Founder of anti-Trump Lincoln Project registers as a Utah Democrat

Park City resident Steve Schmidt has talked about running against Sen. Mike Lee in 2022.

(Courtesy photo) Steve Schmidt, co-founder of The Lincoln Project.

Longtime Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, a resident of Park City, is registering as a member of the Democratic Party.

Schmidt, a founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, made the announcement on a recent episode of the “Battleground” podcast.

“In America today, it’s only the Democratic Party — which is the oldest political party in the world — that stands for the ideas and ideals of American liberty,” said Schmidt on the podcast.

Schmidt was a staffer on President George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign and helped guide Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. He also was the campaign manager for California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s reelection in 2006. He’s currently a political commentator for MSNBC.

Schmidt renounced his affiliation with the Republican Party in 2018 over the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant families at the border.

Schmidt’s party change could bring a much-needed jolt for Utah’s beleaguered Democrats. They have not won a statewide election since Jan Graham was reelected attorney general in 1996. Democrats are outnumbered in Utah by Republicans by more than 3-to-1. There are more than twice as many unaffiliated voters as Democrats in the state. Last month, Democrats gained only a single seat in the Utah House while they saw the state’s Washington delegation go all Republican as Rep. Ben McAdams lost his reelection bid.

“Mr. Schmidt isn’t the first Republican to change his party affiliation and he won’t be the last,” said Utah Democratic Party chair Jeffrey Merchant in a text message. “I deeply appreciate him — and so many others — who recognize Democrats are open to many perspectives and points of view. I welcome him to the Party, and am excited to have his involvement and insight.”

Schmidt might make an impact in Utah sooner than you may think. He has openly mused about challenging Sen. Mike Lee in 2022 when he is up for reelection.

“Thinking about it,” Schmidt said on Twitter. “Would be a fun race. Hard to win. I wouldn’t go into it to win so much as I would be to strip his sanctimony, BS and hypocricy bear (sic).

“Old Utah vs. New Utah,” he added. “Would be fun.”

Lee didn’t seem too worried about the challenge, though. When asked about potentially facing Schmidt, Lee’s camp responded, “LOL.”

Schmidt’s decision to register as a Democrat came after 17 state attorneys general, including Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, and 126 Republican members of Congress backed a Texas lawsuit seeking to overturn the 2020 election results in four states that voted for Democrat Joe Biden.

Schmidt tore into Reyes on Twitter, and later in an op-ed he wrote with fellow Lincoln Project founder Reed Galen for “joining the anti-American bandwagon” seeking to keep Trump in power after his loss.

“His actions crossed an irredeemable rubicon. We are going to light him up in Utah,” said Schmidt of Reyes’ decision.

Schmidt did not respond to a request for comment from The Tribune.