Jennifer Horn, former chair of the New Hampshire Republican party, helped co-found The Lincoln … [+]
In an op-ed published in the New Hampshire Union Leader, Republican mainstay Jennifer Horn painted a damning picture of Donald Trump.
She repeatedly slammed him as unpresidential, warning he was “unable to stop himself from spouting outrageous comments” and concluding that, as a country, “We are looking for a commander in chief, someone who can be the leader of the free world, not a reality show character with an attitude.”
Her words might seem especially damaging coming from someone inside the Republican Party, but perhaps more surprising than who wrote it, is when: 2011, almost a decade ago and more than 5 years before President Trump was elected.
“I go back and re-read that op-ed sometimes and every single line, every single concern, has come to fruition,” Horn said.
“I essentially said, ‘If the Republican Party takes this guy seriously, they deserve what they get.’”
Today, Horn’s words seem almost prescient. They certainly echo those of countless Democrats and some moderate members of the GOP, as President Trump gears up for an uphill reelection effort that shows him trailing presumptive Democratic nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden by double digits in multiple polls.
Now Horn, a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party and Republican Congressional candidate, has cofounded The Lincoln Project, a PAC deadset on publicly condemning Trump’s actions. Created in December 2019, the group consists of current and former Republicans working to prevent Trump from being re-elected – something Horn never thought she’d have to do when she entered politics 12 years ago.
“It became clear there was no effort, or candidate campaign out there, that was getting any traction or would be at all effective in protecting America from a second term of Donald Trump,” Horn said.
“The day after the election, Republicans and Democrats will have plenty of philosophical and policy issues to continue to debate. But until that time comes, we have to put it aside. We have to come together. It’s imperative. We must do this for the preservation of the republic.”
Jennifer Horn and her family.
At 44, Horn, who was a stay-at-home mom, had a laundry list of accomplishments. She had a thriving newspaper column, a radio talk show, and she was involved in several nonprofit efforts.
But there was one thing the wife, mother of five and grandmother wasn’t involved in: politics.
Then came 2008. Horn decided to run for congress in New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District, becoming the first woman nominated by the Republican Party in the state’s 232-year history.
“I won the nomination. Barack Obama won the White House, and I won nothing,” Horn said, laughing.
But running for office in New Hampshire, where Horn spent 18 years of her life and raised her family, opened the door to politics. She never looked back.
“Everything I have ever done in politics has been motivated, I would say, by the same thing that has motivated me in almost everything I have done, and that’s being a mom,” Horn said. “I know for some people that sounds hoaky, but that’s it.”
In 2013, Horn was elected as the chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party, where she served for two terms, until January 2017. She also served as co-chair of the New Hampshire Log Cabin Republicans for two years and on the Log Cabin Republican National Board of Directors. She advocated for removing anti-LGBTQ language from the New Hampshire and National GOP platforms. Her goal was always to bring leadership and a clear, principled voice to the party and to preserve and protect American ideals for her children and grandchildren’s future. She says, working in politics to her, is an “extension of parenting.”
But in the year leading up to the election of Donald Trump, everything changed.
At the time, Horn was still chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party, a position that requires neutrality through by-laws, during a primary election.
Jennifer Horn and Senator Marco Rubio.
“Repeatedly throughout that cycle, I was forced into this position of having to choose between defending Donald Trump or defending what I thought were the Republican principles of our party,” Horn explained.
“Every time I defended the principles of our party. I defended John McCain; I defended the women. That didn’t get me a lot of friends.”
Horn recounted a moment during the 2016 election when one of “the top guys” in Trump’s New Hampshire campaign approached her. He also happened to be a long-time friend of Horn’s, someone she admired and who helped her during her campaigns. She said he wanted to talk about the incident involving Billy Bush, who was heard on an “Access Hollywood” tape laughing with the future President, as he bragged about groping women. He called her to ensure she wouldn’t say anything publicly about the situation.
“I said, ‘Of course I am going to say something. I’ve already said something.’ He said, ‘Why? Why do you have to do that? Our teams are working together so well now, and the election is almost over. Can’t you just let it go?’”
“I think my exact words to him were, ‘I promised myself a long time ago that I would never say or do anything I can’t defend to my children. I can’t be silent now.'”
The Lincoln Project
Jennifer Horn and fellow Lincoln Project co-founders.
