Republican strategist Jennifer Horn was up at 1 o’clock Tuesday morning writing an op-ed when she saw it: An angry tweet mentioning her by name from the President of the United States.
Donald Trump had name-checked Horn, alongside other advisers to the anti-Trump Republican group the Lincoln Project, in a late-night rant against the organization’s latest ad criticizing the President for his response to the coronavirus pandemic. Among Trump’s targets on Twitter were George Conway, the outspoken husband of White House aide Kellyanne Conway, and several veterans of John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.
The ad, which was released on Monday and ran in limited buys on Fox News in the DC market, is titled “Mourning in America” and claims the country is “weaker and sicker and poorer” under Trump’s leadership. The 60-second spot ran during a midnight-hour re-airing of Tucker Carlson’s Monday show, which Horn figures is where the President saw it. In his tweets posted at 12:46 am, Trump called the Lincoln Project’s founders “LOSERS” and Republicans in name only.
The President’s reaction was the biggest splash yet for the Lincoln Project, a relatively small super PAC run by Republican or ex-Republican political professionals who oppose the President. Their goal is for Trump to lose reelection, and last month the group ran an ad endorsing Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee. But getting under Trump’s skin is an added benefit for the group.
“The idea is to get as big of an audience as possible, and there’s no question that when the President tweets you, your audience increases exponentially,” Horn told CNN on Tuesday.
Beyond Conway and Horn, others associated with the group include Steve Schmidt, John Weaver and Reed Galen – all veterans of the 2008 campaign of John McCain, with whom Trump feuded until the Arizona senator’s death in 2018. Others on the advisory board are campaign operatives Rick Wilson, Ron Steslow and Mike Madrid.
Each of the Lincoln Project principles aligned themselves with the “NeverTrump” movement in the 2016 election and have been outspoken critics of Trump and the Republican Party ever since. Weaver ran then-Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s 2016 bid for the GOP nomination, while Wilson advised anti-Trump independent candidate Evan McMullin.
Created late last year, the Lincoln Project has raised just over $2.5 million through the end of March, spending about $1.2 million of that through the same period. According to FEC filings the bulk of that – nearly $780,000 – has gone to a media-consulting company owned by Galen called Summit Strategic Communications, which produces the Lincoln Project’s ads and provides other services. In a subsequent tweet, Trump accused the group of “pocketing” the money they’ve raised from donors
Officials at the Lincoln Project dismissed the criticism.
“No small amount of irony that a man uses his own donors’ money to enrich himself and his family accuses others of the same. Deflection is his stock and trade,” Galen said.
According to data from Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, the Lincoln Project has purchased a total of $115,000 in TV ad time. Most of that has been in the Washington, DC, market, including $46,000 for the current ad. Weaver told CNN they have intentionally purchased time during the Fox News programs Trump prefers, including Carlson’s and Sean Hannity’s.
There have been smaller buys in swing states like Wisconsin and Michigan, and Weaver says there are plans to run the “Mourning in America” spot in states like those soon. The group says it will also be targeting top Republican Senate candidates in upcoming ads.
The most recent ad not only invokes Ronald Reagan’s sunny “Morning in America” slogan from his 1984 reelection campaign but closes with a shot of the Lincoln Memorial – the site of Trump’s Fox News town hall on Sunday. During that event, Trump said he’s faced a more difficult time from the media than even Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president.
Weaver says the inclusion of the memorial in the ad so soon after Trump’s appearance there was a “fortuitous” coincidence.
“That was the luck of the political gods,” Weaver said.
The Trump campaign would not comment directly on the President’s tweets but accused the group of “politicizing a pandemic.”
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“This is a group of disgruntled GOP consultants who are no longer Republicans and are not relevant in this election,” said Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign communications director. “The President is out front leading the nation in the battle against the Coronavirus and these baseless attacks do not resonate with the American people.”
Speaking to reporters Tuesday morning, Trump defended his record and said the organization should be rebranded the “Losers Project.”
“Every one of them, I either defeated or they lost by themselves. But it’s a group of major losers. They’re Republican losers,” he said before departing Washington for Arizona.
CNN’s Jim Acosta and David Wright contributed to this report.