by Tim Miller
“Too often, when straining to put some daylight between themselves and the Trump administration, regretful Republicans have reached for elaborate excuses and hightoned rhetoric,” “Tim Miller knows better than to try.” In his “darkly funny (if also profoundly dispiriting)” new mea culpa, the former Republican political strategist—who backed one of Trump’s 2016 GOP rivals before briefly joining Trump’s D.C. gravy train—“depicts himself as being someone who was so preoccupied with ‘the Game’ that he gave little thought to the degraded culture that his bare-knuckle tactics helped perpetuate.” Money, niche notoriety, and beating the other side came to mean more to him than public service, and being a PR expert, he “knows how to spin such ugly straw into gold”: To understand a sellout culture, he’s arguing, listen to a sellout.
Miller’s pointed self-criticism “gives the book its distinctive oomph,” In his 20s and 30s, after all, he was a Republican hit man—an expert in opposition research—who for years gladly backed anti-gay pols despite being gay himself. Confessing his own hypocrisy affords him license to construct a useful taxonomy of GOP rascality. His proximity to the party’s power center, meanwhile, allows him to sit down with operatives who went much further into Trump fealty, including former White House insider Alyssa Farah Griffin and Jan. 6 rally organizer Caroline Wren. With those interviewees, he plays “both confessor and priest, albeit one with an open bar tab.”
Understanding these insiders does matter, When democracies fail, the collapse often occurs because the political elites surrounding an aspiring authoritarian bow rather than object. Miller explains why so many of his peers folded: Everyone near the top has so much of their social and professional identity tied to party affiliation that it’s difficult for them to even imagining breaking away. Still, “perhaps the most surprising factor Miller identifies in his subjects is their profound cynicism. Nearly to a person, they thought of politics as a game, and considered the absence of ethics a mark of sophistication.” That cynicism, he suggests, is rooted in the vast divide between the value and cultural issues that the party’s base voters care about and the GOP’s real core agenda: reducing taxes and regulations for businesses and the wealthy. Miller doesn’t portray the cynics who capitulated to Trump as monsters: “It is their humanness that renders them so terrifyingly weak and vulnerable in the face of evil.”