Several veterans of past Republican campaigns, including the former head of New Hampshire’s GOP, have created a committee aimed at defeating President Trump in 2020 and congressional Republicans who have supported him.
Dubbed the Lincoln Project, the group has Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine as one of its biggest potential targets. Collins already faces a Democratic challenger and growing scrutiny from all corners as the Senate prepares for an expected Trump impeachment trial.
“It is my great hope, as this impeachment process unfolds, that she will have the courage to do what is right, to stand up and put the country over party, to be a voice for the people over Donald Trump,” said Jennifer Horn, a former head of New Hampshire’s Republican Party and a cofounder of the Lincoln Project.
“If that doesn’t happen,” Horn said, “then, yes, unfortunately, Senator Collins becomes part of this,” a Lincoln Project target.
The project is one of several small, but vocal, rebellions against Trump, who has taken over the national Republican Party apparatus and rarely experiences pushback from its members in Congress.
Collins, who has walked a tightrope through roiling partisan politics, has said little about how she intends to vote in the Senate’s expected impeachment trial of Trump. Long known as an independent thinker, Collins infuriated members of her party when she helped kill the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. But she faced criticism from Democrats when she voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
Collins, in a statement, offered few clues about how she might vote in an impeachment trial. “I intend to make my decision on whether or not to convict President Trump on the basis of the evidence presented at the trial,” she said. “Threats from both the left and the right will have zero influence on that decision.”
Trump has remained steadily popular among Republicans across the country, despite his overall low approval ratings and his impeachment last week by the House, all of which makes the Lincoln Project’s effort an uphill battle.
When the House voted to impeach Trump for trying to pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate former vice president Joe Biden — a potential Trump challenger in 2020 — not a single Republican joined the Democratic majority. In some states, the GOP has maneuvered to keep Trump’s primary challengers off the 2020 ballot altogether.
Nonetheless, the Lincoln Project, unveiled in a New York Times op-ed the day before the House impeached Trump, describes the president as a “bogus prophet,” whose actions threaten the Constitution and American way of life.
“We do not undertake this task lightly, nor from ideological preference,” said the op-ed authors and Lincoln Project cofounders, who include George T. Conway III, an attorney known as an outspoken Trump critic and husband of presidential adviser Kelleyanne Conway.
“Our many policy differences with national Democrats remain, but our shared fidelity to the Constitution dictates a common effort,” they wrote.
They envision persuading enough disaffected conservatives, Republicans, and Republican-leaning independents in swing states and districts to vote against Trump and his supporters “even if that means Democratic control of the Senate and an expanded Democratic majority in the House.”
Joshua Tardy, a Maine attorney who served as honorary chairman for Collins’s last Senate campaign, dismissed the project’s goals and chances of success. “There will be a lot of noise makers on both sides and this super PAC will just be another noise maker in a noisy election,” Tardy said. (Such political action committees can raise funds from individuals, corporations, unions, and other groups without any limit on donation size or expenditure.)
Collins recently announced she will run for reelection. And while she hasn’t said whether she will endorse Trump, the president this week indicated his support for her — via Twitter. When Senator Lindsey Graham encouraged voters to support Collins’s reelection, Trump responded: “I agree 100%.”
Horn, from the Lincoln Project, said her group raised over $500,000 in the two days after it was announced.
The group’s day-to-day activities will be overseen by Horn, who twice ran for Congress from New Hampshire, and by Reed Galen, a longtime Republican strategist. Other members include two former strategists for the late Senator John McCain, Steve Schmidt and John Weaver.
Maine is considered a battleground state in 2020. That’s partly because its electorate is divided and unpredictable: The state has a Republican senator, an independent senator, and two Democratic members of the House. The current Democratic governor followed a provocative Republican. Maine is also a key electoral state because it is one of just two (the other is Nebraska) that does not use the traditional winner-take-all method of allocating Electoral College votes. Trump won one of the state’s four votes in 2016, the first time a Republican took any of Maine’s votes in decades.
Tardy is not worried.
“At the end of the day, Donald Trump and Susan Collins enjoy enormous support by their Republican base,” he said.
The Lincoln Project is also focusing on candidates in other states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado, and Arizona.
Former Massachusetts governor William F. Weld, who is challenging Trump for the presidential nomination, said he is focused on beating Trump, but not on targeting other Republicans.
He said, however, that he agreed with the project’s mission of defeating Trump.
“I am delighted to see a little hardball on the side of the nice guys,” Weld said.
He draws parallels to 1973, when, he said, he was an ambitious young lawyer for the House Judiciary Committee and was advised by others in the Republican Party to steer clear of the impeachment process because of Richard Nixon’s popularity, despite the Watergate break-in.
Nixon ultimately resigned in 1974 before the House voted on impeachment, as evidence against him mounted and support from loyal congressional defenders dissolved. Weld believes those who stand by Trump in a Senate trial will suffer politically.
“If the Republicans in the Senate walk the plank silently for Mr. Trump, all of those who are up next year in the 2020 election will lose their seats,” he said.
Mark Sanford, a former South Carolina governor and congressman who ended his long-shot campaign for the Republican nomination against Trump last month, had not heard of the Lincoln Project. But Sanford, a fiscal conservative, said he wished the founders well. “I think we need to have a conversation as Republicans as to what it means to be a Republican,” Sanford said. “We have lost our way . . . based on a temporary political amnesia that will fade.”