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We Need All the Trump Defectors We Can Get. Even Mooch.

Now is not the time for purity tests.
August 14, 2019
We Need All the Trump Defectors We Can Get. Even Mooch.
Anthony Scaramucci. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/Bruce Glikas/Getty Images)

Anthony Scaramucci’s tenure in the Trump administration was more colorful than it was significant. He lasted about 10 days as communications director during the tumultuous summer of 2017, booted once John Kelly took over as the adult in the room. His abrupt departure did little to diminish his affection for Donald Trump, though, and he went on television frequently to support the president.

But Scaramucci has had a very public change of heart. He criticized Trump for his response to the El Paso and Dayton shootings, saying that “‘country over party’ is going to require the Republicans to replace the top of the ticket in 2020” if Trump can’t change his ways.

The reaction from the president himself—a series of tweets dumping on Scaramucci—is unsurprising and not really worth examining (though their subsequent back-and-forth tweet war has been amusing). The reaction from the left, however, is . . . well, maybe not “surprising.” But certainly interesting. Let’s let AOC sum it up: 

This argument fits neatly in with the wider messaging of the #Resistance and its demands for purity. Everyone who voted for Trump is a racist, everyone who donates to Trump is “fueling a campaign of hate.” Everyone who doesn’t speak out is “complicit.” It’s not clear what, exactly, the left would have us do with the 63 million people who voted for Trump in 2016, the vast majority of whom are likely to do so again. Maybe what they’d prefer is a series of modern-day Nuremberg Trials, at the conclusion of which the new regime banishes the guilty from polite society. 

There is—this may shock you—very little nuance in how the #Resistance thinks about Trump’s supporters and the people who have worked for him. Blind rage, after all, does tend to make you blind. They seem to be unable to discern that there are many, many people who have served Donald Trump in some capacity and that these people had different senses of purpose, different levels of effectiveness, and different opinions of the man himself. 

Some are beyond reproach: Men like James Mattis or H.R. McMaster or Gary Cohn, serious people and honorable Americans who took the risks associated with working for Trump out of a sense of duty to their country, and then made statements by walking away (or getting fired). 

Then there are those who chose to use Trump to further their own agendas and are explicitly culpable for more or less the whole charge sheet: Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon, for starters. (Think about it: Treasury Secretary Mnuchin is only the third-worst Steve in the administration.) Sebastian Gorka. Rob Porter. Sarah Huckabee Sanders. They either gave Trump some of his worst ideas and/or helped him implement them. Or they at aided, abetted, and lied for him. Or they proved themselves to be—all on their own—terrible people. 

Those are the two poles, the easy calls. But what about everyone in the vast middle? People who sucked up to Trump for whatever reason but have gotten out, and spoken out. Scaramucci had no political experience or record of service to his country, and seems to have joined up because he saw something in Trump, or saw something in it for himself, or both.

Omarosa Manigault, a favorite of the president’s from his reality television days, did little while she was there, made a lot of noise as she left, and then found her courage to speak out against Trump at about the same time her book tour started.

Paul Ryan resisted Trump the candidate, surrendered to Trump the president, and has returned to the opposition from the comfort of retirement in Janesville, Wisconsin.

Michael Cohen is tricky. Sure, he paid off Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal and he lied to Congress. But he also made the most of his do-over before Congress, testifying that Trump had ordered him to pay off the women, that Trump and Roger Stone talked about Wikileaks, and much else. Whether you think he’s a snitch or a whistleblower, a great deal of what we know about the inner workings of Trumpworld comes from Cohen letting in some sunlight. 

This whole class—from Mooch to Cohen—occupies a striated line where it’s hard to tell who was acting in good faith and who was being selfish or avaricious or weak. None of them are Jim Mattis. But at the same time, none of them are Sarah Huckabee Sanders, either.

It’s this middle group that we should consider most carefully because, whatever their personal flaws may be, they have the most potential to influence events going forward. We don’t need to ignore their foibles, faux pas, or other mistakes to realize that anyone who speaks out against Trump—but most certainly those who have had the experience of working with him—brings some value to our national discourse. You don’t have to like Paul Ryan’s tax cuts. You can wish that he would have been less invertebrate for his last two years in Washington. (I certainly do.) But if he once again becomes the man who disinvited Trump from a rally in Wisconsin, we’ll all be better off.

Someone who is voting for Trump because she is afraid of a President Bernie isn’t going to be persuaded by complaints from the #Resistance. Betty Blue Wave and Sally Sandernista aren’t going to change anyone’s mind by yelling at “deplorables” on Twitter. But some of these people just might listen to Anthony Scaramucci or Paul Ryan.

And if he loses even a fraction of a percentage point of support, he will lose re-election.

There is another downside to giving everyone associated with Trump the Nuremberg treatment. It will keep others who have similar reservations—whether they are still working for Trump or have escaped—from speaking out. And if you want to defeat Trump, then don’t you want more people who formerly supported Trump to talk about why they’ve changed their minds?

There has been some debate about Scaramucci’s comments that Trump has gotten worse, that “recently he has said things that divide the country in a way that is unacceptable.”

And sure, is it literally true that Trump worse now than he was in 2016? Probably not.

But here we are. And in any case, the question of when Trump has crossed the tipping point of acceptability doesn’t really matter. 

What matters is that people who actually know Trump and saw his administration from the inside are willing to publicly say that they no longer support him. Whether or not they can pass some kind of purity test is entirely beside the fact. 

An adage I repeated often to my kids when they were young is “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” If we start throwing fits about the quality of Trump defectors, well … we know what we’re going to get. 

Rachael Larimore

Rachael Larimore was the managing editor of The Bulwark.