One current narrative about the Virginia gubernatorial election is that Terry McCauliffe lost because he spent too much time dwelling on Glenn Youngkin’s Trump-stink, and not enough time on angry mothers. Another narrative says Youngkin was wise to distance himself from Trump.
I won’t say either narrative is wrong, but what’s remarkable is how, one way or another, Trump always makes it into the conversation, almost a year after leaving office.
Much of that conversation happens on cable news and social media, where he’s either the messiah or a serial killer, depending on the channel.
But at the same time, a whole slew of conversations are taking place in congressional committees, courtrooms, grand juries, and prosecutors’ offices in more jurisdictions than I can count. Trump has spawned a mini-industry of criminal and civil litigation, sure to generate terabytes of evidence, testimony, depositions, and indictments from scads of his toadies and hangers-on.
Trump-stink — that miasma of corruption and criminality — is now sticking to the reputations, job prospects, and legal status of all those who thought Trump was just another boss, and how bad could he be?
Since so many are so befouled — Youngkin was lucky to keep the stink at a distance — let’s narrow the discussion to those with an excellent chance of seeing prison as a direct consequence of doing Trump’s bidding.
Let’s narrow it further, to those who were close to Trump, yet who absolutely positively should have known better. Who knew everything about Trump going in. Who’d seen the casualties. Who’d watched an endless procession of naïve fools get sucked in and spat out as damaged goods — unemployable at best, incarcerated at worst.
Even this is not a small number, but let’s focus on three real standouts, three who would make anyone’s list of Dumbest Career Move Ever:
The first is Mark Meadows, and how stupid is he? Yes, he was always a nutjob — a flame-throwing know-nothing who led that demented Tea Party crowd when they shut down the government in 2013. But as nutjobs go, he was one with an impregnable, primary-proof seat in Congress. Head of the loony-tunes Freedom Caucus, perennial irritant to Democrats and Republicans alike, he was a player in national politics and a powerful force for bad. There was every reason to believe he was hitting his stride. Then he gets the stink.
For reasons known only to him, Meadows becomes Trump’s chief of staff. Of all the dead-end jobs in the world, he takes the one that famously blew up the careers of Reince Preibus, John Kelly, and Mick Mulvaney (am I forgetting anyone?). But he knows he’s just the guy who can make it work.
He’s already seen people with too much Trump-stink go to prison. He’s seen Trump himself impeached by Congress. Yet he still wants the job — actually seeks it out — just as the pandemic hits. With ten months left in the term. Did he hear no alarm bells at all?
He follows Trump down the rabbit hole into Covid denial, mask-shaming, Fauci-baiting and nonstop disinformation. He keeps the job all the way through the election loss, and goes all-in on overturning the results. He travels to Georgia specifically to put illegal pressure on the Secretary of State, and he sits in on the notorious “find me 11,780 votes” phone call. He pushes DOJ to open crackpot investigations of voter fraud. And, oh yeah, he’s one of the inner circle in the White House during the Jan 6 insurrection.
So now he’s defying one subpoena from Congress, while no doubt waiting on another from the DA in Fulton County, Georgia. Prison is a real possibility.
But enough about Meadows. Let’s talk about Lindsey Graham.
We forget that Graham was once thought of as a “principled” Republican — not a high bar. He was known as a staunch advocate for the rule of law, a strong foreign policy, and vigorous national defense. During the 2016 campaign, he famously called Trump a “kook,” a “jackass,” and “a race-baiting bigot,” which was both accurate and typical of Republicans at the time, before their spines were removed.
But almost overnight, Graham got the stink all over him, and those so-called principles just vaporized. Trump compromised NATO, disparaged the military, trashed the rule of law on a daily basis, and viciously attacked Graham’s best friend and idol, John McCain. Graham was totally on board.
Stupidity? Blackmail? We still don’t know, but he’s been brown-nosing Trump ever since, defending him in deranged fashion through two impeachments, a lost election, and the quixotic effort to overturn that election. Which is where he joined Trump on the wrong side of the law.
Now he, too, is under investigation in Georgia, also for pressuring the Secretary of State. The difference between his case and Meadows’ is that Graham is a lawyer, presumably familiar with the law, presumably subject to disbarment even if he’s not prosecuted.
And speaking of lawyers, finally we come to Rudy Giuliani, the guy who has fallen the farthest, and the one most likely to land behind bars.
Rudy has known Trump forever, and never liked him (who did?). He knew Trump was a cheat, a lousy businessman, and a breathtakingly fluent liar. This was not news to anyone in New York, for whom Trump was a running joke going back forty years.
So how did Rudy get so much stink on him? I’m guessing money was part of it — he was no doubt getting hefty fees from all sorts of questionable Trumpish activities in central Europe.
But he, of all people, knew that Trump was poison. Surely his instincts as a former prosecutor were screaming at him to run the other way. Surely he knew Trump would first compromise him — ethically, morally, and ultimately legally — then throw him under the bus without a second thought.
Now Rudy faces a proliferating list of allegations — corruption, profiteering, lobbying violations, and who knows what else — stemming from his role in the Ukraine fiasco. And that was before he jumped into the stop-the-steal cesspool. His law license is already suspended, and his public persona has taken on the character of your crazy uncle drinking too much at Thanksgiving.
The motives of these three miscreants remain incomprehensible. Even if Trump had somehow stayed in power, even if he had set up a dystopian paradise for fascists, bigots, and con men, these guys would still be crazy to share the same time zone with him. Loyalty to Trump is neither rewarded nor reciprocated. Who doesn’t know that?
Of course, wingnut welfare is still a thing, and it must be said that the descent of these guys into lunacy and flim-flam has cost them not a minute of media time. Even if they go to prison, they’ll surely have a job on FOX or OAN when they get out.
We still don’t know how stinky the Trump-stink gets. It’s an ongoing saga, and we’re only getting little pieces of the story.
But what we’re finding out is exactly what we see with all things Trump: As bad as it smells now, we can be sure it’ll smell worse tomorrow.