People who once held important positions in government keep plunging down the rabbit hole of senseless conspiracy stories and empty allegations, all in the service of President Donald Trump’s emotional needs.
After it became clear that the president would lose reelection, ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich immediately peddled the notion that President-elect Joe Biden could have won only through fraud. "It's time for us to get mad," Gingrich declared on Nov. 6. "This is what I came to conclude after spending the last several days puzzling over what we are seeing in the 2020 election."
One might argue that Gingrich blew his credibility as a public figure awhile back. Twenty-two years ago, he was forced out of his post after losing the confidence of his Republican conference. Nobody brings this up any more when he gives his advice on television. But sometimes he still falls out of step with his party.
"Robert Mueller is a superb choice to be special counsel. His reputation is impeccable for honesty and integrity. Media should now calm down," Gingrich tweeted in 2017. Later, as the investigation began to look serious and Trump seemed to panic, Gingrich backtracked and joined the GOP chorus of condemnation against Mueller, a Republican.
Lawyer Rudy Giuliani signed up early for a front-and-center role as a Trump toady, living in a perpetual audition for his client. Giuliani's hollow and undisciplined attacks on Mueller, Biden's son Hunter and states' electoral systems based on wisps of data and debunked charges leave him looking fevered and ridiculous. The ex-New York mayor never seems to succeed in proving anything useful to his client or party.
"What happened to him?" Giuliani's ex-admirers have asked for years.
Trump’s history of launching baseless smears has evoked the late Sen. Joe McCarthy, to whom Trump mentor Roy Cohn was a close and loyal aide. But there’s a key distinction.
McCarthy simply muddied the reputations of his targets. Trump gets sycophants to squander whatever credibility they may have, except among the committed, in a fever to serve him. Ironically, officials from the State Department, the FBI and health and environmental agencies who became targets of the Trump crew emerged more or less with credentials intact.
The task of propping up Trump requires an abandonment of pride and integrity. Ex-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee asserted last year that after reelection, Trump would be entitled to a third term. This from a man who said of candidate Trump in 2015: "The dumbest thing people can do is give him more attention."
Ex-Westchester District Attorney Jeanine Pirro’s baseless voter-fraud claims on the Fox network reportedly helped get her suspended recently. Her electoral career brought its share of embarrassments. But state Republicans in 2006 still found Pirro credible enough to nominate for New York attorney general, a race she lost lopsidedly. It is hard to imagine her getting the crossover support from Democrats and legal experts she once might have had.
Even those who might hold out a future for themselves— Vice President Mike Pence and Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz — risk their own credibility on the altar of Trumpism as the president doubles down on his preposterous claim that he won the 2020 election.
For Trump, the "victory" fantasy seems to grow bigger the more unreal it becomes. On Monday, the popular-vote advantage for Biden approached 6 million as GOP election lawsuits continued to collapse into a source of national ridicule.
But that's to be expected in Trump's protected topsy-turvy world. Credibility and common sense are valued less every day, in an electoral carnival that goes on regardless of the season.