There are few things Americans love more than a redemption arc. Throughout the Trump administration, cable news anchors and audiences have been fascinated by narratives of conservatives who could not stomach the wicked excess of Donald Trump.
Case in point: CNN’s Jake Tapper reported on Tuesday that a small group of former Trump officials held a “conference call last Monday to discuss efforts to fend off his efforts to, in their view, erode the democratic process.”
That sentence already seems a bit shaky. What, exactly, are these people doing? Tapper can’t say, and neither can they, apparently. “We’re still trying to figure out what it is” that we want to do, one participant told CNN. “Outcomes are key.”
Per CNN, their plans “ranged from ‘shining a light’ on Trump’s corporate contributors to targeting for defeat in the primary or general election each individual Trump has endorsed for state and local races, although [ret. Gen. John] Kelly is reluctant to do anything that involves specifically endorsing any candidate.”
So, “shining a light” on Trump’s web of swampy corruption that is already public, or potentially running ads for Republican primary challengers who don’t have the endorsement of the party’s most recent president … unless their most senior member says no. Off to a great start.
Without any real news or concrete plans to highlight, CNN’s scoop largely focuses on the list of attendees who were on the call.
The highest-ranking participant was former White House chief of staff and retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, who told CNN that because of a prior commitment he was only able to “monitor” about 10 minutes of the call, which lasted about an hour.
Other participants included former Trump White House communications directors Alyssa Farah Griffin (now a CNN political commentator) and Anthony Scaramucci, former Homeland Security and counterterrorism adviser to Vice President Pence Olivia Troye, former Department of Homeland Security official Elizabeth Neumann, and former Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Chris Krebs, among others.
Kelly, as Trump’s chief of staff, and Farrah Griffin and Scaramucci, as his PR muscle, were deeply complicit in Trump’s regime, while figures like Troye, Neumann, and Krebs were career GOP operators who found themselves in Trump’s orbit and have been more consistent in their criticisms of the administration. They all exist in a liminal space that’s like catnip for cable news — lifelong supporters of the conservative party’s goals, but squeamish at Trump’s uncouth methods.
Former White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham, who laid some groundwork for this Trump Turncoat supergroup during an interview with CNN last week, missed the call because she had Covid, but is also participating. The group’s leader at the moment is Miles Taylor, a former Department of Homeland Security chief of staff. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Taylor himself was the subject of a massive news cycle once he was revealed to be the author of the wildly viral New York Times op-ed “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.” Taylor wrote a cash-grab book based on the op-ed, which he parlayed into a paid spot as a CNN contributor in 2020.
Most of these people, of course, voluntarily took jobs with the Trump administration, signing on to work for his regime well after Trump announced his presidential bid with a wave of open xenophobia and racism. The cold feet you’re seeing here has less to do with Trump’s personal politics than with these individuals’ careers. They’ve clearly made the call that associating with the country’s political center is a better long-term choice than doubling down on Trump-aligned extremism. And who knows, it could work – especially with a friendly media ecosystem designed to reward them for doing things like “scheduling a conference call.” But it’s highly unlikely that any of their actions will have a measurable impact on Republican politics, which is still firmly in Trump’s control. The former president is dominating every poll for their 2024 candidacy and has effectively swayed most state and national primaries he’s made an endorsement in.
What all of this will do, of course, is keep these former Trump hands in the public eye and clean up their reputations enough that their participation in the Trump administration’s abhorrent politics won’t interfere with their future job prospects in the private sector or centrist politics. There’s an old adage about rats and sinking ships, and this group of little rodents has carefully determined it’s in their best interests to get their feet wet. What remains to be seen is how quickly they get back on board if the SS Trump stays afloat in 2024.