I’ve been a Republican political consultant for almost 30 years, and I’ve dispensed a lot of private advice. But now it’s time for me to reach out publicly to my fellow Republicans working in the Trump administration.
We really need to talk.
Whether you’re a 20-something fresh off the campaign trail, or a seasoned Washington insider serving in the Cabinet, by now you’re painfully aware that you’re not making America great again; you’re barely making it to the end of the daily news cycle before your verbally incontinent boss, the putative leader of the free world, once again steers the proverbial car into a ditch. On every front, you’re faced with legal, political and moral hazards. The president’s job, and yours, is a lot harder than it looked, and you know the problem originates in the Oval Office.
You hate that people are shying away from administration jobs in droves: Just this week, in rapid succession, Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Trey Gowdy withdrew their names from consideration as replacements for former FBI Director James Comey, the guy your boss fired. Whatever department you’re in, it’s a safe bet that it’s a whispering graveyard of empty appointments and unfilled jobs.
I know: Many of you serving in Cabinet, sub-Cabinet and White House roles joined Team Trump in good faith, believing you could help steady the ship, smooth the rough edges and, just maybe, put some conservative policy wins up on the board. You could see that President Trump’s undisciplined style was risky, but you hoped the big show playing over at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. would provide you with cover to work steadily and enthusiastically on the administration’s legislative priorities. Some of you even bought into the ‘Merica First new nationalism. Many of you quietly assured friends in the Washington ecosystem that Trump would settle into his job — after all, just a few days after taking office, he assured us, “I can be the most presidential person ever.”
You figured Trump would turn his political capital into big wins, and that his lack of interest in policy details would let you and your friends in Congress set the agenda. Sure, you knew you’d have to feed Trump’s ego and let him take a victory lap after every success, but you also thought you might claim a smidgen of credit for a popular infrastructure bill, a big tax cut, repeal of Obamacare or a host of other “easy” lifts. Because we’re all ambitious, right? It’s okay to admit it.
Instead, your president botched Trumpcare 1.0 and contributed little as Speaker Paul Ryan managed to ram public-relations nightmare, Trumpcare 2.0, through the House at the cost of much political blood and treasure. Instead, Trump’s fumbles have left many members of Congress ducking town hall meetings like they’re in the witness protection program. The tax bill and the rest of Trump’s agenda are deader and more pungent than six-day-old fish. Maybe your particular bureau is still afloat, but you’re really not doing much except playing defense and wondering which of your colleagues is leaking to The Washington Post.
You learned quickly that your job isn’t actually to serve the nation, manage your agency or fulfill the role you ostensibly play according to the White House org chart. In reality, you spend most of your time fluffing Trump’s ego. Either that or you’re making excuses for not being a more aggressive suck-up. If you’ve been ordained to appear on television as an administration surrogate, you know by now that your task isn’t to advocate for your agency or issue, but to lavish the president with praise.
Now, you see the daily train wreck; you see a White House in turmoil and a president drawing an ever-tighter circle of family and corporate vassals around himself. You worry that the scandals and legal troubles, which have been rumbling on the horizon like a summer thunderstorm, are drawing nearer. You should worry.
Every day you get up, slide into the seat of your Prius or Tahoe (and if you’re senior enough, exchange a few polite words with your driver) and check Twitter. Whatever it is that you’re feeling, it doesn’t feel anything like Morning in America. It feels like some faraway kleptocracy where the center hasn’t held, the airfield and radio station have fallen to the rebels, and the Maximum Leader is holed up in his secret bunker waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Soon (and by soon, I mean now) you’ll have to make a choice. You’ll have to decide whether I’m here to help has morphed into I’m helping this president dismantle the republic. In D.C., principle is as rare as hen’s teeth, but, GOP friends, you can find it.
You already know you can’t save the president because he doesn’t want to be saved. You already know there’s not another, better version of Trump getting ready to show up. You’re smart. You’re loyal. You’re sniffing the wind like a gazelle, nose filled with the scents of predators. You don’t want to break from the pack too soon, but there’s greater risk in waiting too long.
When regimes collapse, dead-enders are the most fascinating to watch — the ones who end up with the profitable concessions and sought-after mistresses. You know already, though, that’s probably not you. So, ask yourself: When this regime falls, do you want to be among those who said “not me,” or do you want to go out like a Baath Party generalissimo?
Sticking with Trump to the bitter end and pretending the unfolding chaos is just “fake news” won’t save your reputation as the walls close in. It won’t ease the judgment of history. It won’t do anything to polish up your future Wikipedia entry.
Cutting ties with a man who is destructive to our values, profoundly divisive, contemptuous of the rule of law and incontrovertibly unfit to serve in the highest office in the land just might. Do it now.