In 2019, as politicians and political leaders began planning for the 2020 U.S. presidential election, a group of current and former Republican leaders were making plans, too.
But they weren’t focusing on how to help re-elect President Trump – they were working to create an initiative to take him down from the right side of the aisle.
Reed Galen, John Weaver, Rick Wilson, Steve Schmidt, all lifelong republicans and political strategists, began talking about what they could do to ensure Trump’s defeat in 2020. Their experience within the party varied – some had worked for President George W. Bush, Senator John McCain, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. They were all on similar paths since the 2016 presidential election, committed to speaking out against Trump.
They decided to team up and recruit other Republican leaders to assist. Horn was one of the first people they reached out to, because of her party politics and understanding of what moves Republican voters from a state that consistently has a rough and tumble primary at the presidential level.
“Jennifer has a depth and breadth of experience, and she has taken on the president publicly as a party chair in a very important state like New Hampshire,” Galen said.
“From our perspective, she is someone who has the courage to take on the president directly, when so many in the party, at this moment, have refused to do so.”
When approached, Horn immediately jumped on board and became a cofounder of The Lincoln Project; she is also the only woman in the pack.
In only a few months, The Lincoln Project has gone from new-to-the-game PAC to social media juggernaut. Since it publicly launched and joined Twitter in December, it has garnered more than 1.2 million followers, an average of 170,000 a month. The founders cite President Trump as a clear and present danger to the American Constitution and Republic, describing him as a racist and narcissist who is destructive and dangerous to the country and world. They also denounce him as a Republican and say he doesn’t understand or respect actual GOP ideals and principles.
The group’s mission statement, plastered front and center on its website, is just as unambiguous and unapologetic.
“Our many policy differences with national Democrats remain,” it reads in part. “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.”
It concludes, “Electing Democrats who support the Constitution over Republicans who do not is a worthy effort.”
On the night of June 20, President Trump boarded Air Force One and left Tulsa, Oklahoma, after fronting a rally largely considered to be a disappointment. Prior to the event, Trump boasted on social media that close to a million people registered to attend. The Tulsa Fire Department later put official attendance at around 6,200, less than a third of the arena’s capacity of 19,000.
An ad from The Lincoln Project circulated less than 24 hours later mocking the president for the rally’s turnout and equating it to his dwindling popularity. Entitled “Shrinking,” the 45-second video opens with a shot of a lone Trump supporter sitting in a sea of more than 120 empty seats in the BOK Center in Tulsa. As it ends, the ad’s female narrator addresses Trump directly while intercutting shots of yawning rallygoers and Trump appearing dejected as he steps off Air Force One. “You talk a big game…and can’t deliver,” she says. “Sad, weak, low energy. Just like your presidency. Just like you.”
Two weeks later, the ad has close to 6 million views on Twitter alone.
The Lincoln Project is blanketing broadcast stations and social media with critical, oftentimes devastating ads like these, and doing so with remarkable turnaround speeds. Their digital efforts increased after COVID-19 derailed many of their plans to travel and be on the ground in states leading up to Election Day.
The close to 50 videos they’ve released undermine Trump and describe what they call his presidential failures. Horn says it’s all in an effort to convince Republicans and Independents who lean Republican to vote against President Trump in November. They measure their effectiveness in a variety of ways.
“We know we’re effective when they [the President and his team] respond to us,” she said.
“The President is tweeting at us at one in the morning.”
One such tweet from President Trump falsely accuses Horn of being “thrown out of the New Hampshire Republican Party.”
Horn says they know they’ve struck a chord when Trump is talking about the Lincoln Project’s videos instead of campaigning.
One example she cites was an advertisement they did showing Trump making his commencement speech at West Point and accusing him of being unwell. The footage showed the President appearing to have trouble walking down a ramp and picking up a glass.
“What does the President do the next week when he is in Tulsa? He spends 25 minutes explaining his walk down the ramp,” Horn said. “And proving to the crowd he could lift a glass and drink out of it.”
“So the President spent 25 minutes at his first campaign rally since the coronavirus restrictions were implemented, not talking about anything that would move voters to vote for him. I think we were effective, and I checked it off as a success.”
The Trump Campaign did not respond to multiple requests for a comment.
The Lincoln Project also measures success by merely looking at Trump’s approval numbers and loss of support from some of his base, from white working-class women to Evangelicals. The latest Pew Research Center national poll shows a disheartened American public and Trump trailing Biden on “most personal traits and major issues.”
