Lincoln Project expands GOP target list, winning Trump ire

The former GOP operatives behind The Lincoln Project are expanding their list of Republican targets, infuriating allies of President TrumpDonald John TrumpBubba Wallace to be driver of Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin NASCAR team Graham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Southwest Airlines, unions call for six-month extension of government aid MORE's and national Republicans scrambling to preserve the GOP majority in the Senate.

In addition to a relentless negative ad campaign against Trump, the group has so far spent more than $1.3 million attacking Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGraham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Gardner signals support for taking up Supreme Court nominee this year Tumultuous court battle upends fight for Senate MORE (Maine), who is among the most vulnerable GOP senators up for reelection. That’s by far the most they’ve spent on any Senate candidate.

Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings reveal The Lincoln Project has also targeted more than a half-dozen other Republicans up for reelection in 2020, including Sens. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerGraham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Gardner signals support for taking up Supreme Court nominee this year Tumultuous court battle upends fight for Senate MORE (Colo), Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyTumultuous court battle upends fight for Senate Grassley, Ernst pledge to 'evaluate' Trump's Supreme Court nominee The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden goes on offense MORE (Ariz.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Fox's Napolitano: Supreme Court confirmation hearings will be 'World War III of political battles' Grassley, Ernst pledge to 'evaluate' Trump's Supreme Court nominee MORE (S.C.), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisGrassley, Ernst pledge to 'evaluate' Trump's Supreme Court nominee Trump to include North Carolina in offshore drilling moratorium, senator says Biden's six best bets in 2016 Trump states MORE (N.C.), Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstGraham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Joe Biden looks to expand election battleground into Trump country Grassley, Ernst pledge to 'evaluate' Trump's Supreme Court nominee MORE (Iowa), John CornynJohn CornynTumultuous court battle upends fight for Senate Texas Democrats roll out first wave of planned digital ads as Election Day nears Calls grow for Biden to expand election map in final sprint MORE (Texas) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGraham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Trump puts Supreme Court fight at center of Ohio rally The Memo: Dems face balancing act on SCOTUS fight MORE (Ky.).

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The group is running ads in support of Democratic Senate candidate Steve BullockSteve BullockMcConnell locks down key GOP votes in Supreme Court fight Senate Democrats demand White House fire controversial head of public lands agency Pence seeks to boost Daines in critical Montana Senate race MORE in Montana and independent Al Gross in Alaska, who are seeking to unseat Sens. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesMcConnell locks down key GOP votes in Supreme Court fight Will Republicans' rank hypocrisy hinder their rush to replace Ginsburg? Toobin: McConnell engaging in 'greatest act of hypocrisy in American political history' with Ginsburg replacement vote MORE (R-Mont.) and Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanWill Republicans' rank hypocrisy hinder their rush to replace Ginsburg? Hillicon Valley: DOJ indicts Chinese, Malaysian hackers accused of targeting over 100 organizations | GOP senators raise concerns over Oracle-TikTok deal | QAnon awareness jumps in new poll Republican Senators raise concerns over Oracle-TikTok deal MORE (R-Alaska), respectively.

Reed Galen, a strategist for the group, told The Hill that “the Senate map has expanded” and that off-cycle Senate Republicans “shouldn’t believe their day won’t come.” The Lincoln Project has invested very small amounts in ads going after Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioMurky TikTok deal raises questions about China's role Sunday shows preview: Justice Ginsburg dies, sparking partisan battle over vacancy before election Florida senators pushing to keep Daylight Savings Time during pandemic MORE (R-Fla.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Washington on edge amid SCOTUS vacancy Murkowski: Supreme Court nominee should not be taken up before election Battle lines drawn on precedent in Supreme Court fight MORE (R-Texas), James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeChamber of Commerce endorses McSally for reelection Overnight Defense: Top admiral says 'no condition' where US should conduct nuclear test 'at this time' | Intelligence chief says Congress will get some in-person election security briefings Top admiral: 'No condition' where US should conduct nuclear test 'at this time' MORE (R-Okla.) and Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsChamber of Commerce endorses McSally for reelection Senate GOP eyes early exit Senate Republicans signal openness to working with Biden MORE (R-S.D.).

Galen said the group is also “taking a look at the House,” with a potential announcement on that front coming soon. In addition, The Lincoln Project is planning a “substantive and robust” effort to encourage voters to send in mail or absentee ballots.

The Lincoln Project is taking heat from Republicans for backing challengers to blue-state GOP senators and moderates, such as Collins, who voted against Trump’s efforts to repeal ObamaCare. Galen defended the attacks, saying they’ll target anyone who they believe has inadequately fought back against Trump.

