Leave Lincoln Out of ItBreaking News
tags: Abraham Lincoln, Donald Trump, 2020 Election, political advertising, Lincoln Project
The ads’ intended audience may be a surprise. In December, the PAC’s organizers published a manifesto in The New York Times, to mark their group’s launch. The headline read: “We Are Republicans, and We Want Trump Defeated.”
“The 2020 general election, by every indication, will be about persuasion,” the organizers wrote. “Our efforts are aimed at persuading … disaffected conservatives, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in swing states and districts.” As for the name, they said, “We look to Lincoln as our guide and inspiration.”
The claim to the mantle of Abraham Lincoln was truer than the organizers knew. Long before he was made a martyr and then a myth, Lincoln was a small-time politician on the Illinois prairie, with a talent for what one of his biographers, Douglas Wilson, called “attack journalism.” Throughout his early career, he filled the columns of party newspapers with scurrilous, usually anonymous assaults on his political adversaries. Lincoln used every tool in the demagogue’s kit—slander, innuendo, mockery. Factual accuracy didn’t restrain him, on those rare occasions when facts were at issue.
Lincoln knew his audience. His readers, Wilson wrote, were “basically partisan.” “They tended to take delight in any and all hits against their political opponents. The seductive appeal of demagogy is, of course, that meanspirited and unfair arguments do score points.”
Such arguments, in other words, thrill those already on board, and only those. The Lincoln Project’s ads are not, as the manifesto claimed, “about persuasion.” Like a Trump rally, the ads work exclusively on the predispositions of the faithful. Try to imagine the “disaffected conservatives” or “Republican-leaning independents” whom the Lincoln Project says it hopes to win over. They straddle their fences, scroll through their timelines, leaning first this way then that … Biden, Trump … Trump, Biden … until at last they come upon a Project Lincoln ad and they discover—can it be?—that the president’s genitalia aren’t functioning nearly as well as the world thought!
“By God,” they might cry. “This is the last straw! We need Joe Biden to restore the soul of America!”
But probably not.