Anti-Trump ad by Republican group airs in Wisconsin

U.S. President Donald Trump stands in the colonnade as he is introduced to speak to March for Life participants and pro-life leaders in the Rose Garden at the White House on January 19, 2018 in Washington, DC. | Mark Wilson/Getty Images
U.S. President Donald Trump stands in the colonnade as he is introduced to speak to March for Life participants and pro-life leaders in the Rose Garden at the White House | Mark Wilson/Getty Images

An ad seeking to persuade Republicans not to vote for Donald Trump went up on cable television stations in Wausau and La Crosse Tuesday.

The ad, titled “Mourning in America,” contrasts Trump with Ronald Reagan, and has generated more than 20 million impressions on YouTube and prompted an angry rant on Twitter from Trump.

“More than 60,000 Americans have died from a deadly virus Donald Trump ignored,” a solemn male voice declares over a weeping chorus of violins. “With the economy in shambles, more than 26 million Americans are out of work. 

“There’s mourning in America,” the ad continues, “and under the leadership of Donald Trump, our country is weaker, and sicker and poorer. And now Americans are asking: If we have another four years like this, will there even be an America?”

The ad is part of an effort by the Lincoln Project, a super PAC founded in December 2019 by a group of prominent Republicans whose  mission is “to defeat President Trump and Trumpism at the ballot box.”

The group’s founders include George Conway, New York attorney and husband of Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway; John Weaver, a former advisor to John McCain’s presidential campaign and Sarah Lenti, the group’s executive director. Lenti served on George W. Bush’s National Security Council and worked on McCain’s campaign in Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana, before helping Mitt Romney write his book No Apology: The Case for American Greatness.

In response to the ad, Trump tweeted:

“We’re creating a movement of Republicans who’ve decided it’s better for us to defeat this flavor of Republicanism” — even if it means electing a Democrat, explains Lenti. She says she was motivated to work against Trump because of the way she feels he has degraded the office of the presidency.

“I do not want my children to emulate Trump,” she says. “He continues to make a mockery of the office, and that’s so dangerous — more dangerous than electing a Democrat.”

Sarah Lenti, executive director of the Lincoln Project
Sarah Lenti, executive director of the Lincoln Project

When the Lincoln Project launched in December, “We couldn’t have predicted that there would be a pandemic and an economic crash,” Lenti says, “but what we did know is a lot of Republicans were unhappy.”

Its ad buys this week target two cities in Wisconsin, as well as Dayton, Ohio, and Fort Meyers, Florida. “We are targeting areas where we think we can move soft Republicans to either cross over to vote for Joe Biden, or just not to vote for Trump this time,” Lenti adds.

“We’ve never been in a time like this, with a president that is so outrageous” says Lenti. “If ever there were a time when you might see Republicans move, this is it.” And it only requires moving 1% to 3% of those who voted for Trump in 2016 to change the outcome in 2020, she points out.

What’s unique about the Lincoln Project, Lenti says, is that it is made up of Republicans with years of experience working in Republican campaigns and administrations. 

This gives them the ability to “use traditional Republican tactics and language — that’s a tool not every super PAC has.”

Other ads by the group include “Dystopia” which layers audio of Trump’s voice bragging about being “number-one on Facebook” with news clips about Americans dying of COVID-19 and economic collapse. Another ad, “MAGA church” aimed at evangelical Christians, quotes Matthew 7:15  — “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”  

Lenti says she is comfortable supporting Joe Biden. “Supporting Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren would not have been possible for me,” she says. “Biden is more of an old-fashioned, moderate Democrat. It beats the alternative.” 

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Ruth Conniff
Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. She formerly served as Editor-in-chief of The Progressive Magazine, and opened the Progressive’s office in Washington, DC, during the Clinton Administration, where she made her debut as a political pundit on CNN’s Capital Gang Sunday and Fox News. She moved to Oaxaca, Mexico, for a year in 2017, where she covered U.S./Mexico relations, the migrant caravan, and Mexico’s efforts to grapple with Donald Trump. Conniff is a frequent guest on All in with Chris Hayes on MSNBC and has appeared on Good Morning America, Democracy Now!, Wisconsin Public Radio, and other radio and television programs. In 2011, she did award-winning coverage of the uprising against Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin. She has also written for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. Conniff graduated from Yale University in 1990, where she ran track and edited the campus magazine The New Journal.