at the inauguration of President Donald Trump.
Galen noted that the group's social media presence has built a fan base in the media, in the donor class and among extreme political junkies on the Internet. And Trump's angry after-work tweeting about the group, as well as the behind-the-scenes reports of him, only make Lincoln Project groupies more.
"No other group in space has at any time been able to control Trump's behavior as we could, and we believe that it adds tremendous value," Wilson said in an interview.
The people around Trump and who support him in the wider GOP world - who are almost all Republicans - quickly reject the Lincoln project as lenient.
"You can't make an argument that an ad Trump sees will affect the election," Mackowiak said. "If it doesn't broadcast in battlefield conditions with a saturation level, it doesn't matter. It's a terrible waste of money."
Mackowiak argued that the group's ability to get Trump under the skin only affected the Acela Corridor class.
Over there in the White House, a senior official answered dismissively, "Who?" when asked whether Trump was annoyed about the Lincoln Project ads.
Ian Russell, a democratic media consultant who has reviewed the group's spending over the past three months, sees a strategy to first raise awareness and then initiate a second phase.
Spending - both for presidential ads and competitive Senate races - is "mostly show purchases," Russell said, and "will not shift numbers." "It's more about trying to get attention, oxygen. And at least Trump played directly into their hands, which is sure to collect gold for them. "
Indeed, Wilson said fundraising, the email list, and the group's social media had grown in direct response to the president's anger at them, a phenomenon similar to the "trump bump" that several media outlets were saying experienced at the beginning of his tenure.
"We are already talking to voters and are already putting together the ability to address and communicate with a select group of voters who will make the difference in the major swing states," he said.
With less than 130 days to go before the election and a pandemic that makes traditional campaigns almost impossible, it is still unclear how - and whether - the Lincoln project can use the assets it builds in something that can turn votes around. After all, as Galen himself admitted, it's not that hard to anger Trump with something like an ad in which he just shuffles down a ramp and tries to drink water.
But as the group plans this second phase, its non-traditional strategy of playing mind games with the president continues, Wilson said.
"Other groups do what they do. We are here to do what we do," he said. "And the twins will never meet."
Daniel Lippman contributed to this report.

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