Donald Trump no longer calls 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue home but that hasn’t stopped his opponents from seeking revenge. As the administration was winding down in December and January, Trump’s die-hard detractors were commencing a crusade against his so-called “enablers.”
Stuart Stevens, a former top strategist to Mitt Romney, tweeted that the anti-Trump Lincoln Project was “constructing a database of Trump officials [and] staff that will detail their roles in the Trump administration [and] track where they are now…they will be held accountable [and] not allowed to pretend they were not involved.” Lincoln Project co-founder Rick Wilson would later gleefully tweet, “It’s growing” after hearing about corporation-tied PACs suspending donations to House and Senate Republicans who voted against certifying the Electoral College.
The declaration came shortly after Forbes editor Randall Lane issued a stark warning to any business thinking about hiring ex-Trump spokespeople, saying it would signal that “everything your company or firm talks about is a lie.” He swore the move wasn’t cancel culture (correctly calling that a societal blight), just applying a high standard to liars.
It’s not the first time a group or politician has said Trump supporters must be held accountable through some sort of database or list.
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, during her presidential campaign last year, released a five-point plan seeking to root out any leftover “corruption and incompetence” in the federal government. Warren sought a full house-cleaning of all Trump political appointees, not just from their positions, but from any chance of involvement in federal policy. One wonders if Warren includes Army Corps of Engineers Chief Lieutenant General Scott Spellmon, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark A. Milley, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, despite her promise of continuity and national security protections during the presidential transition.
Yet Warren’s proposal didn’t stop there. She suggested a Justice Department Task Force that would focus on the search for any and all kinds of corruption within the Trump administration in hopes of restoring public trust in government. That would be an inquisition not seen since Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy’s ill-fated campaign against the U.S. Army in the 1950s.
Warren’s presidential quest failed but the seeds she sowed lingered. The short-lived Trump Accountability Project promised hellfire and brimstone on anyone who served in the administration, worked for his campaigns or the Republican National Committee, or was appointed to boards, commissions, or the judiciary. Other targets included law firms that represented Trump and those who donated at least a thousand dollars. Their database featured names like Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump but also stenographers, receptionists, and calligraphers (one of the calligraphers also worked for George W. Bush and Barack Obama).
Judges were named on the Trump Accountability Project database. One was approved by an almost unheard of 91-0 (!) vote in the Senate with support from Warren and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Another garnered a 95-1 approval vote. A third won Senate approval 81-8, while a fourth was confirmed 80-15. Why put them in a database if the Senate considered them uncontroversial? Especially since federal judges focus more on the constitutionality of laws than on politics?
The problem with any sort of database is the precedent it sets. The Lincoln Project and like-minded anti-Trump groups have to realize this does nothing to quell polarization in Washington, D.C. or the country more broadly. Some of them—Meidas Touch comes to mind—possibly prefer polarization, given their tweets accusing Republican senators of being accomplices and traitors in advance of Trump’s second impeachment trial.
New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made similar vague comments about “accountability” on ABC News earlier this month. I worry this will only encourage Trump and Republican-oriented groups to come up with their own “lists,” as seen when One America News Network put the names of every Republican senator who voted to certify the Electoral College on a tombstone with the caption “R.I.P.”
The other problem is that Washington is filled with government employees and nominees who move from administration to administration regardless of politics. Robert Gates served as defense secretary in George W. Bush’s and Barack Obama’s administrations. Ajit Pai and Mignon Clyburn served on the Federal Communications Commission during the Obama and Trump administrations.
Republicans and Democrats tend to tap previous administrations for guidance when it comes to setting up their own. There’s a reason the Biden administration contains multiple former Obama administration officials while Obama’s first term featured multiple ex-Clinton alums. Trump’s administration featured a few George W. Bush holdovers, while the Bush administration featured plenty of George H.W. Bush veterans. These people aren’t traitors or enablers; they know how the federal government works.
It’s entirely possible that some joined the Trump administration not because they believed in the MAGA agenda but to keep him in check and promote better policies. This is the same Trump who signed a major justice reform bill into law, a measure supported by both Republicans and Democrats. It makes zero sense to place these people on some sort of list when there’s no evidence of illegal behavior.
There’s a time and a place for accountability, whether it’s at the ballot box or through the court system if wrongdoing is proven. There’s also nothing wrong with raising an eyebrow when someone like Stephen Miller or Steve Bannon ends up working for or advising a campaign or organization. However, there were good people in the Trump administration who wanted only to serve their country and positively impact the lives of others. I don’t think this new brand of McCarthyism benefits anyone except those looking to burn witches.
A final thing worth considering. Would Never Trumpers prefer that only MAGA toadies were in the Trump administration? Or those who played the adult in the room so he didn’t go completely nightmarish?
Taylor Millard is a freelance writer in Texas. His work has been published at HotAir, the Washington Examiner, and Reason.