Army of the Decent
Air Date: June 22, 2020
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HEFFNER: I’m Alexander Heffner, your host on The Open Mind at home. I’m delighted today to welcome to the program, John Weaver. He is a politico who needs no introduction, but the most important thing to know about him is he is the founder of the Lincoln Project. John, it’s a pleasure to see you virtually. I hope you’re staying well.
WEAVER: Thanks Alexander and glad to be with you my friend.
HEFFNER: The restoration of democratic norms and accountability that is the centerpiece of this initiative. For those who are not aware of you and the brilliant ads that you conceived so far, can you tell our viewers on PBS and wherever they may be streaming this, what is the foundation of the Lincoln Project?
WEAVER: Look, when we first decided to move forward with the Lincoln Project, we were increasingly alarmed at the conduct, not only of Donald Trump who used the cowardice in career prism within our party and the Republican Party to gain power and in doing so, just so distrust and lack of respect and racism and more in our country. And there was no better shining example for us than what Abraham Lincoln faced as president in a civil war. So we’re coming up on the most consequential election really since that 1864 reelection campaign that Lincoln went through. And that’s the guiding principle that, that drives us to this day.
HEFFNER: And those who were subject to dissuasion or depression of turnout, they often hear this is the most critical election in our history, but they don’t often hear that there are a hundred thousand plus American deaths in the span of three months.
WEAVER: Right? Well, imagine as we speak, the President of United States, his plant is flaming the fires of a potential race war in order to hide the fact that now more than 103,000 Americans are dead, dreams are dashed, businesses are closed, millions are unemployed because of his narcissism and his ignorance and his malfeasance. By the time we get to November, the number is going to be well over 200,000 Americans dead. That’s more than, certainly more than we lost in Vietnam combined with Korea, combined with every war since World War II. I believe it was Stalin who said, one death is a tragedy, millions of deaths are considered a statistic. Right, and that’s certainly seems to be Trump’s goal is to move away from any of this and focus on all sorts of other terrible things that he can come up in his mind for us to be discussing. But at the end of the day he’s been a failure, but worse than that, he has brought, as I said earlier, he’s brought a disrespect, he’s brought racism out into the clear open and worse in our country.
HEFFNER: Your ads have focused on the ineptitude, the cronyism, the corruption of this administration. But do you fear in any way, shape or form, John, that the American people are desensitized to the traffic of the malfeasance, or do you think that these fatalities and the incompetence of the response had really, out of that has risen a national awareness to the point that Vice President Biden, if he stays healthy physically and mentally fit could command a considerable victory on the scale of Barack Obama in 2008, that it is not red versus blue, but a very strong coalition from the rust belt to the coasts?
WEAVER: Yeah. Well, Alexander, I hope so. I think I coined the phrase that the army of the decent are coming together in a grand coalition to hopefully oust Donald Trump and his enablers. It needs to be a question, not just for Trump, but for the party that I used to belong to. I do worry and, and I have my complaints with the mainstream media about this, that there is a numbness to the insanity from the White House. And certainly that exists within his core base, but we’re seeing now his polling numbers and I know what everybody says about polling numbers, but they’re consistent, that 55, 60 percent of Americans reject his, not only his handling of the COVID crisis, but his overall handling of the presidency and in my experience an incumbent running for reelection and it will be about him. He will achieve the number or slightly below the number of his approval rating. Right now his approval rating is 40, 41 percent. It’s our determined goal to keep it at that, at that place.
HEFFNER: John, can the army of the decent and you have to follow John on Twitter, that he is a miracle worker both in the advertising sense and in the vocabulary of politics. So do that. I asked you about numbness, being desensitized to the political rancor, but in a very fundamental sense, this 2020 cycle, the destiny that you are hoping we achieve is to depolarize to the point that it’s not a base election where base turnout is the decisive factor, but rather that coalition of the decent,
HEFFNER: Given what we know about the American people in the 50 States in which we reside, is that indeed achievable and plausible that you can detox, depolarize to the extent that this coalition, the majority, the decent majority, which has really the silent majority under President Trump, can rebel and be powerful in an electoral outcome?
