Mark Leibovich: GOP leaders ‘live in complete fear’ of Trump
Mark Leibovich says post-Trump Washington is a completely different city than the one he chronicled in his 2013 bestseller “This Town.”
“Night and day. It’s like a different world. It feels like that was a comedy of manners,” Leibovich says. “We’re talking about a level of division and a level of derangement that is so much worse than anything we were talking about a decade ago.”
The Atlantic staff writer is detailing the mania that he says has enveloped Capitol Hill since Trump’s 2016 election win in his new book out this week, titled “Thank You for Your Servitude: Donald Trump’s Washington and the Price of Submission,” which focuses on what he calls the “slavishly devoted Republicans” — including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) — “whom Trump drew to his side.”
“Their M.O. throughout all these years has just been complete surrender,” says Leibovich, a former longtime New York Times Magazine correspondent.
“To sort of let [Trump] do what he wants and live in complete fear of him,” he adds.
“I think the less-understood part of the whole Trump story were all the people who made him possible, who all knew better, who all privately have many levels of contempt for him,” says Leibovich.
“I think the gap between what people have said privately about Donald Trump and the absolute adulation for which they’ll talk about him publicly has never been bigger,” he says.
“The pervasive theme here has just been absolute cowardice,” he says.
Leibovich catalogs revealing, and potentially devastating, examples of devotion to and humiliation by the 45th president, whom he dubs the “most immoral and unvirtuous figure ever to occupy the White House.”
One anecdote recounts Reince Priebus learning he had been canned as Trump’s chief of staff via a tweet while riding aboard Air Force One, as the commander in chief “tapped out his lethal Twitter missive from a few feet away.”
In another passage, then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer worried that if Leibovich reported he was applying makeup before a TV interview, he would be emasculated further in the eyes of his boss.
“Don’t you dare!” Spicer exclaimed to Leibovich when the scribe made a note of the makeup application into his tape recorder.
McCarthy, described as a “diamond-level ass-kisser,” sought to explain away a controversial visit last year to Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida resort home, less than a month after condemning his involvement in the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol.
“Look, I didn’t want him to leave the party,” McCarthy told Leibovich.
“People criticize me for having a relationship with the president. That’s my job,” he added.
But the House GOP leader remained tight-lipped when asked if he wanted Trump to launch a 2024 White House bid.
“He flashed me a dirtier look,” Leibovich writes of McCarthy’s response.
“I think it’s a long way away,” the California Republican said. “There’s a lot that can happen between now and then.”
McCarthy’s office did not immediately respond to ITK’s request for comment.
“We’ve created a whole entertainment wing of the party,” former Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told Leibovich. “This has given rise to amoral opportunists who have found they can scale politics much faster than the meritocracy of proving yourself. Instead, they just become quick celebrities and entertainers.”
When ITK wonders if he’s concerned about continued access to D.C.’s GOP power players — particularly after calling Trump’s sycophants in Congress the “most pathetic men in America” in The Atlantic last week — Leibovich says, “It’s funny, when I wrote ‘This Town,’ everyone was like, ‘Well, you’ll never eat lunch in this town again. And these people will never talk to you again.’”
He points out that he’s penned “hundreds of profiles” since then, quipping, “The obvious answer is I’m just charming and irresistible.”
And Leibovich insists that “Thank You for Your Servitude” isn’t just another anti-Trump literary hit job.
“This is not a Trump book. I’m not trying to out-Woodward Woodward,” he says, referring to acclaimed Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward. “I’m not trying to find the ultimate intrigue. And I’m not trying to psychoanalyze anyone. But I do think that the enablers have been sort of the underreported part of all of this.”
Leibovich says that the 76-year-old ex-president’s grip on the Republican Party shows no sign of loosening.
“A former Republican congressman told me recently that the party’s only real plan for dealing with Trump in 2024 involved a darkly divine intervention. ‘We’re just waiting for him to die,’ he said,” Leibovich writes in his book.
“That was it, that was the plan. He was 100 percent serious,” he adds.
The big spoiler for Washington types might be that unlike “This Town,” which famously didn’t include an index to avoid the D.C. cliché of publicity-hungry social climbers just skimming the back of the book to find their names, “Thank You for Your Servitude” comes complete with a guide to everyone’s who’s in it.
“The fact that ‘This Town’ didn’t have an index was sort of just cute at the time, but ultimately it was a pain in the ass,” Leibovich says with a laugh.
“I like look back and think, ‘Wait, did I write that?’” he adds.
“I’ve been victimized by my own cuteness,” he says.