One would think Steve Schmidt, co-founder of the anti-Trump political action committee the Lincoln Project, would be keeping a low profile these days.
The former Republican strategist-turned-professional NeverTrumper got what he wanted; Donald Trump is no longer president.
While the impact the Lincoln Project’s multitude of viral advertisements smearing Trump had on the election can be debated — one study found they were hilariously ineffective at doing anything but making a handful of squishy former GOP power brokers momentarily beloved on the left — the spots will remain a bit of overheated ephemera emblematic of the 2020 campaign.
The post-election period was never going to be kind to the Lincoln Project, given that it had no overarching principles other than returning the ossified country-club establishment to pre-eminence in the Republican Party.
It’s been more unkind than one might have originally thought, given the majority of headlines the group has generated since last November have come from co-founder John Weaver, who was alleged to have sexually harassed scores of young men and behaved like a predator, sending his targets provocative text messages and enticing them with promises of employment.
What’s worse, reports alleged that the Lincoln Project was informed of accusations against Weaver as early as June 2020, despite a statement from the group saying it was “shocked” by the revelations.
As for the veracity behind the accusations, Weaver pulled a Kevin Spacey and said in a statement that he had “tried to live a life that wasn’t completely true” and that “[t]he truth is that I’m gay.”
Of course, no one was accusing him of homosexuality; they were accusing him of sexual harassment and using his power to procure assignations with much younger men. Given the situation, one might have thought a rebrand into the “Epstein Project” might have been in order.
Add into that another report from female-centric publication The 19th that chronicled a culture at the Lincoln Project “where women in key positions were sidelined and where sexist and homophobic language was used by those in leadership posts,” and you would have thought every one of the group’s principals would have consciously withdrawn from the spotlight.
Schmidt, in fact, resigned from the Lincoln Project board of directors in February, saying he was “incandescently angry” about the allegations.
But having been “incandescently angry” about his own group’s failures apparently hasn’t instilled a whit of humility when it comes to lecturing others.
Schmidt has persisted — telling MSNBC that right-wing anger “is very quickly metastasizing into violent extremism.”
He made the claim during an appearance Thursday on “Deadline,” telling host Nicolle Wallace that a suspect who is alleged to have thrown a Molotov cocktail into the Travis County Democratic Party headquarters in Texas on Wednesday at 2 a.m. was “radicalized like a young man drawn to the lies of ISIS.”
“We have an autocratic movement teeming with violence and the intimations of violence in this country. And it’s a threat to democracy,” Schmidt said.
“So let’s look at that domestic terrorist, that criminal who desecrated the American flag by wrapping it around his head, who committed violence in the name of right-wing extremism. What is it that he has heard?” he continued. “He has heard that he lives in an occupied country with an illegitimate president who lost the election, who was put into power by millions of fraudulent votes, mostly black and brown votes out of the inner cities.
“He turns on [Fox News host] Tucker Carlson, and he hears that he’s going to be replaced in a great plot where the Democratic Party is importing people from the third world to strip him of his franchise, of his rights. He has been stoked. He has been instigated. He has been radicalized like a young man drawn to the lies of ISIS in a different part of the world, and we will have more of it.
“Since the beginning of time, all right-wing political movements try to create chaos, including violence. And out of that chaos and out of that violence that they have caused, they then claim that they can bring order, that only they can bring order, and it is with that order that we will lose our democracy.”
For whatever reason, I don’t remember Schmidt going on MSNBC and sounding the alarm about liberals being “radicalized like a young man drawn to the lies of ISIS” when the Orange County Republican Party headquarters in North Carolina was attacked with a Molotov cocktail during the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, along with spray-painted graffiti that said “Nazi Republicans” on the side of the building. I’m sure I just missed it.
Or apparently Schmidt just missed the entirety of the 2016 election, since he went on to say that “there is a fundamental difference between these political parties in two big ways. And those two big differences exceed every other difference. One party will abide by election results. They’re called the Democratic Party. The other political party no longer will.”
"Since the beginning of time, all right wing political movements tried to create chaos… out of that chaos… that they have caused, they then claim that they can bring order… and it is with that order that we will lose our democracy" – @SteveSchmidtSES w/ @NicolleDWallace pic.twitter.com/CwKO9fjSLn
— Deadline White House (@DeadlineWH) September 30, 2021
The Democratic Party, you might remember, spent four years prattling on about how the 2016 election was suspect, with some openly saying it was stolen. Then, with whiplash speed, anyone who didn’t just accept but enthusiastically embrace the results of the 2020 race was party to the “big lie.”
And now, according to Schmidt, Republicans and conservatives are essentially on par with bloodthirsty terrorists — and they’re responsible for what happened at the Travis County Democratic Party headquarters.
“Historically, we know, when you put all of that fuel on the ground, and you start throwing sparks at it, that you can ignite a conflagration, and when you dehumanize people the way that this man and this movement has, in the end, it kills people,” Schmidt said.
“And historically, this type of politics has wound up, in its worst excesses, killing tens of millions of people,” he said. “That’s why it’s such a frightening moment, and that’s why it’s time to wake up and understand that we don’t have a shortage-of-panic-buttons problem. We have a political extremism problem that is very quickly metastasizing into a violent extremism that we’ll be dealing with for a generation because of what happened over the last five years.”
We may have a political extremism problem, but the agents of it won’t be found where Schmidt thinks they will be. Instead, you’d be better off looking at the Lincoln Project, a group that injected content-free vitriol into the 2020 electoral race and, in the immediate aftermath of Biden’s inauguration, promised to build “a database of Trump officials & staff that will detail their roles in the Trump administration & track where they are now. No personal info, only professional. But they will be held accountable & not allowed to pretend they were not involved.”
If that sounds a lot like a witch hunt, that’s because it is.
The Lincoln Project also targets other Republicans it finds distastefully close to Trump, such as Trump-endorsed Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin. As Fox News reported last week, the group issued a public warning to Youngkin that it was “coming for him” in his attempt to defeat Democrat Terry McAuliffe, the former Virginia governor and Clinton family ally.
And yet, the Lincoln Project, with or without Schmidt on board, is arguably the least effective vehicle for fist-shaking moral indignation that there is. Weaver remains the most prominent example of the group’s hypocrisy, but it was always little more than an outrage machine designed to stoke fear for the benefit of its principals.
Amazingly, long after that should have become apparent to everyone, the group is still stoking baseless anxiety.
Now, Steve Schmidt is putting forth the ludicrous notion that a random guy who threw a Molotov cocktail into a local Democratic Party headquarters represents a vanguard of men indoctrinated like Islamic State group terrorists — but instead of being radicalized by a video of an infidel being beheaded in the name of Allah, they’re being radicalized by “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
If this fatuous notion won’t convince MSNBC that Schmidt and his Lincoln Project cohort are fundamentally unserious grifters who are noxious to democracy, nothing will.