The Lincoln Project Should Consider Running Candidates Themselves

It’s the only logical evolution for a group truly looking to reclaim their party.

As the dust slowly settles from this election, the grand bargain made by a spectrum of groups ranging from progressives to moderate Republicans is fading away, and already old habits have come rearing back. Progressives couldn’t wait even a week before attacking the Never-Trump group known as The Lincoln Project (TLP) over what claiming TLP’s tactic were nothing more than a grift whose only purpose was to burn money and make its founders rich.

Harsh words, especially as The Lincoln Project recently announced their work would continue in Georgia to help Democrats swing the Senate. To their credit, progressive complaining hasn’t seemed to slow TLP down, and already the rumor mill is churning about what their next move will be after the Georgia runoff.

Well, one idea that I haven’t seen suggested yet is for The Lincoln Project to run candidates themselves, ideally primarying vulnerable Republicans across the country. Before Democrats light themselves on fire at the notion, hear me out. The Lincoln Project finding and running moderate Republican candidates in red districts would not only fit snugly with their mission of rebuilding the Republican party but could be quite beneficial for Democrats as well. While their ads may be sleek and timely, in reality, The Lincoln Project has only really been playing at the margins. There is so much more work they can do.

What’s a more effective way to root out enablers?

In December of 2019, The Lincoln Project’s founder outlined, in an op-ed piece for The New York Times, their mission saying, “ Our efforts are aimed at persuading enough disaffected conservatives, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in swing states and districts to help ensure a victory in the Electoral College, and congressional majorities that don’t enable or abet Mr. Trump’s violations of the Constitution, even if that means Democratic control of the Senate and an expanded Democratic majority in the House.

They go on stating, “ Congressional Republicans have embraced and copied Mr. Trump’s cruelty and defended and even adopted his corruption. Mr. Trump and his enablers have abandoned conservatism and longstanding Republican principles and replaced them with Trumpism, an empty faith led by a bogus prophet.

On their website, their mission reads, “ the priority for all patriotic Americans must be a shared fidelity to the Constitution and a commitment to defeat those candidates who have abandoned their constitutional oaths, regardless of party. Electing Democrats who support the Constitution over Republicans who do not is a worthy effort.

The Lincoln Project has been blunt about the need to not only defeat Trump but to root out Trumpism in Congress, which they claimed has infected almost every Republican representative at both the state and federal levels. In light of this, the way to hit back at this moral rot is to challenge them directly. Primary them. Hit them where it hurts.

In a sense, become the Justice Democrats of the right and fund charismatic challengers to Republican incumbents. I understand the irony of modeling oneself after a group that claims to be far-left, but the Justice Democrats’ tactics are ripe for copying. Only the goal should be different. Instead of pushing the Democratic party to be more radical, it should be rebirthing a new Republican party from the ashes.

The Lincoln Project has money. It has connections and experience. It can easily build the infrastructure needed to run, and TLP have clearly shown there is an appetite for the message they’re selling. It’s the next logical step for The Lincoln Project, and I’d encourage them to start the work now so that your’e well-equipped to build out on that existing power base when elections roll around again and again, just as progressives have done.

Lincoln Project candidates would be good news for Democrats.

Democrats benefit from an opposing party that lives in the same universe as we do. Democrats benefit when Republican voters have more than one option, and Democrats benefit from a Republican party willing to work with the them on common issues. Nonetheless, Democrats are often not the right messengers for a lot of reasons. This is not to discount the important work that Democrats are doing in Texas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, and other places. By all means, we should keep investing in those fights, but there is a pervasive amount of mistrust in our country, and Democrats are often caught up in it to their detriment

So a Republican party split, even if it’s just in primaries, is excellent news for Democratic candidates. The Lincoln Project’s strategy up until this point has essentially been about giving disaffected Republicans and Independents permission to vote for the Democrat. There’s an argument to be made that this plan of attack was effective at least in part during this election. Now that same argument needs to be taken to down-ballot races across the country. Georgia will be an interesting trial run for them, but what better way to bring that argument to people than by presenting them a true alternative.

And if a TLP candidate wins their primary, then it’s the moderate’s dream of center-left and center-right candidates duking it out, a battle of ideas. Additionally, it automatically makes the Democrat more competitive if both candidates can engage with each other rationally.

Alternatively, if The Lincoln Project’s candidate loses in a district, guess who they might endorse and where a percentage of the Republican vote in a red area might go as well if given the chance? To the Democrat!

If this election has taught us anything, it’s that Democrats need to innovate, and I believe Democrats can indeed walk and chew gum at the same time. We can and should commit ourselves to becoming more and more competitive in places like Arizona, Texas, and Georgia, but that doesn’t mean we have to give up on states like Iowa, Kansas, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

This could be a path.

Long-term, this is also good for Democracy.

Our system has only ever had two competitive parties. In many ways that’s by design, but in practice, a two-party system only ever wreaks havoc and fosters rank partisanship. The evidence is all around us. Now, I’m not here to promote some peace-love nonsense, look-past-our-differences crap. There is no constitutional requirement to like each other, but what we must learn to do is tolerate each other.

One way to do that would be to diversify the competitiveness of our party system. Imagine just for a second that there were four distinct parties instead of two: Progressive, Democrat, Center-Right, and Far-Right. In some ways, these “parties” already exist, but nevertheless, pretend these are now the four official parties. Maybe for the presidency, political parties unite under one of two options, but for down-ballot races, some positions have three serious candidates to choose from, or maybe others have four options to choose from. Even at the presidential level, with a simple implementation of nation-wide ranked voting, having four candidates instead of two would be possible. No longer is it the lesser of two evils.

Doesn’t that sound great?

Getting people used to the idea that there aren’t just two options for things is a start. For so long we’ve been forced to choose between flat Coke or flat Sprite. There are more choices, and groups like Justice Democrats, and potentially, The Lincoln Project can help us see that.

I have no doubt Justice Democrats would jump in a heartbeat at the chance to split away from the Democratic Party if it didn’t present the real risk of guaranteeing far-right rule for decades. The same goes for The Lincoln Project. Presenting real alternatives to the current status quo is crucial in not only showing people what’s possible but also forcing those changes to the system that would benefit the electorate as a whole.

Originally published at https://robertpotter.co on November 12, 2020.

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