ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
It's that time in the presidential election cycle when campaigns and political action committees start spending lots of money on ads. And what makes this ad unusual is the people who funded it.
(SOUNDBITE OF ADVERTISEMENT)
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: A record of service, a bipartisan leader who puts good ideas ahead of party politics. America knows Joe Biden. He is the man for this moment.
SHAPIRO: The logo at the end of that ad says it was paid for by The Lincoln Project. They are a group of prominent Republican political strategists, and this year, they are urging other Republicans to vote for the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden. John Weaver is one of those strategists, and he joins us on Skype.
JOHN WEAVER: Hey. Glad to be here. Thanks for having me.
SHAPIRO: The Lincoln Project's ads feel deliberately provocative. You've been buying airtime on TV in Washington, D.C., which is not a swing state. Who is your audience?
WEAVER: Well, in that case, we have an audience of one. And look; if the reptile brain reacts to fear or dislike, the entire organism will then turn and conduct themselves appropriately. So when we were able to buy time in Washington on one of the president's favorite propaganda shows on Fox, he reacts to it and then may spend a week or two weeks either prosecuting against us at The Lincoln Project or about some issue that we raised, and that gives the Biden campaign clean air and time to run their own campaign and run positive messages about the vice president. So it's kind of a harassing force. We do other, more targeted buys aimed at voters in the swing states. But in this case, we're going right at one audience that generally always reacts to us.
SHAPIRO: Wow. I thought you might be coy about it, but you are just calling this a harassing force aimed at an audience of one - the president. I mean, he has definitely taken notice. He tweets a lot of insults at your group and some of its members by name. Is it part of your strategy to use the president's Twitter platform as a megaphone to amplify your message?
WEAVER: Well, look; I mean, he - after he attacked one of our ads and us individually, we were able to raise $2 million in grassroots money that we then plowed back into Wisconsin and Michigan and Ohio in positive ads about Vice President Biden. So if we were an administration, he's raised so much money for us we might make him ambassador to Slovenia or something.
SHAPIRO: In a way this feels like the opposite of Michelle Obama's line, when they go low, we go high. I mean, a writer in The Atlantic, Andrew Ferguson, described the style of these ads as personally abusive, overwrought, pointlessly salacious and trip-wired with non-sequiturs. One of your ads mocks President Trump on the issue of size. Is there a cost to playing his game of name-calling and petty insults?
WEAVER: Well, I mean, there's been a big cost to the United States and to this country with the way he's conducted himself, and he's dividing us on his way out the door. Look; this battle was not something we chose. It kind of came to us. We felt we had no choice but to enter it. I mean, we're in a battle for the hearts and minds of the American people, and we have to take that kind of approach. Lincoln, if you remember, wanted to bind the wounds of the nation, but he wanted to do so only after the opposition was crushed. And don't forget the second part of that.
SHAPIRO: Many of the members of your group have been vocal critics of the president since his first campaign, but many of them did not urge people to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Why have you changed approach this year to actively encourage Republicans to vote for Joe Biden?
WEAVER: If we can move one person to just not vote for Trump but perhaps they won't vote for Biden, that's a victory. But if we could make the full conversion, that's even a larger victory.
SHAPIRO: Let's imagine the campaign works and Biden wins. Do you then go back to fighting against the progressive initiatives that he's likely to push for on health care, immigration, the tax code and other issues where your group strongly disagrees with the Democratic platform?
WEAVER: Well, this is like the first season of "Night Of The Living Dead." And if we're able to dispatch the main zombie of this season into the zombie afterlife, there are other like-minded zombies roaming the body politic in America, like Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley and some of these governors in the South who have done such a poor job in dealing with the pandemic because they didn't want to anger the president. So our work is just beginning, but we're focused on zombie No. 1 right now.
SHAPIRO: John Weaver is a longtime Republican political strategist, and he is a member of The Lincoln project.
Thank you for talking with us.
WEAVER: Glad to be with you.
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