The Giuliani Gambit and the Lincoln Projectvon , veröffentlicht am 31.01.2021
The Lincoln Project, a group dedicated to defeating Trumpism and similarly stupid politics, has played a wonderful game of political chess until yesterday. Yesterday, it played the Giuliani Gambit. The stakes are high. And the Lincoln Project will lose; anyway it will not win. I hate to think that. But I do.
The facts are more or less clear. Rudy Giuliani made a baseless and stupid and facially false statement on the internet. In essence, he said, on Steve Bannon’s podcast, that the Lincoln Project bears responsibility for the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol. Giuliani’s statement was too outrageous even for Bannon. And Bannon refused to add fuel to the fire of Giuliani’s raging lunacy. As one would expect, the Lincoln Project heard what Giuliani did. What one, anyway what I, did not expect was that the Lincoln Project would take to Twitter and advise, with all the snark one has come to expect of the Lincoln Project, that it is reviewing whether it should sue Giuliani.
Ken White – a well-known first amendment lawyer, legal personality, and Twitter commentator with delightful monikers – was disheartened by the news. He is of the view Giuliani is a “demented fascist,” whose “unhinged allegations” do not harm the Lincoln Project. He points out there is neither need nor excuse to sue “political performance artists for bullshit that doesn’t hurt you.” He points out the likely result of Giuliani’s unhinged allegations about the Lincoln Project is not harm, but publicity and money. White is right, at least on the first count, surely. And of course the Lincoln Project knows this. So, what does the Lincoln Project do?
It plays the Giuliani Gambit. It threatens to sue Rudy. Yesterday, it published its response to his unhinged allegations – a three-page letter, penned by its legal counsel. The letter is good until it isn’t. It is well-written, pokes fun at Giuliani, advises him of his transgressions. … And it threatens him. Giuliani has until February 3rd to retract his statement and to apologize to the Lincoln Project. “Refuse at your peril,” the letter advises. Absent a retraction and absent an apology, the Lincoln Project will file suit.
Unfortunately, this gambit is unsound. It is a pawn sacrifice, whereby the Lincoln Project does not gain, it loses the initiative and commits itself to an unsound strategy of attack. It’s not that its threat is based on an unsound legal theory. I have no doubt the legal theory is sound. I suppose the Lincoln Project believes its threat is an attempt to hold Giuliani accountable. And I suppose it is. Still, its strategy, in this case, is doomed to fail, for three reasons. First, the Lincoln Project is responding to something stupid someone said on the internet. As is the case with all bad pawn sacrifices, the Lincoln Project’s threat has gotten off on the wrong foot, a misstep by definition. Second, the Lincoln Project is throwing its weight around. It is testing its effectiveness as muscle for reasonableness, an oxymoron by definition. Third, both are uncharacteristic of the very good political chess played by the Lincoln Project to date. It is not sound positioning. It is posturing.
It is posturing, because Giuliani is Giuliani. It might have been sound positioning and a sound strategy in line with the political chess played to date, if the Lincoln Project were, so to speak, playing against someone else – or if Giuliani wasn’t Giuliani. But Giuliani is Giuliani. And Rudy knows no shame. He farted in open court. He leaked hair dye on national television. He peddled conspiracy theories. He held a loony presser next to a porn shop. It is unlikely he will either retract his statement or apologize to the Lincoln Project. In other words, the Lincoln Project’s threat is part of a poorly conceived strategy and commits it to a wrong-headed course of action. That is, it will be forced to file suit. And once it files suit, it will have proved it is not a very effective muscle for reasonableness. It will have proved how much its strategy, in this case, does not resemble good chess strategy, political or other. It will have proved it needs to make good on its threats. It will have disproved the old chess adage and proved the threat is not stronger than the execution. It will have proved the stakes are high, its strategy flawed, and its gambit ill-conceived.
I hope I’m wrong. I do. I truly do. I hope Giuliani retracts and apologizes. But this whole situation has an air of farce about it. If I were a betting man, I would bet that Giuliani will not need to do much. He doesn’t need to win. He needs only to foil a win for the Lincoln Project. If I were a betting man, I would bet that Giuliani will just fart in the Lincoln Project’s general direction.