News & Politics

How Does the Lincoln Project Make Such Effective Anti-Trump Ads?

The people behind these viral clips give us a step-by-step guide to their process.

That anti-Trump spot everyone was sharing in all your social-media feeds? Chances are it was produced by the Lincoln Project, a PAC founded by a group of Trump-loathing conservatives, including George Conway. Here’s how their ads come together.

Step One Pick Your Battle

Cofounders Rick Wilson, Steve Schmidt, Reed Galen, and John Weaver are the brain trust behind most of the ads, with decades of experience among them as campaign operatives. (Schmidt ran John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid.) The team plays off of the news cycle, focusing on topics such as Trump’s Tulsa rally and his relationship with Putin.

Step Two find your footage

Once they have a concept, the team turns to Ben Howe, a conservative writer and filmmaker, who stitches the spots together. Howe deploys a staff of researchers to pull button-pushing Trump clips and other imagery, relying on intuition and experience to craft the ads as he goes along. “You just have to feel it through until you know you’ve got it,” Howe says.

Step Three Make Your Case

Typically, Wilson writes the scripts for the scathing voice­overs. Howe says Wilson is the “mad scientist” of this part of the process—a master of tone and pacing. Then a voice­over artist records the track and a composer cooks up music that helps create a vibe. Unlike with some other ads, the soundtrack is com-posed fresh for the spot, al-lowing for more control of the tone.

Step four Unleash Your Ad

Lincoln Project spots can attract as many as 3 million hits on YouTube. One viewer who isn’t a fan: Trump himself, who fired off a tweetstorm about one ad, calling Lincoln Project members “deranged.” Says Wilson: “I laughed and laughed. You know what I was doing at 1 in the morning? Sleeping. And Donald Trump was up rage-tweeting and losing his mind about me.”

Jane Recker
Assistant Editor

Jane is a Chicago transplant who now calls Cleveland Park her home. Before joining Washingtonian, she wrote for Smithsonian Magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times. She is a graduate of Northwestern University, where she studied journalism and opera.