HBO talk show host Bill Maher sat down with Lincoln Project cofounder Steve Schmidt on Friday evening, just a few hours after Schmidt had announced his resignation from the Never Trump group amid a wave of reports of misconduct allegations against another one of its founders, John Weaver.
Maher, during the nearly 30 minutes of hosting Schmidt on his panel on Real Time with Bill Maher, did not broach the topic of Weaver and instead spoke about the ongoing impeachment trial against former President Donald Trump, fundraising in politics, and election-related subjects like flipping battleground states and voter disenfranchisement.
Maher also did not introduce Schmidt as an affiliate of the Lincoln Project but instead as a founder of SES Strategies and an MSNBC contributor.
Schmidt had just announced at 7:00 p.m. that evening that he was stepping down from the group in a lengthy public statement in which he called his former colleague Weaver a “skilled liar” and “predator” and affirmed that he was not aware of Weaver’s alleged “misconduct with an underaged boy” until it became public this year. Reports emerged in January that Weaver had for years engaged in grooming young men, including a 14-year-old, who could potentially work for the Lincoln Project and sending many of them sexually explicit messages.
In Schmidt’s resignation announcement, he spoke about how he himself was molested when he was 13 and that he was resigning from the Lincoln Project for the purpose of opening a vacancy on the group’s board for a woman because the board consisted of “four middle-aged white men,” a “composition [that] doesn’t reflect our nation.”
— Steve Schmidt (@SteveSchmidtSES) February 13, 2021
While Maher did not discuss Schmidt’s bombshell announcement, he did pressure Schmidt about the Lincoln Project’s spending practices, which have also come under scrutiny as the group raised nearly $90 million in the 2020 election cycle but dedicated only about one-third of it directly toward advertising. “That leaves tens of millions of dollars that went toward expenses like production costs, overhead — and exorbitant consulting fees collected by members of the group,” the Associated Press reported this week.
Maher said, “There’s a lot of money sloshing around in politics,” adding as he looked over at Schmidt, “I know you’ve had a rough week with this. You can say whatever you want here. I’m not here to prosecute you.”
The show host pointed out that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said the Lincoln Project was in “scam territory” but conceded, “I don’t know, you know. I liked the ads.”
Schmidt replied, “I think that we built the most successful super PAC in American political history. We turned it into a movement, and I think we did tremendous damage to Donald Trump.” Maher countered that six percent more Republicans turned out for Trump in 2020 than in 2016, a statistic that may undermine a group claiming to be comprised of Republicans who seek to fight “Trumpism” by swaying conservative voters.
Steve Schmidt tells Bill Maher, “I didn’t really give a shit how many Republicans voted for Trump or not.” pic.twitter.com/212y2CcJXL
— Sawyer Hackett (@SawyerHackett) February 13, 2021
“We were trying to win the election. I really didn’t give a shit how many Republicans voted for Trump or not,” Schmidt said, explaining that the Lincoln Project ended up performing best with the demographic of independent white men.
Schmidt added, “Look, at the end of the day, I’m proud of the fact that we destroyed Donald Trump and Mike Pence’s relationship and took Pence out of public life.”
On the topic of where the Lincoln Project directed its expenses from its massive swell of cash in 2020, Schmidt claimed that “out of $87 million that was raised by the Lincoln Project, about $63 to $66 million of that money went to voter contact programs.”
Maher challenged, “Well, where’d the other money go?” Schmidt did not answer the question or expand upon what constituted as “voter contact” and instead reiterated that “75 to 80 percent” of the group’s spending went to such programs.
Write to Ashley Oliver at firstname.lastname@example.org.