Analysis: Two new memos show the imbalance destabilizing American democracy

Contemporaries, competitors and friends, each has written a memoir exploring some of the events that have left the electorate so disillusioned. Miller, expelled from the GOP for the depredations of Donald Trump, catalogs a “Republican road to hell,” he fears “could go on forever,” says Smith, a Democrat, in “political love story“this has tested his idealism, but nevertheless left him intact.

Stylish and tart, Smith has endured many disheartening experiences as a campaign operative. But they have been specific rather than systemic, and have involved the weaknesses of the individual politicians it has served.

He begins and ends “Any Given Tuesday” with his unsuccessful attempts to help then-Gov. New York’s Andrew Cuomo when he faced sexual harassment allegations. Smith says he remained on his team out of loyalty and respect for his accomplishments as governor before finally accepting that he “looked us in the face and lied” about his misconduct.

His “first crush” in politics went down the same way. As a student at Dartmouth College, he joined the presidential campaign of smooth-talking Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, whose White House hopes imploded after a sex scandal.

“If they seem too good to be true, they usually are,” Smith writes. “Public adulation is intoxicating; it is easy to be absorbed by the trappings of power.”

Miller, instead, casts a guilty eye on himself and the fellow staffers who have pushed so many Republican charges in “Why We Did It.” He blames them for corrupting the party from top to bottom, with damaging effects for the nation as a whole.

“America would never have gotten into this mess if it wasn’t for me and my friends,” Miller writes. “Many of my friends allowed something that was so central to our identity to become so unequivocally monstrous.”

Miller starts and ends with her friend Caroline Wren, a prominent GOP fundraiser. Young colleagues on John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, they would later differ so deeply on Trump as to shake their faith in their friendship and more.

His Republican crisis of faith long predated Trump. He saw McCain, recognized as an outspoken maverick in a previous run for the White House, leaning on the “comfortable lies” that an angry Republican base craved and making Sarah Palin his running mate for the vice presidency.

Once drawn to a gentler version of low-tax Republican conservatism, he has since issued a brutal indictment of the party’s offspring. What began with the Tea Party rebellion against Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, has turned into the Trump MAGA movement that has made honesty about his 2020 election loss a disqualification for the leadership

“We advanced arguments that neither of us believed,” says Miller. “We made people feel aggrieved over issues we had no intention or ability to resolve. . . . We stoked racial resentments and bigotry among voters while sniping at anyone who might accuse us of racism.”

Miller takes pains to analyze the reasons why he and his colleagues remained so long in the service of Trump, whom he variously calls “obnoxious,” “comically inept” and “truly evil.” In their account, they range from a simple fondness for shared enemies to a belief that in a disfigured party they could help the country more than anyone who could replace them.

As a gay man, Miller privately wrestled with the party’s resistance to marriage equality (which, coincidentally, is one of the accomplishments Smith touts on Cuomo’s record in New York). Yet even after the 2016 election shook him up, he accepted a gig helping a Trump cabinet pick before decisively breaking with his party in favor of the Never Trump fight.

Their stories reflect the current juxtaposition of the two sides. Most Republicans remain aligned with Trump in a single-minded drive to regain power as he scorns the verdict of democracy and the rule of law itself. Meanwhile, President Joe Biden and his fellow Democrats struggle to leverage their slim, hard-won congressional majorities toward progress on domestic issues including climate change, high health care costs and tax evasion.

The hero of Smith’s tale is Biden’s transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, something of an anti-Cuomo because of his honesty and sincerity. His savvy media advice in his 2020 presidential campaign helped propel him to national prominence.

“For every politician that lets you down… there’s a new face that can redeem your belief in the process,” he observes. “I still believe in the power of politics to improve people’s lives.”

Beyond the likes of Liz Cheney, who sacrificed her House seat last week to defend democracy against Trump, Republican heroism has been hard to find. Miller closes with his face-to-face attempt to come to terms with his former confidant Wren, who, horrified, had been a “VIP advisor” at Trump’s Jan. 6, 2021, rally.

Despite hours of alcohol-fueled conversation, it didn’t work. Wren too savors Trump’s desire to bash the “cultural elite” and his own role in the political “game,” according to Miller; Should Trump seek the presidency again, he tells Miller, he will again support his candidacy even after the violent insurrection.

“Caroline has been absorbed into the cult,” he concludes grimly. “Like many of our parents, grandparents and friends, it has become unaffordable.”

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