Other Trump allies hoping to reclaim the mantle of “respectable Republican” might choose to follow the Lindsey Graham model. The senator’s turn from truth-telling Trump critic to loyal acolyte—timed for his reelection bid last year in South Carolina—earned him a rash of savage headlines in the political press. But he’s already begun his post-Trump rebrand, starting with a speech on the Senate floor after the Capitol riot earlier this month.
“Trump and I, we’ve had a hell of a journey,” Graham said in the characteristically cheerful drawl that scans to so many inside the Beltway as candor. “I hate it to end this way. Oh my God, I hate it. From my point of view, he’s been a consequential president. But today … all I can say is, count me out. Enough is enough. I’ve tried to be helpful.”
Peter Wehner: Some Republicans have finally found a line they won’t cross
Graham’s implication was that he’d cozied up to Trump only to advise him on issues of grave national import—and that he was now breaking with the outgoing president on moral grounds. This version of events conveniently ignores the senator’s hyper-partisan defenses of Trump (he called the first impeachment a “lynching in every sense”), or his sycophantic sucking up (“He beat me like a dog” in 2016), or any number of dignity-sapping acrobatics he’s performed to stay on the president’s good side. By deciding to denounce Trump after the riot, Graham—like many of his colleagues—could try to claim that he put country before party (even if it wasn’t until the final days of Trump’s term).
Terry Sullivan, who ran Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign in 2016, told me he was unimpressed by this sudden rush to righteous indignation. “The newfound outrage from former Trump supporters rings a bit hollow, given how quiet most were during Charlottesville and countless other escapades,” he said. “Forty-seven months of blind loyalty followed by one month of conscience doesn’t earn you much more than the Mick Mulvaney profile-in-courage award.”
Sullivan was less certain, though, about whether the revisionism would work. “I don’t expect the voters will treat them any more kindly than the historians—but I’ve been wrong before.” After all, some predicted that the Republicans who worked for George W. Bush, especially the architects of the Iraq War, would be shunned once he left office. Instead, many of them have settled into respectable—and lucrative—perches as commentators, lobbyists, and elder statesmen. As long as the cable-news bookers keep calling, redemption is always available.
Like many of the more high-profile figures who worked for the Trump administration, Isgur, the former Justice Department spokesperson, has spent the years since she resigned publicly repenting. She regularly criticizes the president on CNN and in The Dispatch, a publication founded by Never Trump conservatives. Last month, she published an essay in The Washington Post grappling with how she and her colleagues had “obscured the reality of a Trump presidency from the public.”