The Unforgivables: Trump’s Top Collaborators
The top 25 politicians, institutions, and media personalities that aided and abetted the rise of Donald Trump—and should never be absolved for it.
When Donald Trump loses the presidential election, Republicans and conservatives will start looking for people to blame. That is, if Trump concedes. To the constantly growing list of outrages against common decency and democratic traditions Trump has committed throughout this campaign we can now add sowing mistrust about the legitimacy of our electoral system. Trump is fomenting an hysteria amongst his already fanatical supporters that, when he loses, could lead to civil disorder and even violent insurrection.
The Trump campaign’s hunt for turncoats has already begun. Among Trump’s most die-hard supporters, literally nothing their candidate has done or could do will ever convince them that nominating a racist, dictatorial, misogynistic, conspiratorial, sociopathic, reality television show star for the highest office in the land might have been a bad idea, never mind unpatriotic. No, they will say come November 9, Trump’s loss will have been the fault of, in the words of Laura Ingraham, a “globalist cabal” of Republicans-in-name-only and highfalutin conservative intellectuals who refused to support the nominee. “I will hold all these arrogant ‘Never Trump’ people accountable after they have sabotaged DT,” Fox News host Sean Hannity angrily tweeted in August.
Let’s be clear: Trump backers have no one but themselves to blame for having foisted a mentally unstable man-child with literally no redeeming qualities upon the country. So determined are they to avoid responsibility for this that they have crafted an elaborate theory assigning culpability for Trump’s impending defeat not upon the candidate but those who warned he would lose. Considering these conservatives’ soft spot for Weimar-like stab-in-the-back myths, a more fitting historical analogy for the confrontation we’re soon to witness amidst the rubble of the GOP is the political state of affairs in postwar Berlin. Like the victorious Allies who worked to rid Germany of National Socialist influence, so too will the GOP need to cleanse itself thoroughly of the cowards, opportunists, and authoritarians who collaborated in the rise of the closest thing this country has ever had to a nationwide fascist movement. What’s needed after Trump loses isn’t, as writers more magnanimous than I have proposed, an amnesty wherein everyone simply forgives and forgets, but something closer to de-Nazification, or the “lustration” of communist officialdom that Central and Eastern European countries carried out after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
For as much as the candidate and his supporters like to portray his campaign as a bottom-up movement that successfully seized the reins of power from a resistant cabal of Republican elected officials and conservative elites, the Trump phenomenon was all along aided and abetted by people in positions of influence and responsibility who repeatedly displayed a shocking lack of judgment, moral courage and patriotism.
Herewith is a list of those individuals and institutions that made a conscious decision to enable a ludicrously unfit reality television show star in his quest to become leader of the free world, thereby conscripting themselves in what has become a Russian influence operation, and thus taking America to the brink of disaster.
I’ll always remember where I was when (1) Chris Christie endorsed Trump. Christie was first of the 16 Republican presidential contenders to support the eventual nominee, and his announcement was all the more startling coming from a twice-elected, moderate Republican Governor with solid “establishment” credentials. Christie’s endorsement was a decisive moment, opening the floodgates for other Republican elected officials to back Trump. Almost immediately after joining the Trump Train—and in a sign of things to come for others who would hop on it—Christie began debasing himself, audibly taking orders from Trump on the campaign trail and allegedly fetching him fast food. Despite the serial humiliations, Christie has remained one of Trump’s most servile surrogates, defending the nominee’s five-year history of challenging President Barack Obama’s citizenship with arrant nonsense such as, “It wasn’t like he was talking about it on a regular basis.”
In the summer of 2015, Buzzfeed’s McKay Coppins reported rumors that Trump was secretly funneling cash to (2) Breitbart.com in exchange for favorable coverage. Today, considering the seamless integration of Breitbart as a quasi-official mouthpiece into the Trump campaign (whose new CEO Steve Bannon was previously chairman of the conservative website), that allegation is moot. Breitbart.com is now the leading voice of the “alt right,” an innocuous euphemism for the peddlers of white nationalism, xenophobia and conspiracy theory invigorated by Trump.
