Miles Taylor was chief of staff to former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen during the Trump administration. Under the name “Anonymous,” Taylor published the widely discussed 2018 New York Times op-ed “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.”
In that article, Taylor attempted to assure those Americans horrified by the Trump regime that there were true patriots at the highest levels of the administration avidly trying to rein in the president’s worst instincts, and by doing so to rescue the country and the world from calamity.
Taylor’s op-ed made him into Donald Trump’s personal enemy and the target of a political witch hunt. Like other Trump administration officials who have spoken out against the destructive personality cult around the twice-impeached former president, Taylor has received numerous death threats. He describes the aftermath of that article, and his subsequent book “A Warning,” as equivalent to a “self-detonation” of his personal life. Taylor’s most recent op-ed, “Inside the fight for the GOP’s soul,” recently appeared in the Deseret News.
In the first part of his conversation with Salon, Taylor expressed the view that Trump’s coup attempt on and after Jan. 6 (which continues) and attack on the Capitol was entirely predictable given his temperament and values — and that Republican leadership and Trump regime insiders had feared such an outcome for years. Taylor also warned that today’s Trump-led Republican Party and larger neofascist movement are the country’s most serious national security threat.
In this second part of his conversation with Salon, Taylor explains why he chose to speak out against the Trump administration — and why his peers, for the most part, have remained silent. Extreme fear of Trump and his enforcers, Taylor says, compelled other senior members of the administration to offer little or no resistance, even though they too could see the immense harm Trump was doing to the country.
Finally, Taylor issues a grim prediction: Even if Donald Trump himself is conclusively defeated or removed from public life, the damage done by Trump and his movement have done may take decades to heal.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Millions of Republicans apparently support Trump’s Big Lie about the 2020 election and are willing to accept political violence to remove Joe Biden from office. The Republican Party has become a personality cult built around Trump. Any Republican who dissents from the personality cult is purged. How did the Republican Party go so horribly wrong?
The scenes of the chaos that we are now seeing were sown before Donald Trump decided he was going to enter the presidential race.
The GOP civil war consists of three phases. Phase one is open hostilities. That was when the Tea Party movement rose from the far right as a “small-L” libertarian insurgency. It was an ideological movement that eventually morphed and became the cult of personality around Trump. It emerged and went to war with the center of the GOP. These would be the Paul Ryans and the John Boehners. That period of open hostilities ended, over the course of almost a decade, with Donald Trump essentially commandeering the far right and transforming it to his benefit.
Leading into the second period of the civil war is what I call “submission”: Trump wins, he forces the more moderate side of the GOP into submission or into silence, and then governs for about four years with little to no internal opposition.
We’ve entered the third phase, which I call “rebellion.” It happened toward the end of the Trump administration, with a number of people who had served around Donald Trump. His former chief of staff, John Kelly. His former national security adviser, John Bolton. His former secretary of defense, Jim Mattis. They rebel. They come out publicly and they basically say, “This is a very bad, terrible, dishonest man.”
There was the nascent rebellion, of course, in the form of the never-Trumpers who all along had warned against Trump.
I call it a rebellion because they represent only a fraction of the Republican Party. The party is still commanded by pro-Trumpers who are willing to directly follow his orders. Now, that’s not hyperbole. Kevin McCarthy flies down to Mar-a-Lago to get Trump’s orders.
It is unclear how the rebellion ends.
It’s a really different environment. This is because of Trump in many ways. Trump is the person who has given a permission slip to the people who want to inject violence into American politics as a means of intimidation, to silence the opposition.
There is a possibility that a rational insurgency can counterbalance this. I think it will take several cycles. I think it would take us perhaps 10 years to rebalance the GOP toward that side of rationality and away from the radicals. And it’s tough to predict where it will end up. I think the roots of this were back in the Obama administration and began with a failure to make progress.
The Tea Party movement was allowed to rise because they thought Republican leaders were not getting things done and were weak. That’s probably because there wasn’t as much cooperation as there should have been with the Obama administration. The fault lies on both sides there. I believe that the Obama administration did not work nearly as hard as they could have to reach across the aisle to Republicans, and vice versa. Ultimately, I see the roots of the present discord in the Republican Party planted in that moment, well before Trump’s rise. Donald Trump merely took advantage of what he saw as a volatile situation that he could commandeer to his benefit.
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I would locate the origins back in the post-civil rights era white backlash and the Republican Party’s embrace of the Southern strategy. How was Barack Obama ever going to be able to deal with a Republican Party that literally thought he was a black usurper? And who are these “rational” Republicans? How would you define them, compared to the party as a whole?
There are likely some decent human beings who are leaders and elected officials that still belong to the Republican Party. But as a group, Republicans in Congress voted in support of Trump’s policies almost 100 percent of the time. If these “rational” and “respectable” Republicans actually oppose Donald Trump, then why support his policies? I believe we need an alliance to defeat Trump and the larger neofascist movement, but those Republicans who helped to create this disaster need to be held accountable.
Behind the scenes, and some will also say this publicly, they will say, “Yeah, I supported this agenda legislatively most of the time, because on most of the issues that came to us, his White House, his administration, his departments and agencies were governing to the right.” They were governing as conservatives. It was a confluence of interests. That does not mean that they necessarily supported Trump’s belligerent brand of politics.
But that’s why there should be, I think a second rating when it comes to these things. Did they support Trump’s agenda? Well, that does not necessarily mean they supported Trump, right? There was clearly some ideological alignment. Trump did, in some ways, govern as a conservative. I would argue, however, that Trump actually did not govern as a conservative in the way many people claimed he did at the time. In many ways, Trump was the antithesis of a conservative.
