All the President’s Crooks

Again and again, Trump’s core supporters have turned out to be criminals.

President Donald Trump's face is slightly obscured by a large black umbrella.
Tom Brenner / Reuters

The first House member to endorse Donald Trump, Chris Collins of New York, pleaded guilty to insider-trading charges on October 1, 2019.

The second House Trump endorser, Duncan Hunter of California, pleaded guilty to criminal misuse of campaign funds yesterday.

Is a pattern emerging? The third House member to endorse Donald Trump was Representative Tom Marino of Pennsylvania. Trump thanked Marino by nominating him in April 2017 to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Marino withdrew his name from consideration after four months of press reports like this one, from The Washington Post:

In April 2016, at the height of the deadliest drug epidemic in U.S. history, Congress effectively stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration of its most potent weapon against large drug companies suspected of spilling prescription narcotics onto the nation’s streets … The chief advocate of the law that hobbled the DEA was Rep. Tom Marino, a Pennsylvania Republican who is now President Trump’s nominee to become the nation’s next drug czar. Marino spent years trying to move the law through Congress … Political action committees representing the industry contributed at least $1.5 million to the 23 lawmakers who sponsored or co-sponsored four versions of the bill, including nearly $100,000 to Marino.

In January 2019, two weeks after being sworn in for a fifth term, Marino quit Congress for a job in the private sector.

So, um, who was the fourth House member to endorse Trump?

That would be Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee. Here’s how Politico reported the difficulties he faced as he sought reelection for a third term in 2014, in a story headlined, “The biggest hypocrite in Congress?”

Two abortions. Maybe three, if you count the one he pressured a girlfriend—who happened to be his patient—to get. Pulling out a gun during an argument with his first wife. Prescribing pills to another patient while they dated. Getting reprimanded by the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners for dallying with patients, an ethics violation.

The fifth House member to endorse Trump, Tom Reed of New York, took more than two years to comply with House ethics rules and divest himself from the law firm that bore his name, a medical-debt-collection business, and commercial real-estate holdings after his election in 2010. Reed eventually sold the debt-collection business to one of his brothers. His attorney promised to release the correspondence with the Ethics Committee that he said would explain the delay, but when pressed by an opponent to follow through during the 2014 election, Reed demurred.

After the so-called Second Super Tuesday clutch of primaries on March 21, 2016, the movement of House members toward Trump accelerated into a stampede. By then, the tide was flowing decisively toward Trump. Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, and Rand Paul had withdrawn from the Republican contest in February. Christie and Huckabee endorsed Trump immediately; Fiorina and Paul would do so later. Ben Carson withdrew on March 4, and endorsed Trump. Marco Rubio surrendered on March 15, endorsing Trump in July.

Some of the late endorsers in the House would work extra hard to ingratiate themselves, such as Jim Jordan of Ohio, who said on May 26: “Look, he wasn’t my pick in the primary, everyone knows that. But I’ve said all along I’m going to support the nominee, and I’m going to work for him, because I know the alternative.” The late endorsers hesitated for many reasons: ideology, doubts about Trump’s electability, qualms about Trump’s character. The early endorsers belonged to a special category. They were not true believers in anything much. Trump’s first endorser, Collins, ranked as the 143rd most conservative member of the House in his first year in office, 2013. But something in Trump spoke to them.

Trump’s core supporters have proved again and again to be criminals: Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Roger Stone, have pleaded guilty to, or been convicted of, federal crimes. Now Collins and Hunter, Trump’s earliest supporters in the House, have joined them.

The attraction of such people—and so many like them—to Donald Trump tells us something important about who Trump is: a man who appeals to crooks because they recognize him as one of their own.