Full Trump Mode

RNC’s Comey Attacks Are Right out of the Dictators’ Playbook

The former FBI director feared the backlash that would come if he didn’t reveal the Hillary probe. Well, he revealed it all right—and it still didn’t save him from the backlash.


Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

When wtf moments happen at the pace they have in the age of Trump, it gets tough to sort out which outrages really matter.

When we do encounter a stand-out moment, we need to take notice. And I say we’re in one now. When future historians write the dystopian timeline of how we lost the republic under Trump, they’ll make special note of this current campaign by the Republican National Committee to smear James Comey.

If you haven’t gone to http://lyincomey.com, I suggest you do so. No; scratch that. You don’t need to. Don’t give them the traffic.

Just ponder what it means that the RNC has now gone into full Trump mode—everyone who deals with him gets dragged down to his level eventually, or drags themselves down voluntarily—in attacking a lifelong Republican and lifelong prosecutor who has spent his career doing what Republicans used to want G-men like Comey to do: put the bad guys in jail.

This is straight-up caudillismo—unquestioning subservience to the strong man, of the sort heretofore seen in places like Nicaragua under the Somozas or the Philippines under Marcos. It’s not that I wouldn’t expect the RNC to defend Trump. I would. It’s the way they’re doing it. The abject genuflection, even to the point of adopting his way of speaking (Lyin’ Comey). In its obvious effort to please the big man, stay on his good side, it has that whiff of totalitarian quaking about it, like the men who wrote the headlines at Pravda back in the 1930s, choosing each verb with the greatest care lest they run afoul of Uncle Joe.

There is no American precedent for this level of tremulous psycho-submission. There is precedent for knife-fighting, sure. That’s politics. When Richard Nixon was president and the Watergate screws were beginning to tighten, the RNC remained 100 percent loyal to Nixon.

The RNC chairman at the time, which few people remember now, was George H.W. Bush. I don’t want to say anything too bad about the poor man under current circumstances, but I will note that Bush was a huge Nixon defender, and that at one point he tried to launch a p.r. campaign to besmirch the reputation of the chief Democratic investigator on the Watergate committee, a man named Carmine Bellino.

Not many people touched the story at the time, and few journalists have dug deep into Poppy’s tenure at the RNC. So it was left to Kitty Kelley, in her saucy and controversial biography of the Bush family, to tell the tale. In late July 1973, right after the Watergate committee subpoenaed the president to turn over the tapes, Bush held a press conference to accuse Bellino of having bugged the Washington hotel where, in 1960, Nixon had been preparing for his debates with John Kennedy. Afterward, writes Kelley, 22 Republicans stepped up to demand an investigation.

One was commenced, and Bellino was cleared. But it took two and a half months. Bush stayed loyal to Nixon to the bitter end, Kelley writes, noting that Bush sent a letter to Nixon calling on him to resign—after White House chief of staff Al Haig had told Bush that Nixon had already decided to do so!

So that is what party leaders do. They’re lackeys. On the Democratic side, too. But what RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel—actually, that’s Ronna Romney McDaniel, and she is Mitt’s niece—is of a different order. She is going out of her way these days to praise Trump as a moral leader. “The actions of this president show that he is a moral leader because he is working for the American people and pushing back on monsters like Bashar al-Assad,” she told CNN.

I have no love for Comey. He helped hand the election to Trump, and I suspect he knows that he bears some of the responsibility for putting a totally unprincipled man in the White House, and he’s trying to arrange things so that when the day comes, the lead paragraph in his Times obituary won’t mention that. Why he felt compelled to announce publicly that he was reopening the Clinton case while continuing to conceal the fact that the bureau was investigating the Trump campaign will remain a mystery. As former Office of Government Ethics director Walter Shaub tweeted, referring to former GOP Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who went public with the news of the reopened Clinton probe: “Comey had to know Chaffetz would leak the letter on the reopened Clinton investigation. But if Comey had written, ‘This is to inform you that the FBI is investigating both major party presidential candidates,’ Chaffetz would’ve dug a 6-foot hole and buried it in the forest. So...”

If Comey had done that, the man he suspects may have watched prostitutes take golden showers and is susceptible to Russian blackmail would likely be back to swindling contractors rather than the country and the world. Why didn’t he? Well, in April 2017, The New York Times did a huge after-the-fact tick-tock on why Comey went public the previous October, written by four of the paper’s investigative aces. It included the sentence: “Fearing the backlash that would come if it were revealed after the election that the FBI had been investigating the next president and had kept it a secret, Mr. Comey sent a letter informing Congress that the case was reopened.” [italics mine.]

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He was afraid of Republican wrath. So he did what he needed to do to avoid it. Then he decided he couldn’t live with himself, so he’s trying to atone, and what’s he got? Republican wrath.

I hope he’s learned something about this personality cult that used to be his party, and I hope he held back some of his best stuff and gave it to Robert Mueller, because he has more atoning to do.