Timothy Miller is a repentant ex-Republican operative, now a key member of “The Bulwark.” This is a group of mostly like-minded onetime GOP operatives, now Never Trumpers, still “conservative” on many issues, but dead-seriously dedicated to preventing #45’s overthrow of democracy, and who may well have — at least I hope so— the brains & skills to do it.
Yet with a long record of putting his talents effectively to work for many who have become bigtime Trump loyalists and fascism accelerators, not to mention being a completely closeted hit man for many professional political homophobes, Miller, as the saying goes, has a lot of explaining to do — first all, to himself.
Hence, Why We Did it, just published last week. Fittingly, it’s both a personal confessional, and an insider apparatchik’s look at the rise and reign of you-know who. This latter category is a crowded one at most bookstores, with new entries popping up every week or so.
Will Miller’s book stand out in this crowd? I don’t know yet. And — full disclosure — I haven’t read all or most of the similar output, and don’t plan to. Life is short.
But in 2020, deep in the gloom of the pandemic’s first autumn, I was captivated by one of the other major confessional tomes, Disloyal, by Trump’s longtime fixer, Michael Cohen. That experience produced a review, not only of the book but of its times, that filled several posts (which can be found here).
Can Miller’s stand up to Cohen’s tell-all? I’m not far into Miller’s pages, but it’s already clear he has an important tale to tell, knows how to tell it, and hasn’t spared himself in the telling. So this review will likely have multiple parts, beginning with some scene-setting clips.
[Plus a trigger warning: Miller is a creature of his generation, which has a penchant for pungent public profanity. I will not blogbleep quotes from him here.]
[In the Obama years] We were opposition party operatives in exile, thriving in the meretricious capital, anxiously anticipating the moment when it was our turn to be the brash Josh Lymans conducting brisk walk-and-talks in the White House’s hallowed halls. We may have been partisans, but the puckish sort. The “good ones,” unlike those crazy, mouth-breathing ideologues. Sure, we had conservative impulses. . . .
When the Trump Troubles began there wasn’t a single one in our ranks who would have said they were in his corner. To a person we found him gauche, repellant, and beneath the dignity of the public service we bestowed with bumptious regard. We didn’t take him seriously. We didn’t watch The Apprentice. We didn’t get off on the tears of immigrant children. And you wouldn’t have caught us dead in one of those gaudy red baseball caps.
But, at first gradually and then suddenly, nearly all of us decided to go along. . . .
How did it all go to hell so fast? To what end did so many go along with something that had been anathema? And why didn’t the insurrectionist denouement make them say “enough” to this carnage of our creation?
These were my people. I should know.
Throughout this reflection, I attempt to put forth a more fully formed, you might say actualized, understanding of my own rationalizations—as a gay man who worked for homophobes, an oppo research magnate who giddily stirred up artificial animus, a clear-eyed Trump loather who still took a bite of the poisoned apple (we’ll get to that). It’s through this process that I hope to inhabit the mindset of those who came to terms with Trump.
Because—and this is important—many of the people who did so are not all that different from me. In our conversations they defended their choice using many of the same justifications I had in the past.
These people are not all barbarians or megalomaniacs. They are flawed men and women with shadow wants and desires. It’s just that in this case those desires allowed them to accept an unusual evil.
[In a 2008 Iowa campaign stop, Miller listened closely as McCain finished his stump speech and] turned to the Q&A portion.
This is where Mr. Straight Talk Express would often shine. I can remember the moment at a different town hall where he brought me to the brink of tears pushing back against the Bush administration’s “enhanced interrogation” regime, which I had mindlessly supported before joining the campaign. “One of the things that kept us going when I was in prison in North Vietnam was that we knew that if the situation were reversed, that we would not be doing to our captors what they were doing to us,” he said. He went on to denounce waterboarding, declaring that “we are a better nation than that.”
I changed my mind on the spot. He spoke to one of the core reasons I became a Republican in the first place, the belief that America was a special, essential nation. That we were different. That we had a noble and necessary role to play in the world that we had to live up to. . . .
— Chapter 1
Part 3 of this Review Here