22:59 GMT28 February 2021
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    The Lincoln Project, an anti-Donald Trump political action committee, has witnessed a mass exodus as many of its members, including co-founders Steve Schmidt and Jennifer Horn, have left the group following allegations of sexual harassment against the organisation's co-founder, John Weaver.

    The Lincoln Project imploded on Friday evening amid mounting criticism of its handling of sexual harassment allegations against one of its co-founders, John Weaver.

    The Lincoln Project, which is made up of current and former Republican strategists, whose aim was to prevent Donald Trump from being re-elected, was formed in late 2019.

    In January, over 20 men accused Weaver, who served as a top strategist for late Arizona Sen. John McCain, of sexually harassing them. US media cited sources familiar with the group's internal dynamics as claiming that the organisation's leadership had been informed of the complaints about Weaver's misconduct in the summer of 2020, but they were largely ignored.

    In this Jan. 20, 2016 file photo, John Weaver is shown on a campaign bus in Bow, N.H.  The Lincoln Project was launched in November 2019 as a super PAC that allowed its leaders to raise and spend unlimited sums of money.
    © AP Photo / Charles Krupa
    In this Jan. 20, 2016 file photo, John Weaver is shown on a campaign bus in Bow, N.H. The Lincoln Project was launched in November 2019 as a super PAC that allowed its leaders to raise and spend unlimited sums of money.

    The co-founder of the Lincoln Project, Steve Schmidt, quit the group on Friday evening, becoming the latest in a string of departures from the organisation, and claimed he only "learned about John Weaver's misconduct with an underage boy this past January".

    Mark Jones, a professor of political science at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy, explains why he believes that the future of the Lincoln Project is bleak.

    Sputnik: What do you make of the wave of resignations from the Lincoln Project, including that of its co-founder Steve Schmidt who quit to "make room for the appointment of a female board member as the first step to reform and professionalise" the embattled group?

    Mark Jones: There are two factors that are hitting the Lincoln group right now. First, the credible allegations of harassment against one of its founders, John Weaver. The second is the allegations that are also quite credible that many members of the leadership of the Lincoln Project knew about Weaver's harassment of young men, but did nothing, as is often the case with scandals in the United States. It's often the cover up that causes the most damage.

    Mr Weaver's unethical and illegal behaviour is bad in itself. But if it was just isolated to him, the Lincoln Project would still be in relatively good standing. The difficulties it is running into now is that not only is one of its founders guilty of illegal, unethical, and immoral behaviour, but at the same time many of the remaining founders are guilty of covering up his misdeeds.

    That could eventually destroy the organisation because it already has many detractors, that is on the Republican side - many Republicans view them as traitors or at least opportunists that are attempting to utilise the anti-Trump angle to make money and gain visibility. But on the Democratic side, they aren't necessarily seen as allies.

    There's a saying in English, "people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones". The Lincoln Project has been throwing hundreds of stones over the past few months and now it comes back. It's clear that they probably shouldn't have been throwing so many stones because of both the behaviour of one of their founders, Mr Weaver, but also what would appear to be efforts to cover it up in the past. It's those allegations that are far and away the most damning.

    Mr Weaver is a cancer in the organisation that could have been excised if it had been isolated to him. But when it starts to cover other members of the organisation, that's where it could prove to be fatal or at least debilitating. 

    Sputnik: Reports suggest that certain members of the Lincoln Project had been informed of allegations of harassment against John Weaver, co-founder of the anti-Trump political group, last June. Why was there a lack of response from the top brass?

    Mark Jones: Only they know why, but I think there are two angles. One, many of them have a long personal relationship with Mr Weaver, and they want to protect him. The second is - the last thing the Lincoln Project needed during the campaign was this internal problem that would undercut its ability to attack Mr Trump.

    They probably kept it quiet for two reasons. One - to protect Mr Weaver himself and then also to protect the Lincoln Project and not undermine its goal of keeping President Trump from obtaining re-election. But in doing so, they probably decimated or mortally wounded the group's future possibilities of being a relevant political actor, because now not only is Mr Weaver discredited, but so is the Lincoln Project leadership, who already didn't have a lot of friends in the world.

    Sputnik: CNBC reported that top donors are considering abandoning the group. How big of a blow would this deal to the anti-Trump organisation?

    Mark Jones: This is a group that depends almost exclusively on donations. The last thing donors want to do is give money to a scandal-ridden group where there are credible allegations that leading members of the group covered up sexual harassment in order to either protect a leading member and/or to protect the group, protect the Lincoln Project.

    Sputnik: In light of the harassment scandal, what future do you see for the project, whose aim was to prevent Trump from being re-elected?

    Mark Jones: It's going to be difficult for the Lincoln Project to remain since the main goal of the Lincoln Project was to prevent Donald Trump from obtaining re-election - and he did not obtain re-election - it's going to be difficult to keep the Lincoln Project going, although they always had the ability to say that they would be working to keep President Trump from winning in 2024.

    With the reality that their principal raison d'être, reason for existence, is no longer there as President Trump can't obtain re-election – and the fact that the scandal has undercut their legitimacy – we may start to see the Lincoln Project wither on the vine as a viable entity. It may survive, but only as a vehicle for a small number of people to make money.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    sexual harassment, Trump
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