Contemporaries, competitors and friends, they’ve each written a memoir exploring some of the events that have left the electorate so disillusioned. Miller, driven from the GOP by Donald Trump’s depredations, catalogues a “Republican road to hell” he fears “might just go on forever;” Smith, a Democrat, tells a “political love story” that has tested her idealism but nonetheless left it intact.
Stylish and acerbic, Smith has endured plenty of dispiriting experiences as a campaign operative. But they’ve been specific rather than systemic, involving the foibles of individual politicians she has served.
She begins and ends “Any Given Tuesday” with her unsuccessful attempts to help then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York when he faced allegations of sexual harassment. Smith says she remained on his team out of loyalty and respect for his gubernatorial accomplishments before finally accepting that “he looked in our faces and lied” about his misconduct.
Her “first crush” in politics foundered similarly. As a Dartmouth College student, she joined the presidential campaign of smooth-talking Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, whose White House hopes later imploded in the wake of a sex scandal.
“If they seem to be too good to be true, they usually are,” Smith writes. “Public adulation is intoxicating; it’s easy to get sucked in by the trappings of power.”
Miller instead trains a guilty eye on himself and fellow staff members who have propelled so many Republican office-holders in “Why We Did It.” He faults them for corrupting the party from top to bottom, with damaging effects on the nation as a whole.
“America never would have gotten into this mess if not for me and my friends,” Miller writes. “So many of my friends allowed something that was so central to our identity to become so unambiguously monstrous.”
Miller begins and ends with his friend Caroline Wren, a prominent GOP fundraiser. Young colleagues on John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, they would later diverge so profoundly on Trump as to shake his faith in their friendship and much more.
His crisis of Republican faith long preceded Trump. He watched McCain, renowned as a straight-talking maverick in an earlier White House bid, lean on the “comfortable lies” an angry Republican base craved and make Sarah Palin his vice-presidential running mate.
Once drawn to a more genteel version of low-tax GOP conservatism, he issues a brutal indictment of the party’s descent since then. What began with the Tea Party rebellion against Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president, turned into the Trump MAGA movement that has made honesty about his 2020 election defeat a disqualification for leadership.
“We advanced arguments none of us believed,” Miller says. “We made people feel aggrieved about issues we had no intent or ability to solve. … We spurred racial resentments and bigotry among voters while prickling at anyone who might accuse us of racism.”
Miller takes pains to parse the reasons he and his peers remained so long in the service of Trump, who he variously calls “detestable,” “comically unfit” and “truly evil.” In his telling, they range from simple careerism to shared enemies to the belief that in a disfigured party they could help the country more than anyone who might replace them.
As a gay man, Miller struggled privately with the party’s resistance to marriage equality (which, coincidentally, is one of the accomplishments Smith hails in Cuomo’s New York record). Yet even after the 2016 election shook him, he accepted a gig assisting a Trump Cabinet pick before breaking decisively with his party in favor of Never Trump combat.
Their stories reflect today’s juxtaposition of the two parties. Most Republicans remain aligned with Trump in a single-minded drive to regain power as he disdains democracy’s verdict and the rule of law itself. President Joe Biden and fellow Democrats, meanwhile, fight to leverage their slender, hard-won congressional majorities toward progress against national problems including climate change, high health care costs and tax evasion.
The hero of Smith’s tale is Biden Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, an anti-Cuomo of sorts in his honesty and sincerity. Her savvy media advice in his longshot 2020 presidential campaign helped lift him to national prominence.
“For every politician who lets you down … there’s a new fresh face who can redeem your belief in the process,” she observes. “I still believe in the power of politics to improve people’s lives.”
Beyond the likes of Liz Cheney, who last week sacrificed her House seat to defend democracy against Trump, Republican heroism has grown hard to find. Miller closes with his face-to-face attempt to reach common understandings with his one-time confidante Wren, who to his horror had been a “VIP Advisor” to Trump’s January 6, 2021, rally.
Despite hours of alcohol-fueled conversation, it didn’t work. Wren too strongly savors Trump’s desire to smite the “cultural elite” and her own role in the political “game,” according to Miller; should Trump seek the presidency again, she tells Miller, she’ll back his candidacy again even after the violent insurrection.
“Caroline has been sucked in by the cult,” he concludes grimly. “Like many of our parents, grandparents and friends, she’s become unreachable.”