On Friday evening, the Lincoln Project co-founder Steve Schmidt announced his resignation from the #NeverTrump group of Republicans. “I wish John Weaver was not a co-founder of the Lincoln Project, but as hard as I wish for that to be, I can’t change that he was,” Schmidt wrote on Twitter, citing his own experience with an abusive Boy Scout counselor. “I am enormously proud of the Lincoln Project and what we have accomplished to date.”
After reports emerged of Weaver sending unsolicited sexual messages to a number of young men, including a 14-year-old (allegations that Weaver has largely confessed to), the Lincoln Project has been thrown into a state of disarray. A number of members have resigned, while others have requested to be released from their NDAs to explain their side of things. Since the Lincoln Project did not take any action against Weaver until the reports emerged, the question remains as to what people knew regarding Weaver and when they knew it. (Full disclosure: Rick Wilson of the Lincoln Project is a columnist at The Daily Beast.)
There’s also the broader question of whether the Lincoln Project was a massive grift. The group raised $90 million off the strength of its anti-Trump ads aimed at moderate Republicans, but they didn’t seem to have much of an impact, since Trump pulled in even more Republican support in 2020 than 2016. Furthermore, according to the Associated Press, the group raised $90 million—and $50 million of that money went to “firms controlled by the group’s leaders.”
So on Friday night, a few hours after his resignation, Bill Maher welcomed Schmidt as a guest on his HBO show Real Time. (Schmidt has made numerous appearances on the show over the years.)
“I’m not here to prosecute you,” Maher said to Schmidt. “AOC said Lincoln Project—that’s your project, which ran a lot of great ads… she said you were in ‘scam territory.’ I don’t know. I liked the ads.”
“I think we built the most successful super PAC in American political history. We turned it into a movement, and I think we did tremendous damage to Donald Trump,” Schmidt replied.
But Maher wasn’t having it. “If that’s true, why did he do 6 percentage points better with Republicans than in 2016? He got 94 percent of Republican votes and 88 percent the first time.”
“I think that, you know, sometimes they say things at the beginning and they take on the aura of gospel. We were trying to win the election. I really didn’t give a shit how many Republicans were voting for Trump or not,” claimed Schmidt.
Well, that’s not entirely true. In a Dec. 2019 New York Times op-ed announcing the Lincoln Project, co-founders Schmidt, George Conway, John Weaver, and Rick Wilson wrote: “Our efforts are aimed at persuading enough disaffected conservatives, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in swing states and districts to help ensure a victory in the Electoral College…” As for where all the money the Lincoln Project raised went, Maher asked, “And all the money went toward where it should?”
“Out of $87 million that was raised by The Lincoln Project, about $63-66 million of that money went into voter-contact programs,” alleged Schmidt, declining to expand on what “voter-contact programs” entails.
“Well, where did the other money go?” fired back Maher. Schmidt went on to claim (rather unconvincingly) that they did not disclose subcontractor payments in order to “protect” their staff and vendors from “harassment by the Trump people.”
Maher refused to ask at all about the disturbing allegations against Weaver.