The poll also shows those who are satisfied with how things are going in America has plummeted from 31% in April to just 12% at the end of June.
It also states if the election were held today, 54% of registered voters say they would support Biden vs. 44% for Trump.
Combating ‘Trumpism’ And Promoting Joe Biden
The Lincoln Project isn’t just targeting President Trump.
Several ads have gone after GOP senators seen as too close to Trump, in battleground states like Arizona, Colorado and North Carolina – efforts that could prove fruitful for Democrats trying to take back senate control for the first time in years. Democratic candidates are either tied or leading in polls for several competitive senate races against Republican incumbents. (If Biden wins in November, Democrats need to flip three seats; if Trump wins, they’ll need to flip four.)
“If you don’t defeat the people who empowered him the last four years, then Trumpism continues,” Horn said.
One such ad, bluntly called “Martha McSally is a Trump Hack,” accuses the Arizona senator of going “full Trump” and concludes by proclaiming, “You’ll be remembered as just another Trump hack, if you’re remembered at all.”
The group is also using their platform to show support for Democratic candidate Joe Biden, even going so far as to create a sub-project called “Republicans and Independents for Biden.” Horn says she and her team are going to be hyper-focused in coordinating efforts to organize and persuade Republicans and right-leaning independents to vote on Election Day for the former vice president. She acknowledges it won’t be easy for some to do.
“Part of what we do at The Lincoln Project is make it OK. We want to make sure the message is clear: you are not alone. There are millions of other Republicans and Independents just like you who are not going to vote for this guy in November,” Horn said.
While Horn and her Lincoln Project counterparts encourage Biden voters, they want to make sure the public knows that clear policy and philosophical differences with Democrats remain.
“You want to make sure that there is a clear path in 2024 for a Republican presidential candidate who can run against Trump,” Horn said.
“Because you know there will be plenty coming forward saying, ‘I’m the continuation of Trump in America’ and we want to make sure there is a voice there that says, ‘We defeated him in 2020, let’s make sure Trumpism is buried and gone.’”
Putting Country Over Party
Since The Lincoln Project began, the founders have heard from both Democratic and GOP politicians.
At first, Horn says, many Democrats didn’t understand or trust The Lincoln Project’s intentions, but that has quickly changed. She says she hears often how unhappy some Republican politicians are with their decision to seemingly turn against the party. Horn says they often tell her it’s her responsibility to protect the party. Horn disagrees.
“I need to protect the country. I need to protect the constitution. I need to make sure that when I am dead and gone and when my children are talking about me to my grandchildren, that they stand up and say mom did the right thing.”
Some are going so far as to call Horn and The Lincoln Project Trump’s toughest opponents, because of the influence they have as Republicans going against a Republican incumbent.
“I am a woman trying to take down Donald Trump. Yes!” said Horn.
“I never imagined I’d ever be a part of such an effort,” Horn said. “But I never, for a moment imagined, that all of these people in my party who I had so much respect and affection for, would elect Donald Trump to the White House.”
Horn is just as much of a Republican as she was when she first ran for office 12 years ago. After Barack Obama was elected in 2008, Horn spent eight years campaigning against him. She disagreed with his policies, and regardless of his intentions, she says, he “missed the boat repeatedly.”
But there is one moment from his presidency that stands out to her: when he spontaneously sang Amazing Grace at the eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of nine African Americans killed in the Charleston Church shooting of 2015.
“That was an extraordinary moment where the President of the United States felt the pain of the American people and reacted in a decent, compassionate, comforting way that touched me as a leader of the opposition party.”
“We must have presidents who can do that, whether they are from your party or not. If my party doesn’t understand that anymore and can’t produce that, this moment in time, then I have to support the other guy.”
That’s why she’s voting for Biden this November, and even went so far as to resign from her GOP group, the Log Cabin Republicans, who endorsed Trump last summer.
“I’m voting for decency and constitutional leadership and for a return to checks and balances and separate but co-equal branches of government. I’m voting for a return to the constitutional institutions that have made America unique amongst all the countries in the world,” Horn said.
“If you vote for Donald Trump, regardless of your reasons why, you are also voting for a man who is a racist, a narcissist who is destructive and dangerous to the country, and to the world, that future generations will live in. That’s yours to make peace with.”