Opinion | Was That Ride on the Trump Train Worth It?
Lurching through his presidency with equal parts venality and incompetence, Donald Trump gives little thought to the chaos he leaves in his wake. Little wonder that his tenure has proved hazardous not only for his adversaries and the hapless masses subject to his feeble leadership, but for his allies and enablers as well.
From Paul Manafort’s prison sentence to Jerry Falwell Jr.’s fall from grace, from Jeff Sessions’s shattered career to the Republican Party’s wounded relationship with suburban white women, the price of cuddling with the president — or simply hovering on the fringes of Trumpworld — has proved steep. As voters ponder whether to grant Mr. Trump another four years, it seems appropriate to attempt at least a partial accounting of the devastation he has wrought upon his own team thus far.
Some of the most obvious casualties are those who got tangled in the special counsel’s Russia investigation and ended up with criminal records or facing charges. These include not only people like Michael Cohen and George Papadopoulos, who had no meaningful profile beyond Trumpworld, but also veteran establishment players such as Mr. Manafort, the lobbyist and former Trump campaign chairman; his business partner Rick Gates, a former Trump deputy campaign manager; Roger Stone, a longtime Trump crony and campaign adviser; and Gen. Michael Flynn, the president’s first national security adviser.
Moving from criminality to more mundane rot, Mr. Trump’s administration has been distinguished by a dazzling array of toadies, many of whom have left under clouds of scandal. Scott Pruitt, the former Environmental Protection Agency administrator, may be the most pathetic, having resigned after a blizzard of tacky misbehavior that ranged from using taxpayer money to buy himself a $43,000 phone booth to dispatching an aide to shop for his favorite skin cream.
Still, it would be unfair to single him out. Ryan Zinke stepped down as interior secretary after racking up at least 15 ethics inquiries, including allegations of misusing taxpayer funds and violating the Hatch Act. Brock Long, who resigned as head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, got in trouble for misusing government vehicles.
Tom Price left his position as secretary of Health and Human Services after reports of his fondness for private jet travel. David Shulkin, the former secretary of veterans affairs, was called out by his department’s inspector general for wasting taxpayer money during an official trip to Europe and inappropriately accepting tickets to Wimbledon.
The drama grinds on. The postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, a Republican fund-raiser, stands accused of working to destroy the Postal Service to aid Mr. Trump’s re-election. He’s also facing allegations of violating campaign finance law repeatedly over the past decade.
Mr. Sessions was ousted as attorney general after months of Mr. Trump railing about his failure to shield the president from the Russia inquiry. When he tried to win back his old Senate seat in Alabama this year, Mr. Sessions found that Republican voters had soured on him, leading to a thumping in the primary.
Alexander Acosta resigned as secretary of labor after controversy erupted over an old plea deal he cut with Jeffrey Epstein, the sexual predator who also happened to be chummy with Mr. Trump.
Paul Ryan, the former House speaker, had his dash up the career ladder disrupted. Under Mr. Trump, Mr. Ryan oversaw an explosion of the national debt, ruining his image as a fiscally disciplined wonderwonk. He was also constantly beaten up by Mr. Trump, even as he indulged the president’s worst impulses. Rather than wait around for his party to get trounced in the midterms, Mr. Ryan announced in April 2018 that he would not run again.
The carnage stretches beyond the government. The National Rifle Association and its longtime frontman, Wayne LaPierre, spent truckloads of cash getting Mr. Trump elected in 2016. In return? The group has spent the Trump era rent by infighting and plagued by possibly existential legal and financial troubles.
One of Mr. Trump’s most zealous evangelical supporters, Jerry Falwell Jr., was recently nudged out as head of Liberty University following a sex scandal that included his wife and a former pool attendant. The university’s board has announced an investigation of the school’s operations under Mr. Falwell.
More broadly, the entire white evangelical brand has been soiled as even many people of faith question this demographic’s unwavering devotion to a president of such moral … flexibility.
A more personal loss for Mr. Trump may be the defenestration of David Pecker. As the head of American Media, The National Enquirer’s parent company, Mr. Pecker promoted Mr. Trump’s political career: slathering him with praise, denigrating his opponents and doing “catch and kill,” burying potentially damaging news. Some of Mr. Pecker’s tactics drew legal scrutiny. Last month, Mr. Pecker was bumped from leadership of American Media, recently renamed A360Media, to the post of “executive adviser.”
Though much of the conservative news media has flourished in the Trump era, a couple of players have overstepped. Trish Regan went so far into coronavirus-response-is-aimed-at-bringing-down-the-president nuttiness that Fox Business put her show on indefinite “hiatus.” John Solomon, formerly of The Hill newspaper, was once considered a serious journalist. Now, he may be best remembered as a peddler of the Hunter Biden-Ukraine conspiracy.
Speaking of reputational harm, no one is exactly sure what’s going on with Kanye West’s bizarre presidential bid, which is being aided and abetted by Republicans. But there’s a widespread concern that Mr. West, a Trump-loving rap star who suffers from bipolar disorder, is being grossly exploited.
Then there’s New York’s former mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose unhinged defense of the president has prompted many people to ask: What happened? Mr. Giuliani’s shadowy work in Ukraine, including his push for investigations into Joe and Hunter Biden, also has prompted federal prosecutors to explore whether he crossed any legal lines.
The Republican Party has long struggled to attract female voters. Mr. Trump has made things so much worse, alienating many of the white suburban women the party depends on.
R.I.P. Lindsey Graham’s integrity. Sorry, but it’s true.
Certainly, many of the above individuals and institutions were flirting with disaster pre-Trump. Mr. Stone had been a force for political evil since Richard Nixon’s first presidential run. Mr. Acosta’s deal with Mr. Epstein was over a decade ago. And it’s better for one’s psyche — and stomach — not to contemplate what carnal pleasures the Falwells may have been indulging in for years.
But who’s to say how long these folks could have breezed along undisturbed if their ties to the incendiary president had not drawn the spotlight? As such, Mr. Trump may deserve some credit after all for his much-mocked vow to “drain the swamp” — even if it hasn’t turned out the way his pet swamp creatures expected.
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