Here and there, those enablers just might face accountability. But most of them will be fine. Many will even prosper.
You can see illustrations of their various fates in stories emerging about how Trump’s handmaids are faring in our new political world. Let’s begin with the figure who may have fallen further than any other: Rudy Giuliani.
Giuliani is now being sued for defamation by Dominion Voting Systems, which seeks $1.3 billion in damages after he spent weeks making fantastical claims about how the company had used the voting machines it sells to states to steal the election from Trump.
Once “America’s Mayor" and Time magazine’s Person of the Year, a man admired throughout the world, today Giuliani is the buffoon of Four Seasons Total Landscaping, he of the wild conspiracy theories and dripping hair dye.
And unlike many defamation suits of the Trump era, this one is real. Giuliani stands a good chance of receiving accountability for his actions in support of Trump because 1) we have a legal system in place with procedures that allow for it and 2) his stupidity and recklessness was so monumental that it’s almost impossible to overstate.
Indeed, as Dominion notes in its filing, when Giuliani appeared in court to try to upend the election, he “admitted that the Trump Campaign ‘doesn’t plead fraud’ and that ‘this is not a fraud case.’” That was because judges don’t take it well when you lie to them in court — but Rudy then went out in public and made outrageous claims that there was fraud, in particular engineered on a massive scale by Dominion.
Not only did that cause Dominion and its employees to be subjected to all kinds of threats and harassment, they can make a case that it did severe harm to their business. So while it’s hard to know whether the case will turn out with Dominion tking every last cent Giuliani has, at this point it’s hard to say that his association with Trump hasn’t been a disaster for him.
Now let’s contrast that with Sarah Sanders, Trump’s former press secretary.
Sanders was the most enthusiastic and prolific of all those who lied to the country on Trump’s behalf. What distinguished her was her utter shamelessness and commitment to the task — she would repeat endless and obvious lies in the same contemptuous monotone she’d use to tell you it was Tuesday (some of her greatest hits are here).
Sanders has now launched a campaign for governor of Arkansas, and she’s leaning in to Trumpist grievance. “With the radical left now in control of Washington,” she says in her announcement video, “your governor is your last line of defense.”
Why should the people of Arkansas vote for Sanders? Her answer: “I took on the media, the radical left and their cancel culture, and I won. As governor, I will be your voice, and never let them silence you.”
While Sanders’ ethical standards are no higher than Giuliani’s, she’s a lot smarter than he is. Her lying in Trump’s service, as prodigious as it was, did not subject her to civil liability. And it left her perfectly able to return to a state where Trump won by 26 points last November, so her affiliation with Trump is an asset, not a liability. While we don’t yet know what kind of candidate she’ll make, she’s the early favorite.
Like Sanders, some Republicans will find success in worlds where Trump is still a hero and no one will ask them to apologize for what they did for him. If they want to become lobbyists, Trump helpfully rescinded his own administration’s influence-peddling restrictions on his way out the door. While some mid-level staffers may gripe about their job prospects, they’ll likely find that because nearly the entire Republican Party has an interest in diffusing anything resembling accountability for Trump, plenty of opportunities still exist for them.
That’s because you don’t have to be Stephen Miller to have a strong desire to make sure no one pays a price for enabling Trump. Nearly everyone in the GOP — not just those who repeated Trump’s lies, or implemented his most egregious policies, or defended him in Congress, but even those who aided him with their quiet assent — is implicated to one degree or another. They’re all morally culpable, and the last thing they want is to be held responsible.
Which is why part of the effort to whitewash the last four years is to make sure Trump’s helpers continue their careers in Republican politics in good standing, even as many Republicans will argue that they had nothing to do with any of it. Only those who stepped over lines that exist in worlds Republicans can’t control — as Giuliani did — might suffer the consequences. For the rest of them, evading responsibility will be all too easy.