The Corner

Elections

Nearly a Week Later, It’s Still Not Clear . . . What Was the Lincoln Project Thinking?

The Lincoln Project’s demonstrators stand with tiki torches on a sidewalk as Republican candidate for governor of Virginia Glenn Youngkin arrives on his bus for a campaign event in Charlottesville, Va., October 29, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The Intercept offers an in-depth report of how the Lincoln Project put together five staffers in khakis and holding tiki torches and attempted to tie Glenn Youngkin to the violence in Charlottesville in 2017. “It was never intended to appear real, according to Lincoln Project planning emails shared with The Intercept.”

The article never quite clears up one of the biggest questions around this, which is . . . how could anyone ever think this was a good idea? Why did the Lincoln Project’s brain trust — and I use that term loosely — think that the horrific events in Charlottesville were just another political tool to be used in the closing days of a gubernatorial campaign?  Where were the metaphorical grownups who could interrupt and say, “this is a terrible idea, it’s like playing with lighter fluid and matches, and it’s not even a fair, good shot on Glenn Youngkin”? Youngkin had nothing to do with what happened in Charlottesville.

Even the McAuliffe campaign couldn’t run away from the stunt fast enough: “What happened today in Charlottesville is disgusting and distasteful and the McAuliffe campaign condemns it in the strongest terms. Those involved should immediately apologize.” Democratic consultant and commentator Ben Tribbett wonders if the stunt swung the election: “I do think the Charlottesville stunt had an impact on how big the GOP turnout was and while we can never measure it completely, it could have been the difference in all 3 statewide losses.”

Since it appears there was no secret, sophisticated strategy behind it all, the simple answer seems to be the accurate one. The folks at the Lincoln Project are just stupid. Really, really stupid. They’re in the political public-communications business, and yet they have no idea what kind of political public communications generate good responses and bad responses. If you gave money to random people picked off the street, they would probably never come up with an idea as spectacularly foolish and harmful as this one. You need real experience in politics to reach the twisted mindset where you think dressing up and reenacting a white nationalist rally is a good idea.

Lord knows progressives and Democrats won’t listen to my advice about where to send their money. But you really have to wonder about any progressives and Democrats who continue to donate to the Lincoln Project, hoping that the next big stunt from that organization is less spectacularly tasteless, counterproductive, embarrassing, and self-destructive.

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