Trump has broken with GOP orthodoxy on a whole host of issues ranging from free trade to entitlement reform to foreign policy. So one would think that, if Trump’s threatening violence at the Republican National Convention did not prevail upon party officials to oppose his candidacy, his repudiation of GOP policies would. Yet (3) Reince Priebus and the (4) Republican National Committee he chairs have done nothing to resist Trump’s rise. On the contrary, Priebus blocked any attempt to challenge Trump from the floor of the convention and has gone so far as to threaten penalties against those Republican presidential candidates who refuse to endorse Trump.
What makes Priebus’s betrayal especially egregious is that he was the RNC Chairman who commissioned an “autopsy” on the party’s 2012 electoral loss urging greater Republican engagement with women, youth and minorities. These are precisely the groups most repelled by the man Priebus now embraces, riding on his private jet like a giddy school boy. Decent Republicans should oust Priebus from the party chairmanship; the only job suitable for him is cleaning toilets at Trump Tower.
Not long ago, (5) Sean Hannity berated Republicans who failed to meet his absurdly high threshold of conservative ideological purity. Today the Fox News host has become Trump’s most sycophantic media supplicant, regularly hosting the candidate for televised “town halls” that are little more than campaign rallies. Bluto Blutarsky meets Brick Tamland with a little bit of Archie Bunker thrown in. This meathead, overgrown frat boy would have made a fine broadcaster on East German state television circa 1973 so boundless is his ideological flexibility and opportunism.
According to Republican operative Dan Senor, (6) Mike Pence once told him that Trump would be “unacceptable” as the GOP presidential nominee. Fast forward a few months and the Indiana Governor, facing a competitive reelection, accepted Trump’s offer to become his running mate. The ostentatiously Christian Pence remains loyal to Trump, whom he describes as “this good man,” despite Trump’s admission (in essence, to Billy Bush and Howard Stern) to being a sexual predator. Many of the Republicans now calling upon Trump to leave the ticket have suggested Pence take his place, as if the vice presidential nominee wasn’t tainted by putting a more respectable, professional gloss on what is an explicitly racist and authoritarian political enterprise.
When (7) Newt Gingrich assumed the House speakership after the 1994 Republican revolution, he included NATO expansion in his fabled Contract with America. Today, echoing the Kremlin-friendly rhetoric of the Republican nominee, Gingrich shamefully says that Estonia—one of America’s strongest allies in Europe and a NATO member in good standing—is a “suburb of St. Petersburg” and not worth defending from Russian attack, despite our sacred treaty obligation to do so. Gingrich’s embrace of Trumpism (and its attendant ideological contortions) has been one of the more remarkable debasements of this election season, proving once and for all that this porcine pseudo-intellectual is not only a moral disgrace but also a complete and utter fraud.
When he ran for president in 2008, former New York City Mayor (8) Rudy Giuliani campaigned on an embrace of the Bush Doctrine. Now, he supports a candidate who accuses George W. Bush of “not keeping us safe” and lying America into war. When the tape of Trump bragging about “grabbing” women’s genitalia became public, Giuliani was one of the few Trump surrogates willing to go on television in his defense. Though his anti-crime policies were often the target of unfair criticism from lefty civil libertarians, Giuliani’s hysterical defense of the despotic Trump means that no one can reasonably deny his authoritarian instincts, and we should shudder at how “America’s Mayor” might deploy them were he to receive a cabinet appointment in a Trump administration.
Perhaps due to her beauty, serene composure, and ability to translate her father’s half-literate ramblings into semi-coherent policy proposals, (9) Ivanka Trump has remained unscathed by her father’s 16-month effort to ruin the family name. Which is inexplicable, because all that Ivanka’s involvement in this campaign has revealed is that she’s the pretty face of a white nationalist political movement, a truly bizarre place for a University of Pennsylvania-educated, Upper East Side doyenne to wind up. As for her husband, the pathetic and pussy-whipped (10) Jared Kushner, he is equally if not more appalling in his role as the Jewish facade of a campaign steeped in anti-Semitic innuendo. Trump’s thuggish sons (11) Donald Jr. and (12) Eric would be hawking flyers for $150 suits on Sixth Avenue had they not been born into massive wealth, and if actual billionaire Mark Cuban is right that the “stigma” attached to the Trump brand is permanent, the inheritances of the entire Trump brood will be wiped out and they’ll be forced to undergo some sort of humiliating, permanent pauperization a la Trading Places.
