Any such attempted break will not be easy. But as the party considers it, they’ve gotten plenty of reminders about their ability to meet Trump halfway. And the combined message of the past few weeks — if not the last four years — is: It can’t be done.
The Washington Post reported late Wednesday that none other than Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, has found himself on the wrong side of the outgoing commander in chief. Following the implosion of the legal challenges to the 2020 election that Giuliani led on Trump’s behalf, the president is withholding payments to his lawyer and even going so far as to scrutinize his expense reports.
As The Post’s Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey and Ashley Parker reported:
Trump has instructed aides not to pay Giuliani’s legal fees, two officials said, and has demanded that he personally approve any reimbursements for the expenses Giuliani incurred while traveling on the president’s behalf to challenge election results in key states. They said Trump has privately expressed concern with some of Giuliani’s moves and did not appreciate a demand from Giuliani for $20,000 a day in fees for his work attempting to overturn the election.
The White House on Thursday sought to cast doubt on the report, without actually disputing the details. With Trump banned from Twitter, campaign aide Jason Miller tweeted that Trump had told him that Giuliani is “a great guy and a Patriot who devoted his services to the country!” Miller added: “We all love America’s Mayor!”
None of that disputes that Trump has been trying to prevent payments to Giuliani, though.
And Giuliani’s time in the barrel is particularly telling when it comes to where things have landed for Trump’s allies. Perhaps nobody has sacrificed his image for Trump as much as Giuliani. He led the effort to dig up supposed dirt on Joe Biden in Ukraine that led to Trump’s first impeachment. More recently, he led Trump’s baseless and roundly rejected challenge to the 2020 election results that led to the president’s second impeachment. Through it all, Giuliani has torched the bipartisan credibility he built up, as Miller invoked, as “America’s Mayor” after 9/11. Whatever other motivations might be at play for Giuliani or his true convictions in pushing debunked conspiracy theories on Trump’s behalf, his legacy is a shell of what it was. And now, insult to self-inflicted injury.
But he’s hardly the first to find his service on behalf of — and sycophancy in support of — the president earn him an unceremonious last act in the Trump era.
Here’s a recap of others who have catered to Trump, only to be cast aside in one fashion or another, almost always finding their far-reaching efforts to be deemed insufficient. As Republicans try to thread the needle with the outgoing president, all should serve as cautionary tales.
Vice President Pence
What he did: Few members of Trump’s Cabinet have so deftly navigated standing by Trump without actually explicitly vouching for his actions. Pence has often conveniently faded into the background, but he has also provided Trump cover. He took leadership of the coronavirus response and downplayed the virus’s resurgence. He also repeatedly heaped praise upon Trump in his public comments in a way few Cabinet members did.
How it ended: Pence is still vice president, but he goes out on the wrong side of Trump and, more importantly, with the president having put him in a dangerous situation. Trump urged Pence to take an extraordinary, and apparently unconstitutional, step: to unilaterally decline to accept the electors of states upon whose results Trump baselessly cast doubt. He even tweeted early amid the violent uprising at the Capitol last week, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.” For days, Trump didn’t speak to Pence, despite the whole thing having led to Pence being targeted for physical harm. And despite the potential harm he faced, Pence has apparently let it lie.
Former attorney general William P. Barr
What he did: He issued a misleading summary of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation, pursued one of the most expansive views of executive power in the modern history of the Justice Department, intervened extraordinarily in a number of cases on behalf of Trump’s allies, and even fed into Trump’s baseless claims about nefarious elements being behind racial justice protests and questions about the integrity of mail-in voting.
How it ended: Despite his earlier comments, Barr declined to validate Trump’s theories about a stolen election and wound up resigning before Christmas. Trump invoked Barr just before the storming of the Capitol, suggesting Barr didn’t want to be seen as his “personal attorney.” He also criticized Barr in recent weeks for not revealing details of an investigation into Biden’s son Hunter before the election and saying he would “do nothing” about such alleged corruption.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp
What he did: Kemp won his election in 2018 with Trump’s help, especially in the Republican primary runoff, in which he defeated the state party’s preferred candidate. Kemp said after his runoff win that he would “unapologetically stand with President Trump to secure our border, deport criminal aliens, crush gangs and ensure a bright and promising future for our families.”
How it ended: Kemp, like other Georgia GOP officials including Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, dismissed Trump’s baseless theories about his narrow 2020 loss in the state being a result of fraud. This earned Kemp frequent denunciations from Trump, including a recent promise to campaign against him in 2022.
Former acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney
What he did: Mulvaney was front-and-center in defending Trump’s actions vis-a-vis Ukraine. He also defended Trump’s rhetoric in relation to mass shootings. And he defended some of Trump’s most questionable comments, including about crime in Black communities, and Trump’s decision to hold the Group of Seven summit at one of his own properties — a decision which was just as quickly scrapped. And even when Trump began challenging the election results, Mulvaney said the president wouldn’t take it too far.
How it ended: Trump removed Mulvaney early last year and gave him a significantly lower-profile role: special envoy to Northern Ireland. Since the storming of the Capitol, Mulvaney has assured that the president’s actions didn’t reflect the man he once defended and knew — despite having called Trump a “terrible human being” late in the 2016 campaign. Mulvaney resigned from the administration this month.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
What he did: McConnell (R-Ky.) has occasionally stood up to Trump, but he was also Trump’s most important governing partner for four years. He hailed the huge number of judges the two of them worked together to install. He declined to criticize Trump’s politically oriented removals of independent inspectors general. And he even defended Trump for saying he would accept information about a political opponent from a foreign country. The New Yorker once labeled McConnell Trump’s “enabler in chief.”
How it ended: When McConnell signaled in mid-December that the election was over, Trump repeatedly applied pressure and suggested McConnell was backing down. Most recently, after the events of last week, McConnell’s wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, stepped down from her post, citing “a traumatic and entirely avoidable event as supporters of the President stormed the Capitol building following a rally he addressed.” And now McConnell is considering convicting Trump, in part seemingly to help distance the party from a president whose tenure resulted in losing not just reelection, but also the House and the Senate.