“The stated goal from the beginning was to defeat Trump and Trumpism at the ballot box and to call out his enablers,” Galen said. “These senators we’ve gone after are not conservative Republicans in any classical sense of those words ... they should have T's behind their names, not R's."

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The Lincoln Project has gone viral with ad campaigns attacking Trump and any GOP senator they believe has not done enough to stand up to the president.

The group’s senior members were well-known Washington Republicans before they turned to electing Democrats. The team includes lawyer George ConwayGeorge Thomas ConwayGeorge and Kellyanne Conway honor Ginsburg Lincoln Project releases new ad blasting Trump as 'a horrible role model' George Conway hits Trump on 9/11 anniversary: 'The greatest threat to the safety and security of Americans' MORE, the husband of White House senior adviser Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwaySpecial counsel investigating DeVos for potential Hatch Act violation: report George and Kellyanne Conway honor Ginsburg Trump carries on with rally, unaware of Ginsburg's death MORE, as well as veteran GOP operatives and strategists Rick Wilson, Steve Schmidt and John Weaver.

Republicans working to reelect Trump and maintain the majority in the Senate are hitting back, alleging that the former GOP operatives are “grifters” who have taken up electing Democrats because they lost their cushy establishment jobs when Trump was elected.

They’re accusing The Lincoln Project of being a “scam” PAC that funnels money directly to firms with close ties to the founders.

“The Lincoln Project is comprised of grifters who are nothing more than agents of the Democrat Party,” said Republican National Committee spokesman Steve Guest. “Above all else, these political opportunists are solely concerned with making a quick buck for themselves.”

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The Lincoln Project has routed millions of dollars through firms owned or run by two of its co-founders, Galen and Ron Steslow, the president of the consulting firm TUSK Inc.

A review of the group’s independent expenditures shows that, in July alone, The Lincoln Project paid nearly $6 million to Galen’s firm Summit Strategic Communication for media buys and production costs. Likewise, the group routed about $870,000 through TUSK last month, mostly for digital ad buys, FEC filings show.

Taken together, Summit Strategic Communications and TUSK are The Lincoln Project’s two largest vendors.

Craig Holman, a campaign finance and government ethics expert at the liberal nonprofit Public Citizen, said that The Lincoln Project does not appear to be operating as a “scam PAC,” noting that they’ve spent millions for legitimate political causes.

“The real scam PACs are exceedingly bold in the sense that they almost don’t care about what political cause they’re working for,” Holman said. “When it comes to The Lincoln Project, I do see they’re spending a lot of money enriching the founders, but they do seem to have a genuine political objective.”

It’s not all that uncommon for political action committees to use vendors with ties to the PAC itself, Holman said. But “when the bulk of the expenditures go to companies you or your family owns that’s uncommon,” he added.

The Lincoln Project’s critics have also been digging through the past work of senior members of the group to raise questions about their motives.

Trump campaign insiders say Schmidt, a senior adviser to former Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBiden's six best bets in 2016 Trump states Replacing Justice Ginsburg could depend on Arizona's next senator The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Washington on edge amid SCOTUS vacancy MORE’s (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential campaign, interviewed to be Trump’s campaign manager in 2016. Schmidt denies this, saying he was offered the job of campaign manager three times but never interviewed for it. He says he only met with Trump “to see what he was about.”

Lincoln Project critics have circulated a picture of Wilson, a veteran GOP operative, with a Confederate flag on his boat. They’ve also been digging into his finances and debt. Weaver, a senior adviser to former Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), has been attacked for at one point registering to lobby against sanctions on Russia, before backing out.

“It is a Democratic scam PAC run by a bunch of grifters desperate to remain relevant and fill their own coffers,” said Joanna Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Galen defended the group’s work, accusing elected Republican lawmakers of bending their principles to kowtow to Trump.

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He said that for the most part, Republican dissent has been weak and that GOP lawmakers have been silent as Trump ran up the debt, ordered the police to move on peaceful protesters outside the White House and declined to challenge Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinNavalny calls on Russia to return clothes he was wearing when he fell ill Democrats fear Russia interference could spoil bid to retake Senate Putin is about to turn his attention to the American way of life MORE for offering bounties on U.S. forces.

“They should have seen themselves as members of the U.S. Senate and put the country first,” Galen said. “If the head of the party is Donald Trump and you disagree on policy, politics and decorum, and the best you can summon is that you’re worried and concerned and hope that he does better, that’s not opposition."

“I get from a political perspective you don’t want to draw his ire, but at some point you have to take a stand on these things,” he added. “When history looks back, will you have stood with the U.S. and fought for the underpinnings of democracy or not? These people have made their choices.”

—Updated at 11 a.m.