As Republican leaders in the Senate and House, respectively, (13) Mitch McConnell and (14) Paul Ryan could have communicated to their caucuses that non-endorsement in this year’s presidential race was a viable option. Instead, they behaved as gutless followers, refusing to embrace Trump wholeheartedly but endorsing his candidacy nonetheless. For their trouble, they have had to repeatedly and explicitly condemn Trump’s transgressions against decency and common sense, all the while telling voters that this man is equipped to be President of the United States.
The trio of Trumpkin CNN talking heads (15) Kayleigh McEnaney, (16) Jeffrey Lord and (17) Corey Lewandowski are the Baghdad Bobs of this election cycle, literally willing to defend any and all of Trump’s absurdities. Their motto might as well be the title of the classic 1989 John Cusack film: say anything. No one ever heard of these grasping opportunists before the summer of 2015 and if they’re lucky no one will remember them after this election is over.
Like many of the GOP operatives who have glommed onto him, pollster (18) Kellyanne Conway was once a Trump critic, accusing him of building “a lot of his business on the backs of the little guy” and “saying things that aren’t true.” Conway, who made a name for herself as the go-to consultant for GOP candidates trying to appeal to women, now finds herself defending a sexual predator in her role as Trump campaign manager.
Throughout the GOP primary, Trump ridiculed (19) Marco Rubio as “little Marco.” One of the first candidates to really hit hard at Trump on the campaign trail, Rubio rightly called him a “con man” and an “erratic individual” who could not be trusted with the nuclear codes. Shortly after dropping out, however, Rubio endorsed the man who just weeks earlier he had warned could bring about nuclear holocaust and said he would be “honored” to speak on his behalf at the Republican National Convention. Little Marco indeed.
His supporters claimed that (20) Ted Cruz’s refusal to endorse Trump at the GOP Convention was a characteristic example of his commitment to principle. But Cruz’s reputation as a politician who would never sacrifice his sense of integrity has always been undeserved. Since entering the Senate in 2012, Cruz cultivated the very sort of rejectionist, radical right constituency Trump later exploited, and he was chummy with Trump throughout the first six months of the race, hoping to win over the frontrunner’s base. It’s only fitting that Cruz is now manning Trump phone banks trying to convince people to vote for the man who speculated that his father was involved in the JFK assassination.
The California-based (21) Claremont Institute bills itself as devoted to “Recovering the American Idea,” namely, individual liberty, constitutional democracy, and small “r” republicanism. Which is why it’s so bizarre that Claremont would emerge as the leading center of intellectual advocacy for Trumpism, an ethno-nationalist, populist creed that scorns the very ideals upon which this country was founded. About 20 “Claremonsters” —people associated with the Institute or its intellectual godfather, the deceased political scientist Harry Jaffa—signed a declaration entitled “Scholars and Writers for America” in favor of Trump.
None of the conservative movement’s constituencies has been so supportive of Trump as evangelical Christians, with the troglodytic triumvirate of (22) Ralph Reed, (23) Tony Perkins (23) and (24) Jerry Falwell Jr leading the flock. These are men so shameless, craven and hypocritical that they expect their endorsements of an admitted sexual predator and perpetual adulterer to be taken seriously after having zealously supported the impeachment of Bill Clinton on account of his sexual ethics.
Finally, no list of Trump enablers would be complete without the plurality of (25) Republican primary voters who awarded him their nomination. These people, who would without question surpass Trump’s loyalty test by supporting him even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue, are just as Hillary Clinton described: deplorable.
Ridding the GOP of Trumpism and its enablers means more than just a few pink slips. To heal the corrosive damage inflicted upon the body politic by the Trump campaign’s normalization of mendacity, rank bigotry and authoritarianism, conservatives must purge these people from polite society and shun them for the rest of their professional lives, much as William F. Buckley Jr. did with the John Birch Society. (Though I agree with George Takei, who writes in this space that those “transgressors and offenders” who “one day come to regret their actions and atone for their mistakes” ought be forgiven.)
Everyone who played a part in this outrage, from the RNC bigwigs to the Breitbarters on down to the Pepe-the-Frog avatar-wielding Twitter trolls, need to face consequences for their dangerous and disgusting behavior. Let the record show that, when America came as close as it’s ever come to electing a bona fide authoritarian president, the above individuals collaborated with evil.