WEAVER: Yeah, no, I absolutely believe so. And look, he lost the popular vote four years ago. He narrowly won the Electoral College vote by 77,000 votes spread over three large states. He lost the special, his party; Trumpism lost the special elections in ‘17. They were soundly rejected, in a blue wave in ‘18. That wave has continued. We see suburban women, college educated, white women, disaffected Republicans, Republican acting independents, joining forces with people of color, traditional Democrats, people on the far left and the left and the center left. So I, yes, I do believe that a grand coalition if we stay focused and determined, can oust this president; can send Trumpism reeling, not ended unfortunately, and, and give then President Biden an overwhelming wind at his sails to try to right many of the wrongs that have happened to this country in the last three and a half years.
HEFFNER: And in terms of resonating with the American people in the Lincoln Projects productions, you focused on the United States Senate and are focused just as much on Donald Trump’s enablers who have really resigned themselves to be leeches and, and not independent arbiters or independent of the Executive Branch and specifically Majority Leader McConnell, but also in the important contests in Colorado, North Carolina, Georgia. What is your understanding of the most important way that we can communicate effectively in those states beyond the national narrative, or is it in fact really just what we all have come to know as Americans, that this president has abated responsibility in the words of the Lincoln Project and has not been equipped to address a national crisis and therefore we need senators and a president who can?
WEAVER: Well, we’ve known you and I certainly have known and many others from day one, that this president was unfit to hold office. He was unfit morally; he was unfit with his viewpoints. He was unfit with his lack of intellect. He was unfit across the board to be president. But because as I mentioned before, either because of cowardice or the careerism, the Republican Senate and the Republican House rolled over for him, and they need to be held accountable for doing so much of what Trump has done in this country they’ve allowed that to take place because they’ve stood back and either done nothing or decided to echo is hateful and harmful words and his and his policies. So whether you’re in Arizona or Colorado or Montana, Iowa, may, North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas, Georgia, those are all places where very good and very competent Democrats are either running ahead or even with Republican incumbents. And I think most of those will go to the Democrats this cycle. Unfortunately, I think Stuart Stevens, who just joined us as an amazing political communicator on the Republican side said it best. We spent 30 years working for Republicans. It turned out it was all a lie. It was all a lie. Imagine we’re like; we were like Bernie Madoff salespeople out there. And then we find out the day after that everything that we were advocating for character and responsibility and belief in the rule of law, and much less the policies, a cogent, national security, free trade, all of that was BS, right, nobody believed any of it except for we political consultants. Who would have thought that we would be the ones out here upholding the principles of the party? So I urge everybody to participate, I think it’s going to be a big turnout election, not withstanding Republican efforts to suppress the vote. It’s not going to be so much about turnout as it is about persuasion. And I urge everyone to get involved.
HEFFNER: And John, you know better than anyone that this is the distracter in chief and given Trump’s authoritarian and autocratic behavior, we don’t know what to expect as November approaches in terms of efforts to suppress the vote, efforts to hijack the servers of the DNC or of the opposing candidates, the Senate candidates, or the Biden campaign. How can we be armed to do the battle that clearly Hillary Clinton was not prepared for, and there was that weekend of the Access Hollywood revelation followed by the bang bang bang of the WikiLeaks disclosures? Now, okay, you’ve worked for honorable, dignified men like Senator McCain much like Vice President Biden who have a certain aura and authenticity that is a definable attribute. And it’s not clear John, whether or not on his own Joe Biden can withstand the kind of character assassination that is certainly going to continue, even though it hasn’t been effective to date. Is there something inherent about Biden that will make you him less susceptible, maybe with, in alliance with the Lincoln Project and other groups to the kind of plot specifically the plot of cyber espionage bots, trolls who are going to come after him. At a minimum they’ll work in conjunction with third party candidates to try to depress turnout for Biden, but how he’s not going to be in vulnerable to that, even with his upstanding character. So how can you at the Lincoln Project and others deal with that?
