Monday, July 13, 2020

Behind the scenes at the Lincoln Project

Is Working with the Lincoln Project Sleeping with the Enemy? asks Nick Paumgarten at The New Yorker. Heath Eiden, a video producer who volunteered for Walter Mondale’s campaign as a kid, followed the “enemy-of-my-enemy” principle when he shot the new anti-Trump “Betrayed” ad.

[SNIP]

A couple of weeks ago, [Heath] Eiden, who now lives in Stowe, Vermont, and works as a video producer, got a call from Stuart Stevens, the political consultant, who also has a house in Stowe. Stevens has advised five Republican Presidential candidates, including George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, but has recently abandoned the Party, in the belief that it has abandoned him. (His eighth book, to be published next month, is called “It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump.” Last week, he said, “The Party always had a dark side. We thought it was a recessive gene, but it turned out to be the dominant gene. I feel like a sucker.”)

Stevens was calling on behalf of the Lincoln Project, the confederation of G.O.P. apostates who, appalled by Trump, had formed a political-action committee to defeat him. The Lincoln Project had been producing sharply negative TV ads about Trump, which have run mostly in Washington, D.C., mainly to needle their subject, but which, because of their sass and their source, almost always go viral on social media.

Stevens wanted Eiden to shoot the Lincoln Project’s new spot. This one would feature an emergency-room doctor down the road, in South Burlington, named Dan Barkhuff, a former Navy seal and a graduate of the Naval Academy and of Harvard Medical School, who had started an organization called Veterans for Responsible Leadership. The occasion was the news that the President had ignored intelligence reports that a Russian military unit had been paying bounties to the Taliban for the killing of American soldiers in Afghanistan.

Eiden was torn. On the one hand, work was scarce during the pandemic, and, of course, he abhorred Trump and had been frustrated by the Democrats’ failure to hit back. But, as a dyed-in-the-down Minnesota liberal, he had misgivings about working with what he called “the dark side”—some of the Republican operatives who, by way of rough tactics, had engineered the demise of so many of his favored candidates through the years. Ultimately, though, the enemy-of-my-enemy principle pertained.

The previous week, he’d driven to Minneapolis with his teen-age son, to pay their respects (and shoot some footage) at the memorial for George Floyd. That experience, plus a few days in the suburbs among covid truthers, and an encounter with a waiter making an “I can’t breathe” joke, had only quickened his revulsion. “If it takes working with Republicans to get this fucker out of the White House, fine,” he said.

“What kind of style do you want?” Eiden asked Stevens.

“Think Swift Boat,” Stevens replied.

“I knew exactly what I’d found myself in the middle of,” Eiden recalled.

Eiden and Barkhuff met up at Stevens’s house. The Lincoln Project had sent a script, by a screenwriter of the HBO series “Band of Brothers,” but Barkhuff ditched it for one of his own. Identifying himself as “a pro-life gun-owning combat veteran,” he said into the camera, “Any Commander-in-Chief with a spine would be stomping the shit out of some Russians right now, diplomatically, economically, or, if necessary, with the sort of asymmetric warfare they’re using to send our kids home in body bags. Mr. Trump, you’re either a coward who can’t stand up to an ex-K.G.B. goon or you’re complicit. Which is it?”

Afterward, Eiden went home and uploaded the footage. An editor named Joey, in Denver, put it together overnight. The following afternoon, Stevens noted that the spot, called “Betrayed,” had been viewed online more than six million times. To what end, time will tell.

I think we have part of the answer already. The Lincoln Project ads give Trump the heebie jeebies.

Even as a progressive and Democrat I am very supportive of what these conservatives are doing to save our democracy. In other times and situations I suspect they and I would disagree about many things. But this is here and now, and truly, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

You too can at least get more familiar with the Lincoln Project at https://lincolnproject.us

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