Enemies of my enemy | On Politics | Chicago Reader

Enemies of my enemy 

Learning to love the never-Trump crowd at the Lincoln Project

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click to enlarge All that matters for now is that we have a common foe.

All that matters for now is that we have a common foe.

Gage Skidmore / cc by-sa 2.0

As hard as this is for me to admit, I’ve been turning to Republicans to help me get through the horrors of Trump.

Well, not just any Republicans. But the renegade, never-Trumpers known as the Lincoln Project, a political action committee whose members include strategists for both Bushes and John McCain.

In other words, people with whom I’m generally at odds.

But they despise Trump—and Trumpism—as much as I do. And they’re not afraid to say it, in one powerful Trump-bashing commercial after another.

Like the one that depicts Trump as a doddering old man. Or the fellow-traveler one, spoken in Russian, linking Trump to Putin, Lenin, and Stalin.

And the one calling him a coward because he dodged the draft instead of going to Vietnam, and the one linking him to the Confederate flag, and the one blaming him for pretty much everything that’s wrong with America today.

They’re turning all the tricks of the Republican trade against Trump. Doing to him what he wants to do to Biden. Going negative. Really negative. And, folks, I hate to admit it—but I love it. Keep ’em coming, Lincoln Project.

It’s about time that the other side played this game. Even if the other side consists of Republicans going after one of their own. 

I’ve got a feeling the Lincoln Project crowd sees people like me the way I see them—temporary friends, albeit of the enemy-of-my-enemy persuasion.

As they say on their website: “Our many policy differences with national Democrats remain. However, the priority for all patriotic Americans must be a shared fidelity to the Constitution and a commitment to defeat those candidates who have abandoned their constitutional oaths, regardless of party. Electing Democrats who support the Constitution over Republicans who do not is a worthy effort.”

It’s almost surreal that I’d find myself temporarily allied with this bunch, given my lifelong enmity to the GOP, an attitude I inherited from my late mother, a New Deal Democrat.

One of my earliest memories is accompanying her to the polling place where she voted not so much for JFK as against Richard Nixon.

My parents and their friends hated Nixon—the man who invented the Southern Strategy, which Trump is trying to use to win reelection.

The Republicans shamelessly exploited white fears, resentments, and hostilities toward Black people to move the country to the right on just about every issue I can think of—from the environment to abortion to education to taxation to unions and so on.

For years, the Republicans picked at our racial wounds, hoping to inflame white people with a sense of victimhood.

That tactic was on full display this weekend with Trump’s speeches at Mount Rushmore and the White House. Followed by his tweet championing the Confederate flag and denouncing NASCAR for taking a stand against racism and for racial harmony.

But they were playing this game before Trump.

Before Trump, there was Ronald Reagan’s infamous 1980 campaign speech in Neshoba County, Mississippi—close to where three civil rights workers had been murdered by the Klan.

That speech—in which Reagan called for “states’ rights”—helped snatch the south back from President Jimmy Carter, the former governor of Georgia. Carter was supposed to be the bellwether of a more moderate, tolerant southern man.

With Reagan’s victory, it’s been downhill for Democrats in the south—particularly Georgia—ever since.

In 1988, George Bush—who was supposed to be a moderate Republican—whipped up white fears with the infamous Willie Horton commercials against Michael Dukakis.

The commercials highlighted the story of Horton, a Black prisoner who had committed rape after being released on a weekend furlough program that Dukakis had supported while governor of Massachusetts.

As Bush’s chief strategist, Lee Atwater, put it: “By the time we’re finished, they’re going to wonder whether Willie Horton is Dukakis’s running mate.”

That Horton commercial was not actually produced by the Bush campaign. It was produced by a PAC that wanted him to win.

So, there’s a certain irony that the Lincoln Project—another PAC—is playing the same game 32 years later against Trump, hoping to undo some of the damage that the Wille Horton commercial caused.

By 2004, Republican strategists were also employing homophobia to frighten voters away from the Democrats.

I’m convinced that George W. Bush won Ohio—and the Electoral College—with the Karl Rove strategy to relentlessly run ads linking John Kerry to gay marriage.

They turned the issue toxic for Democrats who should have known better—like Barack Obama, then running for senator from Illinois.

As a state senator from Hyde Park, Obama had been for gay marriage. As a statewide senatorial candidate in 2004, he was against it.

Obama later came back to supporting gay marriage—after he was reelected as president in 2012. He called it an evolution of his attitude on the subject. So, you might say he devolved before he evolved.

I’m not just picking on Obama. That’s how it goes with Democrats. In the face of the Republican attack ads, they retreat—so worried about losing the “silent majority.”

And they voluntarily move right, selling out their principles. Don’t worry, they tell us. We’ll regain those principles once we are back in office.

But then there’s always another election. And so the center moves right. And the Republicans “win” even when they lose. As they did to Obama in the senate race of 2004.

I’m hoping that when this presidential election is over and our common foe has been defeated, Lincoln Project Republicans will show they’ve truly learned from their past.

And that they’ll be a tad more conciliatory and not treat every tax hike on the rich as the first step towards Bolshevism. As they’re currently doing in Illinois with Governor Pritzker’s fair tax proposal.

But, first things first. Beating Trump.

Like I said—keep ’em coming, Lincoln Project.  v

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