WEAVER: Yeah, thanks Alexander. Look up a little bit on the history here. Hillary Clinton was treated as the incumbent in the ’16 race. She had been vilified with millions and millions and millions of dollars of negative research and negative spending and negative attacks for 30 years, right, by the time she was the nominee for the Democrats and in ‘16, and Donald Trump was more of a theory. The economy was good. People could vote on a theory, you know, I thought it was disgusting, but some people took a flyer on him and Hillary wasn’t treated well. And I’m not going to get into the mistakes or tensions. Trump is no longer a theory. In fact, it’s a very sad fact that he’s our president. The race will be about him, no matter how much he tries to distract it, no matter how much his allies in Russia or, or wherever, try to impact that. Now do, are we, are we going to have to be more diligent than ever and more? I’m ready to pounce whenever we see this information? Absolutely. And I know we at the Lincoln Project are especially prepared to do so. I believe the Democrats are as well, and I think the American people writ large, not every segment, but writ large are in a mindset to withstand that kind of disinformation. But look, I also believe that Joe Biden, I know him a little bit because of my association with John McCain. I know him to be a good man of the highest character, exactly what this country needs at this moment. And I believe he can withstand these attacks and be a great president, but all of us are in this together and we have to fight this together and we have to report misinformation and lies as we see them and speak to our family members and our coworkers and our neighbors and our peers, and not be afraid to speak out against Trump and what’s said on social media, because we are in this together.
HEFFNER: As the incumbent, what dirty tricks must be, must we be watchful of that he is able to deploy in a way that Biden is not able to because he’s not the incumbent?
WEAVER: Well, look, I mean Donald Trump makes Nixon and his band and his administration look like Thomas Jefferson, right? And I wouldn’t put anything past Barr. I wouldn’t put anything past the Republican controlled Senate as to what they will say and insinuate and claim to investigate. But there’s a limit to what they can do. But they’ll do everything they can. I mean there’s no bottom for what Donald Trump will attempt. I mean, if you think that we’re at a bottom now, it will look like the Grand Canyon a month from that, I mean Everest Mount Everest a month from now. So it’s hard to anticipate what a twisted mind will come up with. As I said, we’re in the middle of race riots, caused in Minneapolis, caused by the murder of a young man, a young black man by four white officers. And instead of trying to calm the waters, Trump is urging a race war basically to cover up the deaths caused by his handling of a pandemic. So clearly anything is on the table. We just have to stay firm and focused on this matter.
HEFFNER: John, should, we never underestimate the fireworks and potential efficacy of culture war, not even just within base GOP politics, but as a general election that, you know,
WEAVER: Well, I, it pains me to see, no, it pains me to see that we’re still dealing with racism all these years later, but look, the Republicans and made it a bad demographic bet. They made a bet on, on white uneducated men as to what they’re going to ride through to the future. If you were a corporation selling a product, Coca Cola, Pepsi, whatever, you wouldn’t make that bet. America is not the same demographic that it was in the 1950s early sixties we’re, we’re a growing country of color. We’re a younger country in many ways and, and, and those demographics are rightfully moving away from the policies and the rhetoric of the Republican Party. So…
HEFFNER: It may be John, that Donald Trump’s advantage is not incumbency. It’s the incumbency on Twitter. Actually now that Twitter is making some measures to fact check, Facebook, probably more so, and you were the victim of their very selective bias in favor of Donald Trump, this whole narrative about social media and Silicon Valley and their attachment to liberals. That’s not true. The point is that you produced an ad in which you saw the deaths of COVID and you very astutely pointed out that aid has been forthcoming for major mega corporations and not the citizens and they, that was not a graphic or in any way exaggerated claim and it was the most subjective idea that is born out in the truth.
HEFFNER: But it’s subjective in exactly what Zuckerberg has alleged he doesn’t want to do. Now he seems to be saying there are no truths, but apparently your truth was muzzled, that the legislation stimulating the economy was directed primarily at mega corporations, and that’s still censored and removed from the platform, right?
