Imagine a marketing group that, within the first six months of its launch, starts releasing ads so strong, so expertly produced, so compelling, that almost all of them go instantly viral across social media. That’s The Lincoln Project.
Imagine a marketing group being able to convince consumers to donate money—tens of millions of dollars—so it could keep producing a seemingly endless stream of viral ads. That’s also The Lincoln Project.
Imagine a marketing group whose founders are, basically, a band of renegades and turncoats whose creative output largely involves condemning old colleagues—while winning over former opponents. That, too, is The Lincoln Project.
And imagine a marketing group obsessed with the very idea of democracy—honoring it, preserving it, fighting for it—and whose ads arguably helped move the needle in the most contentious presidential election in modern American history. Again: The Lincoln Project.
TLP kicked off in December of 2019 with an op-ed in The New York Times titled “We Are Republicans, and We Want Trump Defeated.” The bio line for the four authors—in alphabetical order: George T. Conway III, Steve Schmidt, John Weaver and Rick Wilson—noted that they “have worked for and supported Republican campaigns,” including those of George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, John McCain, Arnold Schwarzenegger and John Kasich. Establishment conservatives, in other words, who were moved to launch something that was technically a political action committee, but which ended up functioning a lot like a powerhouse ad agency and turnkey media company—complete with 2.7 million Twitter followers, a quarter-billion YouTube video views, a robust podcast division and the streaming talk show LPTV.
From the get-go, TLP made it clear that that part of its mission was about transcending partisanship. That Times op-ed began, “Patriotism and the survival of our nation in the face of the crimes, corruption and corrosive nature of Donald Trump are a higher calling than mere politics.” And an awareness of the arc of American history was built into TLP’s very branding: “We look to Lincoln as our guide and inspiration. He understood the necessity of not just saving the Union, but also of knitting the nation back together spiritually as well as politically.”
A key moment for TLP came in May, when it released “Mourning in America” (below), a play on one of the most famous political ads of all time, 1984’s “Morning in America” from Ronald Reagan’s campaign (see “The Ad That Helped Reagan Sell Good Times to an Uncertain Nation,” via The New York Times). In contrast to “Morning,” TLP’s “Mourning” is relentlessly bleak, serving up scenes of empty streets in economically devastated communities and shots of people wearing masks amidst the pandemic. Over a plaintive classical soundtrack, an announcer slams the president: “There’s mourning in America, and under the leadership of Donald Trump, our country is weaker and sicker and poorer.”