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Even if Biden wins, his Lincoln Project electoral strategy was an epic miscalculation

Kellyanne Conway’s husband and friends offered a vision of winning wayward Trump voters. Biden campaigned on that premise, but it was never going to happen.

Even if Biden wins, his Lincoln Project electoral strategy was an epic miscalculation
[Photo: Ian Hutchinson/Unsplash]
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Schadenfreude comes in many forms, and one of the more fun ones is watching the easily duped fall for an obvious scam.

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Back in 2018, for instance, a Black college student named Quran tweeted a MAGA bucket hat selfie to announce that she would no longer hide her support for Trump, and after a rapturous response from right-wingers, she posted a GoFundMe link for help with tuition, since her Dem parents had cut her off in disgust. It was a classic scam. Tens across the board, would scam again.

Anyway, the pleasure many on the left took from watching a Black woman trick “economically anxious” folks into giving her money is probably what it felt like to watch Democrats embrace a Lincoln Project strategy in the run-up to this election.

The blame doesn’t stop at the Never Trump tacticians who became #Resistance icons over the past year by owning Trump with corny ads, of course; it falls upon the entire Democratic strategy of spurning the left wing of its own party to court Republican voters who were never going to budge.

Observing this strategy throughout the year must have been hilarious for those voters, long before the punchline of election night. Now, whether Biden ekes out the big win or not—at the time of this writing, things are still up in the air—one thing is clear: courting the Republican vote with promises of centrism was a folly, a farce, a fantasy.

Before getting into The Lincoln Project of it all, let’s start with settling for Biden as a candidate. After a long primary season with an amazing technicolor dreamcoat of possibilities, the convenient collapse of several campaigns over a single February weekend narrowed the options to Biden versus Bernie. Now, nobody wants to relitigate the primaries at this late date, but it will suffice to say that given the choice between a significant left turn and a possible return to the Obama-era mirage of bipartisanship, voters chose the latter.

While it was, indeed, the voters who ultimately chose Biden, it was Biden and his staff who chose how to run their campaign. Their strategy was always: seize the center.

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Team Biden zeroed in on the hypothetical 2016 Trump voter who got more than they bargained for and was ready to jump ship. This hypothetical voter got assurances that a Biden administration would not defund the police, not do away with fracking, and even have Republicans like Cindy McCain and Governor John Kasich around for that sweet Team of Rivals-y feeling. It was a comparable strategy to the one Hillary Clinton also pursued, back when the mere threat of a Trump presidency was meant to have disgusted moderate conservatives into the arms of the Democrats.

Unfortunately, in both instances, this strategy hinged on a Republican electorate—whose brightest shining star, North Carolinian 25-year old Madison Cawthorn, tweeted the following to celebrate his victory on Tuesday night.

A centrist strategy in 2020 depends upon Republicans en masse being sick of Trump, with COVID-19 being the X factor that pushed them over the edge. But this strategy ignores the extent to which the GOP has fully internalized Trumpism. It’s in their bloodstream now, deep in the DNA. Although the race has no definitive winner yet, the big loser is the fallacy of The Biden Republican, that mythic disaffected suburbanite who would more than make up for all the alienated leftists.

According to exit polls, 93% of Republicans went for Trump on Tuesday, compared with 90% in 2016. Perhaps some of that 7% who crossed over consists of Republicans who have lost friends or family members to COVID, and blame Trump’s negligence for the tragedy. Overall, though, Trump appears to have pulled through even in areas that have been most devastated by COVID.

The lesson here is that people as entrenched as this Republican party cannot be pandered to. It’s impossible to convince them of something they desperately don’t want to be convinced of—and it’s a waste of effort and resources to try.

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Polling data suggested that these voters could be peeled off, but that data turned out to be wrong. In fact, pollsters are the other big loser of the night. Their profession is one that a Fast Company colleague suggests will soon be viewed the way we now look at phrenologists.

Nothing encapsulates the bankrupt idea behind the centrist strategy more than The Lincoln Project, though.

Made up of former Republican operatives who’d done a face turn against Trump, the group brought their dark arts marketing prowess to the other side, with a series of viral ads. The question, however, was always: to what end? Were they just trying to defeat the Bad Orange Man who tainted their former affiliation by revealing what was at the heart of it? Or were they attempting to curry favor with a future Biden administration?

More importantly, could it work?

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Members like Rick Wilson used to make ads for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, dangling red meat to motivate aggrieved Republicans. Was that same audience now expected to turn against the grand champion of their most feverish grievances, just because of some viral ads? There was never any evidence that these ads produced the desired effect of waking up GOP voters to the hypocrisy of Trump. Instead, all it did was preach to, well, not even the choir as much as to other preachers, and give liberals false hopes that some kind of great awakening was taking place. (Not to be confused with that other Great Awakening.) Hell, if George Conway, the husband of the woman who coined the term “alternative facts,” was behind these ads, that had to mean the Republicans who were surely watching them might get on board too! But in the end, there is little evidence those ads helped convince a single Republican to jump ship.

But, hey, at least liberals gave The Lincoln Project tens of millions of dollars for their trouble.

As of late Wednesday morning, the election is still not over. The results so far, however, indicate that the idea of Biden successfully courting Republicans was always just an alternative fact.