Politics

A Republican Insider Studies His Burned Bridges and a Combustible G.O.P.

At a stately house in Washington’s diplomatic quarter, Never Trump luminaries gathered on Saturday for one of the city’s more exclusive book parties, where many of the capital’s elite political journalists rubbed elbows with the Republican operatives who broke with the former president — often at great risks to their careers and sanity.

Over spreads of sushi, flatbread pizzas and endless cups of vodka sodas, the crowd of 100 or so traded gossip and discussed “Why We Did It,” the wrenchingly personal and at times flamethrowing new memoir by Tim Miller, a former Republican insider who was once a rising star with access to the highest levels of power inside the G.O.P.

Over the course of about a decade, Miller gradually broke not only with the Trump-aligned forces that steadily took over the Republican Party beginning with Sarah Palin’s vice-presidential run, but also the so-called establishment of the party. These “normal” Republicans who made up his network of friends and colleagues, he says, were the not-as-ideological “adults in the room you hear so much about.”

So why, as the book’s title asks, did he do it?

“Partially atonement, partially a genuine sense that despite living through all this for six to seven years, I still didn’t quite understand why my former friends and colleagues and I kept going along with it,” Miller said in an interview as he took an Acela between New York and Washington.

When we spoke, Miller was on his way to the Politics and Prose bookstore in the leafy Cleveland Park neighborhood of northwest Washington. The store happens to be on the same block as Comet Ping Pong, a beloved pizza parlor that was stormed by a confused gunman in 2016 in search of a phantom child sex ring amplified online by some of the very people associated with Trump’s rise.

The new book is marbled with pearls of wisdom, observations on human psychology and entire chapters of harsh self-reflection that only an insider like Miller — who by all accounts is a supremely talented opposition researcher and communications strategist who had a direct hand in everything from planting hit pieces on various politicians in Breitbart to knifing rivals — could pull off.

“At one point, my editor told me to take off the hair shirt,” Miller said, because there was too much culpa in his mea culpa.

The editor, Eric Nelson, runs Broadside, the conservative imprint of Harper Collins, making him an especially apt partner for the project. Nelson has turned conservative intramural skirmishes into a cottage industry, working with other prominent figures in Never Trump circles like Amanda Carpenter and Ben Howe, while also landing books from hardcore MAGA luminaries.

On his way out of the mainstream G.O.P. class, Miller blew up every bridge he had built over his years in Washington, fled to Oakland and adopted a daughter, Toulouse, with his husband.

Friends say that Miller “walked off a cliff” into a future that could mean ostracism and threats to his mental health and physical safety. His book, which chronicles his relationships with the Republicans he left behind, tries to unpack why he did what he did and why they did what they did.

“Not a lot of people have been both brave and successful,” said Juleanna Glover, a public affairs consultant and former press secretary for Vice President Dick Cheney who hosted the party last weekend. Her home has become a refuge of sorts for various causes over the years, from Syrian refugees to Americans taken hostage in Russia.

Glover’s soiree was an especially revealing moment not only because of the exclusive company, but also because it revealed just how small the world of serious Republican strategists who rejected Trump really is.

There was Sarah Longwell, a close Miller ally who was the mastermind behind Republican Voters Against Trump, one of a constellation of anti-Trump groups that spent millions helping Democrats in key swing states like Georgia in 2020.

Jeremy Adler, a top communications adviser to Representative Liz Cheney, glided down the stairs with Sam Cornale, the executive director of the Democratic National Committee, while Andrew Bates, a White House deputy press secretary, found a quiet corner to field one of the hundreds of pings he gets each day from the Washington press corps.

Many of the capital’s most plugged-in reporters were there too, including Ryan Lizza and Alex Thompson of Politico’s Beltway insider Playbook franchise; Josh Dawsey, a former Politico reporter and scoop machine now at The Washington Post; and Mark Leibovich, a longtime New York Times writer who is now at The Atlantic. Leibovich wrote a 2013 book about such scenes called “This Town,” a title that has become an arch metonym of sorts for all things Washington.

There, too, was Marcus Brauchli, the former Washington Post and Wall Street Journal editor who now directs Donald Graham’s overseas investments in journalism projects, along with Neera Tanden, the Twitter-happy staff secretary in the Biden White House and a frequent guest at Washington parties.

Credit…Sophie Berard Photography

On the central question the book seeks to answer, Miller reaches no firm, one-ring-to-rule-them-all conclusion to explain the mystery of why some Republican operatives stuck with Trump and those Miller sees as the G.O.P.’s new MAGA overlords, while a few others, like him, bowed out.

Nor was there any single Eureka moment when he decided he could no longer compromise his values by working for politicians he despised, he said. But he noted that Republicans from marginalized groups, such as the L.G.B.T.Q. community, seemed more likely to be offended by Trump’s boorish behavior than others.

For Miller, leaving the Republican establishment was a zigzagging personal journey of fits and starts. He worked for Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican nominee for governor of Virginia in 2013, despite Cuccinelli’s opposition to same-sex marriage and his defense of the state’s anti-sodomy law.

And in early 2017, while doing what he calls “corporate P.R. skulduggery” to make ends meet, Miller took on as a client Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, who later resigned under a series of ethics investigations.

Feeling deeply ashamed of his own actions, those experiences landed Miller in therapy, which he says helped unlock the emotional self-awareness to write the book and again feel at peace with his decisions.

The book is as much a warning as it is a searing exploration of his own self-loathing. By most indications, Trump seems to be preparing for another presidential run in 2024, and the same pathologies that drove Miller out of the Republican power centers he once ran in have only grown more cancerous, in his estimation.

“Maybe,” he said, “I should have called the book ‘Why Are We Still Doing It?’”

  • The Supreme Court today narrowed the sweep of its landmark 2020 decision declaring that much of eastern Oklahoma falls within Indian reservation lands, allowing state authorities to prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes against Indians on the reservations.

— Blake

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