President Trump’s impeachment trial promises to end in acquittal, given the high bar of 67 senators needed to remove him from office. Yet, several conservative commentators and lawyers are working to identify an alternative to Donald Trump, even among Democratic candidates.
Known formally as the Lincoln Project, it comes on the heels of severe criticism of the president’s statements and actions from well-known conservative writers like David Brooks and Bret Stephens of the New York Times and Michael Gerson and Max Boot of the Washington Post. For president, Stephens supports former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld.
The lead organizers of the Project are George T. Conway III, the husband of White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway, and Republican political strategist Rick Wilson, who has just published a new book titled “Running Against the Devil: A Plot to Save America from Trump and Democrats from Themselves.”
The Conways are not the only celebrated political couples who seem to get along despite holding very different views. In 1993, Republican strategist and onetime advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney Mary Matalin married Democratic tactician James Carville, who helped Bill Clinton win the presidency. We can only imagine what their respective dinner conversations are like.
Although President Trump’s approval ratings have continually remained in the low 40s, among Republicans they stand at a whopping 90 percent. In a December New York Times op-ed, four of the Lincoln Project organizers revealed their goal of not only unseating President Trump but maintaining Democratic control of the House, and taking control of the Senate.
They wrote that the president’s “vision is limited to what immediately faces him — the problems and risks he chronically brings upon himself and for which others, from countless contractors and companies to the American people, ultimately bear the heaviest burden. But this president’s actions are possible only with the craven acquiescence of congressional Republicans. They have done no less than abdicate their Article I responsibilities.”
The group takes its name from the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, who, they say, “understood the necessity of not just saving the Union, but also of knitting the nation back together spiritually as well as politically. But those wounds can be bound up only once the threat has been defeated. So, too, will our country have to knit itself back together after the scourge of Trumpism has been overcome.”
Another co-founder is Jennifer Horn, former head of the New Hampshire Republican Party, who announced her chief target is Senator Susan Collins of Maine. In addition, the group has focused on the defeat of Colorado Senator Cory Gardner, saying, “Coloradans, and Americans, deserve leaders who will do what’s best for their constituents, who will keep their promises to voters and who will put country over party. So far, Senator Gardner has failed at each of those.”
Wilson, whose book title refers to Trump as the devil, warns Democrats that if their presidential candidate promotes far-left proposals, they will lose. He told the Guardian in January that while some ideas may attract voters in Boston and San Francisco, they will not work in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Florida.
He points to Medicare for all, bans on automatic weapons, and taxpayer funding of third-trimester abortions as causing some residents in those states to say, “Wait, what?!” Interestingly, he likes Joe Biden best, saying, “I am putting my ideological priors and my preferences aside, because I think that Donald Trump is an existential threat to the republic. I’ll do anything I can to help ensure that he is not president for another four years.” He did not mention other moderate Democrats, like former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg or Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
The Lincoln Project’s opening salvo is directed at the evangelical community. The claim is that Trump has duped it into believing that God has chosen him to lead the U.S. The project has created an online video, “MAGA Church,” that highlights “the hypocrisy of those who claim the mantle of Jesus while supporting or ignoring President Donald Trump’s immoral acts.”
Although modern Republicans have long attached their star to Lincoln, in the 19th century, they were the leading abolitionists, who promoted the passage of the three great post–Civil War amendments: the 13th, outlawing slavery; the 14th, with its equal protection clause; and the 15th, guaranteeing the right to vote to all citizens. Democrats at the time were pro-slavery, and fought against these amendments and everything the Republicans promoted.
This was why and how Andrew Johnson, a former Tennessee Democratic governor and senator, in 1868 became the first president to be impeached. He vetoed every reconstruction act Congress passed, and fired the secretary of war in defiance of the Tenure in Office Act, enacted a year earlier, again over his veto. The Senate acquitted him by just one vote. In 1926, the Supreme Court invalidated the Tenure in Office Act as unconstitutional.
The two parties switched sides, beginning with the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. Democrats support civil rights and greater equality, while Republicans advocate tax cuts and huge military increases. The co-founders of the Lincoln Project are attempting to right the ship. Whether they are successful will depend on the response of American voters.
Jack Fruchtman, who taught constitutional law and politics for more than 40 years, lives part-time in Aquinnah.