WEAVER: Yeah. Yeah, that’s right. Look, Mark Zuckerberg cares about money. He cares about money, whether they come in rubles or they come in dollars or what have you. And he’s made his bet with Donald Trump. And I pray that he rues the day that he did this, not about Lincoln Project or about mourning in America, but embracing propaganda and embracing lies and claiming no responsibility. Twitter’s late to the dance. I wish they had been there earlier, but look, Trump believes in his false universe just like people on the left do and others, they self-select their echo chambers. That’s not healthy for anyone whatsoever. And but yeah, they, they, they have self, they have censorship against the Trump protagonists and it’s a real problem.
HEFFNER: But, but John, is there anything like it in the history and you are the consummate political analyst and strategist, is there anything comparable where you had a media that was unregulated or unmoderated to the point of millions espousing and retweeting something that’s blatantly false, that wouldn’t be on the radio? That wouldn’t be on the TV ads days ago. There was some,
WEAVER: Yeah, I’m sure it was on the radio in Germany in the thirties.
HEFFNER: But that’s the point. It’s, it is, it is un-American. And in our own experience of mass media, there’s nothing really like it, so when I asked you if Donald Trump’s advantage in this poker game with Biden and Lincoln Project, is the social media universe in that effectively is his incumbency, is that true?
WEAVER: Well, does he in advance have an advantage with the way he deals with Facebook? Yes, perhaps. Perhaps. Not so much on Twitter, but there’s voices that compete with his go back and forth with his. But at the end, look, at the end of the day, I have faith in the good judgment of the vast majority of the American people and they’re fed up with this president. It’s a failed presidency. He’s failed the test, he’s failed every test. And I suspect that he’s not going to be able to bully his way or divert his way or suppress his way to a second term, but we’re going to have to work our collective asses off to make sure that doesn’t happen.
HEFFNER: Right. And we learned before he did bully himself to the nomination and to the presidency. So now it’s a question of whether he can suppress and lie to reelection. What are you most alert for at this moment in conceiving these new educational media, the political advertisements that have been airing in Senate swing states and nationally, of course there is the, Hey, Hey Donald, Donald J how many kids did he kill the day with respect to COVID, I think that that is a fair point that ought to be reinforced. Because there is culpability and, and it’s across the administration’s response. And it’s also the egregiousness and, and inexcusable ignorance to ignore science and to be prepared to, for Americans to die. So you don’t have to attend to the national crisis. That seems to be the charge, the mandate. And I just wonder, since you founded the Lincoln Project, if you do see a parallel in the restoration of our better angels to the disunion and reunification of that era and how we can approach this point today.
WEAVER: Well, we’ll look you know I hope, I hope that that’s the end result. Lincoln talks about bonding our, our, our wounds as a nation, bringing us together, but only after the threat was crushed, after the enemy was soundly defeated. Okay. So we can’t get to the better angel side until we dispatch the devils, right? And that is what we have to keep our eye on right now is the utter destruction of Trumpism. And just getting rid of Donald Trump is not going to end Trumpism. I said in 2015 that my major concern was not just him. If we e got rid of him we’d still have all these mini Trumps roaming around the countryside, much like a scene from The Living Dead and we’d have to go zombie hunting and we’d still have these other characters, the Tom Cotton’s and the Josh Hawley’s and Nikki Haley’s and all these other people who have not just, not only just embraced Trumpism, but become fully throated acolytes of Donald Trump. And so getting rid of him is not going to end this madness, but it will put the army of the decent in a stronger position to go around and finish the job in subsequent cycles.
HEFFNER: And there’s nothing inevitable about reelection. I think that there’s been defeatist prognostication, but you have been prescient and pointing to not only examples you mentioned, but governors in Georgia and Florida who had likewise been anti science and pro corruption in their administration of their states. I want everybody to check out the Lincoln Project. John Weaver, I really am honored by you joining me virtually today and want to thank you for your time.
WEAVER: Thank you for everything you do, Alexander.
HEFFNER: Thank you. Please visit The Open Mind website at Thirteen.org/OpenMind to view this program online or to access over 1,500 interviews and do check us out on Twitter and Facebook @OpenMindTV for updates on future programming.