I believe there has to be a separate measure of how Republicans supported the agenda — but what did they do about the man? Because in some ways, the man is a more important concern than the bill that they’re voting on.
I thought that in the best case, Trump would govern as a conservative and we’d get some good policies out of this. He might be a lunatic, but we’d make it out unscathed. But as the weeks wore on and we spent time with him in person, it was clear, just from a very basic level, if you met a regular person like this as a bank teller, you would say, “This person’s mentally unstable, I’m going to get back in line and go to a different teller.” But Trump was the man with his button on the nuclear codes.
Donald Trump is not just a bad conservative. He is an anti-conservative. That is what differentiates him from these rational Republicans. The Republicans who still have their eyes open say, “Here were the values of the party of Lincoln. This man quite clearly does not meet the mark and we’ve got to move on.” But unfortunately, when you put that question to most of these people, their values clash with their self-interest — or what they perceive to be their self-interest. Thus they’re afraid to come out and go against Trump, they just hope that they can outlast him.
And that’s what most of these people like Kevin McCarthy think, who I saw up close as he was grappling with Trump’s rise. Most of them felt like, “We’ll just wait it out. We’ll ride it out.” And a lot of people, early in the administration, said, “We’ll just ride it out.” But it was way worse than that. There’s no riding this out. What Trump represents has now infected the country’s politics. Trump could disappear tomorrow and forever, but we would still be grappling with the problem for a whole generation.
How did you make the choice to speak out against then Trump and what he was doing to the country? Why did so many others within the administration choose to remain quiet?
Fear is the answer. Alex Vindman told me, “Look, the objective of intimidation is to silence, and it tends to work on most people. The only way to counter it is to not be silent.” It sounds very simple, but that’s kind of the ethic that both he and I were raised with. You have to cross that threshold, get past intimidation about something that’s standing in your way, and vocalize the truth. Most adults, like the children hiding under the bed, are inhibited from doing the right thing out of a sense of fear. The important question for us to ask ourselves is, “What do people who have not spoken out about what they know to be true about Donald Trump fear? What are they so afraid of?”
I’ve spent so much time with these people in the administration, trying to convince them, even in year one, to start publicly opposing the president. If I start publicly opposing the president from my position, that’s not going to mean anything. But on certain issues, issue for issue, I was like, “Look, we’ve got to go out there and just say he’s wrong, publicly.” But people were afraid.
In that instance, they were afraid of losing their jobs in the administration. I weigh that type of decision-making very unfavorably. Look, this issue is more important than you and your job. As time went on, and it became clear how obsessed Donald Trump was with the politics of personal destruction, that fear started to morph a little bit. People became concerned that by opposing the president, he would come after them personally. It wouldn’t just be their job. It would be their future career prospects that would be at stake if they opposed him.
That fear evolved, toward the end of Trump’s administration, into a much more visceral fear of potential violent retribution. And I’m talking about former Cabinet secretaries, sitting members of Congress and others who personally confessed to me, “I don’t think I can join you in rising up against this guy because I’ve got to worry about my family’s safety.” I didn’t see it going there with those people. I didn’t anticipate how much I was going to hear that as a response. They would say to me, “Look, I’ve got kids and this is too crazy right now.”
Trump has been successful in wielding fear to silence his opposition. There’s a much larger opposition to Donald Trump out there, and they are largely still silent because he’s shown so effectively that he will go after his enemies. I anticipated this when I wrote the op-ed in the Times, but I didn’t anticipate how fast it would happen.
When the original “Anonymous” op-ed was published, that same day Trump tweeted in all caps, “TREASON?” Then he demanded that the Justice Department reach out to the New York Times and tell them they needed to hand me over for “national security” reasons. Trump is medieval. That sends a signal to any other potential dissenters.
There are plenty of other examples besides my own. Trump makes examples out of people and that fear works, it intimidates them and it silences them. The only way around it is to look it in the eye and say, “OK, I’ll deal with those repercussions. But this is more important.”
How would you convince someone — for instance, someone on the left who always loathed Trump — to trust you and join together in an alliance with other anti-Trump Republicans and conservatives to save the country?
We are all unified by the same sentiment. We want to make politics boring again. That is true whether you agree or disagree with me on the moral decisions, or any of the decisions that I had to make, or that other people who quit in protest or who didn’t support Trump had to make.
That may be true of Republicans in general, even if you question their morality. If you are not a MAGA person, what probably unites us is that you just want politics to be boring again. You want it to work. You want it to not be terrifying. You just want it to be boring. Moreover, that does not mean that good things can’t happen — that can happen in a boring way too.
One of the best ways to explain why Donald Trump wasn’t a conservative is that his government got so big. It was in your life every day, it was in your head every single day. There’s not a person I know in my extended friends and family group who didn’t, on a daily basis, have to encounter the tumult of the four years of Trump. It was mentally and physically exhausting for this country.
We may disagree on the role of government in society, on our politics and on federal spending levels. But most of us agree, a silent majority, that we’re exhausted, and we want to move past it and go back to the golden days of arguing with each other about policy. I would love to go back to the period where Barack Obama’s khaki suit was a controversy. Can we make that our lives again?
If someone subscribes to that viewpoint, my response to them is, “All right, let’s team up.” We both want that. We may disagree about how we got here, we may disagree about where we’re going, but we agree that to get out of this mess, we’ve got to make politics boring again. Let’s get rid of the people who want to make it violent. Let’s get rid of the people who want to wield it for personal gain and benefit. Let’s get rid of the people who support a man who makes it all about personality and not about principle.