How The Lincoln Project Keeps Going Viral

The Lincoln Project's damning output condemning President Donald Trump and his allies in a bid to "beat Trumpism" has seen them build a major following—but quickfire rebukes have also helped the group tackle talking points at pace.

Behind those swift turnaround posts is a "Rapid Response" team of four staff, led by Communications Director Keith Edwards.

Speaking to Newsweek, he said the key challenge of the job was knowing when to strike, given Trump's consistent output.

"You always want to play the ace," Edwards said.

"Throughout the day we're constantly seeing sixes, sevens or eights.

"We make sure we're constantly identifying the moments that are outrageous and we're playing the moment the way it should be played."

This, Edwards says, allows them to shape a narrative in a way they desire, as well as piercing through Trump's messaging.

"I think [Trump] has been pushing out so much it's working against him," he said.

"You can't flood your feed. I think people are not as tuned into him as they were."

This selectiveness allows the group to reach similar volumes in their posts as Trump might, despite not having as big a following overall, Edwards said.

And while the number of followers the group has is dwarfed by Trump, it has grown to 2.6 million and surpassed the number on the GOP's official account. Its tweets regularly get tens of thousands of likes and retweets, while their videos reach viewing figures into the millions, some surpassing eight-figure totals.

"Because we're more selective about what we do, about what we say. We have this weapon and we're going to keep using it," he said.

trump phone
President Donald Trump works on his phone during a roundtable at the State Dining Room of the White House June 18, 2020 in Washington, D.C. He has faced attacks on social media from adversaries, who he has also regularly targeted on the platform, in the run-up to the election. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Asked how the team identifies moments to capitalize upon, Edwards said it is usually instinctive. The team has a "Rapid Response" group chat and messages each other when they spot a moment. They then either pitch or formulate their plans to tackle it.

"Depending on how crazy it is, you can see if the narrative is going to go there," he explained, describing the Bob Woodward interview revelations as a moment where the group knew it should act.

But while there are major talking points that feel essential to hit, the nuanced moments are also something to exploit. A recent example was First Lady Melania Trump discussing people social distancing, while addressing a crowd in which members were stood shoulder-to-shoulder. The group shared a video of her making these comments while the camera panned around the crowd, garnering more than 700,000 views in less than 24 hours.

Melania, no.

— The Lincoln Project (@ProjectLincoln) October 29, 2020

"That's the thing I think is different, we're not just finding the moments that the news is focusing on, we're finding those pockets of news and turning them into some that becomes an even bigger story, what we want people to focus on," he said. "The idea is to always have people online and to have people talking about what we want to talk about.

"Someone will see something or I'll send a few ideas for the day. There's a lot of flexibility in what we do.

"But we're on-call, people understand they might be needed any time of day."

In terms of the feeling when something does well, Edwards said he sometimes feels he has been spoiled by the level of engagement.

"I feel like I've been really spoiled," he said. "Because when things get one million views I think, 'f**k, what did we do wrong?'"

While the group looks to take certain talking points and expand upon them, Edwards referred to recent criticism of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) over his requests for donations in TV interviews. In this, the group made a mock charity video about how Graham was being "violently out-fundraised," with the clip surpassing five million views.

Every single hour in South Carolina, Lindsey Graham is being violently out-fundraised.

But you can help stop the suffering.

— The Lincoln Project (@ProjectLincoln) September 25, 2020

However, he said the narrative is often changing as they follow the actions of the president and his allies.

"There's no predicting what we're going to talk about in a Trump presidency," Edwards said.

The team will still be jumping in on the dialog around voting in the next few days—Edwards said a key focus will turn to pointing out any issues at election stations on the day. The Lincoln Project will team with See Say 2020, an online service where people can report any problems at the polls, to highlight any problems, in a bid to make voters aware and attempt to prompt action being taken.

"That, I think, is going to be the biggest thing we are focusing on."

Edwards, who previously worked on Mike Bloomberg's presidential bid before joining the anti-Trump group, said he felt The Lincoln Project had already largely made its case in terms of shaping a narrative and an argument against the president.

The focus of campaigns and political groups such as The Lincoln Project is now turning to getting people who have been influenced by messaging to act upon it.

"We're not trying to persuade now, we're trying to get out the vote," Edwards said.

While expecting the next few days to be busy, Edwards said the team is not planning to pull in any reinforcements or make last-minute additions—instead deciding to stick with the core unit that has got them this far.

"I think when you go into battle, you go with the team you have," he said.

The Lincoln Project, largely made up of Republicans who do not want to see the president win a second term, has persistently targeted Trump in recent months—while vowing to continue doing this and targeting his allies even if he is defeated on Election Day.

The coronavirus has been a major point of criticism, with a regular line of attack being the president's comments surrounding and handling of the pandemic.

Trump has previously lambasted the group, which has endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, branding those within it "losers."

11/2/20: This page was updated to clarify Keith Edwards' job title.