President of the United States Donald J. Trump at CPAC 2017 February 24th 2017
President of the United States Donald J. Trump at CPAC 2017 February 24th 2017 Credit: Michael Vadon/FLICKR

David Drucker of Vanity Fair has been talking to Republican political consultants about how they are advising their clients to talk about the president.

“Your heart tells you that he’s bad for the country. Your head looks at polling data among Republican primary voters and sees how popular he is,” said one Republican strategist who, like most of the nearly two dozen I interviewed for this story, requested anonymity in order to speak candidly and protect their clients. “It would be malpractice not to advise clients to attach themselves to that popularity.”

Never mind the president’s low national approval ratings; his temper tantrums and chaos at the White House. If you want to win nomination in your Republican primary and, in the hardening red state-blue state divide, the general election that follows, embrace Trump and hold on tight. “To break the dam, you have to put cracks in it, and here we are plugging up the cracks,” this strategist added. “It’s really cynical, but so is politics.”

Once a mercenary picks a side and accepts the check, it’s best not to think too hard about who ought to win the war. Are you fighting for the wrong side? If your army wins, will it be bad for the country and the world? Is your leader even a German patriot or he is some Austrian interloper with dangerous ideas that will bring ruin to your people? However bad he is, he surely can’t be as bad as the Bolsheviks.

Oh, look, I came to the fork in the road and took the Godwin Path. Silly me.

Upton Sinclair once astutely observed that “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” We could say the same thing about getting a man to do something. These consultants are in a genuine quandary, I admit, but they already too much resemble defense attorneys who know that their clients are guilty. It says a lot that they’re in the same ethical limbo but without the high-minded principle to back them up that everyone deserves an adequate legal defense.

After all, their clients’ freedom is not on the line. They aren’t serving a useful purpose, like assuring that the police and prosecutors respect people’s civil rights. It’s not the case that it’s better that nine undeserving politicians win their elections than that one deserving one lose his. From an ethical point of view, this is cynicism in the service of appeasement and collusion, all done for simple career preservation and money.

No one is really forcing them to continue in their line of work, and if the only honest advice they can give is that their clients do the wrong thing (as they see it), they can’t fall back on the idea that they have a responsibility to render their best counsel to paying customers. They only need consider what an ethical or spiritual consultant would say, and that’s pretty obvious: “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at