The Lincoln Project has gotten Donald Trump's attention

A new video from the Lincoln Project led Trump to launch a middle-of-the-night tantrum. It's likely that the Lincoln Project is thrilled.
Image: U.S. President Trump participates in coronavirus relief bill signing ceremony at the White House in Washington
President Donald Trump speaks during a signing ceremony for the "Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act" in the Oval Office at the White House on April 24, 2020.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
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By Steve Benen

There's ample evidence that Donald Trump is very popular among Republicans, but the president's support within his party is not universal. There's still a sliver of GOP voices who not only recoil in response to Trump's many failures and abuses, they also take great offense to what he's done to their party.

With this in mind, the Lincoln Project took shape late last year, led by a group of prominent Republican critics of the incumbent president, including George Conway, Steve Schmidt, John Weaver, Jennifer Horn, and Rick Wilson. They're all lifelong GOP insiders, who bring a degree of credibility to the broader effort to rescue the GOP from Trump and his enablers.

It released a minute-long video yesterday, which was quite brutal. For those who can't watch clips online, the voice-over script reads:

"There's mourning in America. Today, more than 60,000 Americans have died from a deadly virus Donald Trump ignored. With the economy in shambles, more than 26 million Americans are out of work -- the worst economy in decades. Trump bailed out Wall Street, but not Main Street. This afternoon, millions of Americans will apply for unemployment. And with their savings run out, many are giving up hope. Millions worry that a loved one won't survive COVID-19. There's mourning in America. 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?"

To fully appreciate its impact, it's worth taking a minute to watch the ad itself. The script is hard-hitting, but it's even more powerful to see it with the video imagery.

Evidently, the video crossed the president's radar. In fact, at nearly 1 a.m. (eastern) this morning, Trump published a quartet of furious tweets lashing out at the Lincoln Project's leaders as "losers." He took particular aim at George Conway, who's married to White House advisor Kellyanne Conway, writing, "I don't know what Kellyanne did to her deranged loser of a husband, Moonface, but it must have been really bad."

The president went on to refer to Evan McMullin as "McMuffin" because Trump has the temperament of intemperate tween.

As for the Lincoln Project's latest video, the president added that the ad's creators "have copied (no imagination) the concept of an ad from Ronald Reagan, 'Morning in America.'"

Oh my.

In case this isn't obvious -- and for most adults, it really ought to be -- the Lincoln Project didn't "copy" the 1984 message; it referenced it deliberately to create a contrast between Reagan's successes and Trump's failures. In 1984, it was "morning" in America, while in 2020, there's "mourning" in America. The subtlety was apparently lost on the easily confused president.

But even putting that aside, if Trump thinks his little online tantrum serves his interests, he's mistaken. For one thing, the president made himself look ridiculous by tweeting furiously in the middle of the night -- not about a pandemic that's now killed nearly 70,000 Americans, but about a web video that hurt his feelings.

As George Conway wrote this morning, "I guess we know what keeps the president of the United States up at night. It isn't the Americans who are dying once every 45 seconds of COVID-19."

For another, Trump's political instincts are badly flawed. The Lincoln Project, the merits of its efforts notwithstanding, has limited resources. The minute-long video the group created is powerful, but it would have a limited reach given the Lincoln Project's modest finances.

And then along comes Trump, voluntarily drawing more attention to the video, and giving news organizations a reason to shine a light on the video for the public.

Something similar happened in March, when the president's re-election campaign went after a Priorities USA ad with a vengeance, which created more interest in the ad, and which generated a vastly larger audience for it.

In other words, the Streisand Effect kicked in, and it may happen again this week.

All of which is to say, it's likely that the Lincoln Project is thrilled to see Trump attack the Lincoln Project.