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What’s the Downside of Humoring Him . . . Still? 

It’s happening all over again.
May 6, 2021
What’s the Downside of Humoring Him . . . Still? 

On November 9, 2020, the Washington Post published what I had thought was likely to be the worst anonymous quote in American political history. When it came to the then president’s election fraud lies, a senior Republican official offered this rhetorical face plant:

What’s the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time?

The downside—which was intellectually, morally, and politically obvious at the time—was physically manifested less than two months later at the siege of the Capitol.

The downside, as Officer Michael Fanone put it in his letter to government officials this week, was a clash on the steps of the Capitol that was “nothing short of brutal,” leading to officers who were “injured, bleeding, and fatigued” but who “continued to fight.”

Now, Republican party leaders, three months after their lies resulted in a horrific clash that brutalized those tasked with protecting them and put their own lives at risk, are at the brink of another moment of choosing.

And once again they ask:

What’s the downside for humoring him for a little more time?

In a sensible world, one where people learned from their mistakes and took new information into account, you would expect Republican officials to consider how badly they screwed up during the transition period. They would analyze the outcomes and the effects their decisions had on them. And then they would adjust their behavior.

But we do not live in a sensible world.

The very people who misjudged the consequences of letting Trump’s lies spread, who hid in the Capitol as it was sacked by a mob, who lost their majority in the Senate—are now arguing that the party’s only choice is to act the exact same way they did before all of this shit went down. 

Republicans in Congress and their allies in Conservatism Inc. have concluded that the only prudent course of action is to coddle Trump and to excise Liz Cheney—the only Republican in leadership who did that sensible stuff: Looking at the outcomes, analyzing the causes, and deciding to try leading the party in a different direction.

Unlike their crazy MAGA allies, these more “mainstream” voices don’t argue that they necessarily agree with Trump about the election fraud. They just don’t want to have the negative parts of the coup attempt that they enabled shoved in their faces anymore.

From their perspective it’s a high crime requiring banishment for Cheney to respond to questions from the media about the insurrection. But continuing to dabble in a little light conspiracy-mongering about the election and passing laws premised on the fraud delusion is NBD.

Which, by total coincidence—also happens to be what the former guy wants. Gee whiz.

Despite his status as a powerless private citizen, the former president spends his days in decadent south Florida exile continuing to advance the Big Lie: hosting his insurrectionist allies for high tea, putting out blogspot faxes citing Hiroo Onoda and the great patriots still fighting the battle in New Hampshire, and regaling unsuspecting party guests with his delusions.

Why isn’t any of this election relitigation a distraction in the same way that Cheney has become a “distraction,” you ask?

Actually, there’s a good answer to that.

Because what the former president is doing is very on-message. The insurrection is the message.

That’s why there is no drama when Cheney’s anticipated replacement, Elise Stefanik, drops by Steve Bannon’s “War Room”—the official podcast of Stop the Steal—to discuss the importance of the cockamamie “audit” of the Arizona vote that is currently assessing whether the state’s ballots were laced with Chinese bamboo.

That’s fine you see, because while speaking the truth about the insurrection is a distraction, continuing the lies that led to it—humoring them, if you will—is being a “team player.”

For humoring him, Stefanik gets a promotion.

For telling the truth, Cheney gets the chop.

What’s the downside?

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.