A few anti-Trump Republicans have successfully invaded Trump’s mental space with popular ads. Now they’re trying to figure out what to do with the attention.
The moment President Donald Trump started tweeting at 12:46 a.m. about the “RINO Republicans” at the Lincoln Project who’d just run an ad attacking his response to the pandemic, Reed Galen knew his hunch was right: you can trigger a Trump freakout with a little bit of planning and pop psychology.
Galen had co-founded the Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump PAC run by Republicans, with the goal of convincing Americans to vote against him in November. In May, the group thought Trump’s response to the pandemic had created the perfect opportunity to both make their case. Off of a brainwave that cofounder George Conway had during a conversation with his wife, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, Galen and his small team guessed Trump would be particularly enraged by an in-the-moment ad that portrayed the president as making Americans “weaker, sicker and poorer” than ever before. And they figured the best bet to get to the president would be to target Trump where he was, Washington, D.C., on the channel he watches, Fox News, when he was most likely to be watching, at night.
“He’s always gonna be watching Fox News at night in the residence,” said Galen, a GOP consultant who had worked for George W. Bush, John McCain and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
What they hadn’t expected, though, was that Trump would single out nearly every person involved in the Lincoln Project by name — Kellyanne Conway’s “deranged loser of a husband, Moonface” Conway, “Crazed” Rick Wilson, “LOSERS” who had consulted for “loser” candidates.
To Galen, it was a sign that the Lincoln Project — the first phase, at least — was working.
“It’s not just pissing off Donald Trump. Anybody could do that,” Galen said in an interview, though he admitted to “a modicum of enjoyment” from being the topic of midnight tweetstorm. “It’s, to what effect? Like, why are you doing it? And the point is to take him off his game and take his campaign off their game, strategically and tactically, so that the Biden campaign and Joe Biden can have the freedom of movement and the green air to do the things that they need to do.”
In the past few months, the Lincoln Project — a PAC with not much funding, as far as PACs go — has successfully established itself as a squatter in Trump’s mental space, thanks to several factors: members each boasting hundreds of thousands of social media followers, rapidly cut ads that respond to current events and a single-minded focus on buying airtime wherever Trump is most likely to be binging cable news that day, whether it’s the D.C. market or his golf courses across the country. And every time Trump freaks out — or every time the media covers his freakout — the Lincoln Project scores an incalculable amount of earned media, and millions of views online to boot.
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