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Consider the Bootlicker

Trump’s time in office was a group effort. Here’s a taxonomy of the grifters, sycophants, and opportunists who made it all possible for the last four years.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Trump era is not yet over, and the Biden administration has not yet begun. There are still another two months for horrible things to continue to happen and then another four years for, hopefully, slightly less horrible things to happen after that.

In that interim period, as the Biden transition team gets rolling and the Trump administration packs its boxes, there will be a group of people worth watching—the ones who stand in front of their desk as the lights flicker off, a forlorn look engraved on their face, their fingertips brushing back the dust from their framed photo of themselves cheesing with Trump, a single tear splashing on the glass. They will wonder what’s next and, for a brief moment, they won’t have an answer. They will find somebody else, of course. Another malicious force to hitch themselves to as a means to exploit and enrich themselves. They always do. These are the bootlickers.

The Designated Smoochers of the Presidential Tush

At the end of the day, there are no winners here, just legends. These are the all-stars. The people Trump never even asked to jump but who still asked him, How high, Mr. President? I’m talking Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie. The big hitters. These sellouts spent the lead-up to the 2016 election intoning about the dangers of a Trump presidency only to turn heel the moment they sensed the wind blowing the other way. The people who looked at Trump’s relationship with Jared and said, “Damn, I want that.

While Cruz is obviously the fasciest (er, flashiest) of the group—it’s difficult to beat his decision to line up in the Senate even after the president repeatedly landed crude insults against both him and Heidi Cruz—Graham, in particular, stands out. This was a man who was a mainstay on national news programs during the 2016 primaries, calling Trump a racist and xenophobe, claiming he did not stand for conservative values, and rebuking Trump for having supporters like David Duke. And yet, when he started looking ahead to the business of enacting conservative sicko fantasies in judicial appointments and tax-based class war, along with his 2020 Senate race (which he did win), he plopped himself deep down into Trump’s pockets. Then again, Christie stanned this man so hard that he landed in the intensive care unit for a week due to Covid-19. Any way you play it, this ultimately becomes a game of splitting hairs. That’s what happens when you’re talking about the best. Each member of this group gets to lay their head down at night knowing that no matter what the future holds, they are a true Bootlicker’s Bootlicker, an inspiration to all who hope to suckerfish their way to the top.

The “Sir, Sir! SIR!” Fake-Out Grandstanders

Now, while these folks aren’t quite in the god-tier of the aforementioned standouts, they have proven a useful bunch for both Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Republican Senators Ben Sasse and Susan Collins are the perfect encapsulation of this brand of politician. The pair spent the past four years performing their disgust for Trump in the media while openly spending their crucial Senate votes advancing both his legislative agenda and his stacking of the federal courts because—surprise—they actually want all the same things. They likely sneer at those sniveling at Trump’s feet like Graham and Cruz, thinking themselves more heroic or justified. They’re neither, of course: just delusional and more manipulative. 

On Monday, Susan Collins, true to form until the end, wished President-elect Biden congratulations on his “apparent” victory.  

We salute you! 

The UnGodlies

There is no forgiveness to be found here—and nobody seeking it, either. Franklin Graham Jr., Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Paula White. The truth is, these people were blights on society before Trump ever dipped his toe in the Republican primary. At their spiritual cores, this broad group of pastors cashing in on the notion that an imperfect vessel can be used to spread the Lord’s word to justify Trump’s actions are capitalists and opportunists, not Christians. Spreading Trump’s message was always a calculated financial and long-game theocracy-building decision, because they recognized they could meld their already deranged messages with his racist and anti-Muslim rhetoric and rake in even more followers and tithes. The only redeeming quality about this group is their willingness to look like complete and total weirdos for the internet:

The Young and the Fascists

This is the group that is the most personally troubling, solely because their work is focused on taking advantage not of senior citizens or the Beltway punditry but of teens and young adults. Kaitlin Bennett, Charlie Kirk, and the whole Turning Points operation, Ben Shapiro, even Stephen Miller—these incel influencers are opportunists like the rest of the lot, but their grift is focused on convincing suburban teens that America was always theirs, that nonwhite immigrants are a national security threat, and taxes are oppression. 

The latest to emerge from this den is Congressman-elect Madison Cawthorn, a 25-year-old from North Carolina who followed Trump’s playbook of pretending to be a conservative outsider, fictionalizing his own success story, and playing to right-wing catnip like vaguely protecting the Second Amendment and restricting abortion access. With voters latching onto the hot topics and smoothing over his casual visit to the Eagle’s Nest, he cruised to an election victory last week. People like this are the heroes of every kid in college who wears a bowtie to class, and they will all continue to be around and popular until their younger, hotter replacements turn up in a couple of years and make them irrelevant. May they all eat shit until then.

The Obedient Media Types

This is the part of the political press that spent four years predicting a “pivot” that never came, praising moments of mild coherence from the brainworm-addled president, and basically failing to serve the press’s most essential, adversarial function. Pick your poison: stenographers at The New York Times, big check–collecting cable news talking heads, the CNN bookers who gave routine airtime to liars and racists. Because they remain tethered to a sick desire to role-play West Wing scenes, they validated the president by treating his actions as part of an advanced chess game and, in service of some false idea of objectivity, danced around simple questions like whether Trump was racist

Their defining moment perhaps came when CNN’s Van Jones literally said Trump “became president in that moment,” after a limp speech to Congress. There was no more useless group, and there’s little hope any of them will be much use in the years to come. Yet, like the rest of them, there’s little hope that we’ll never hear from them again once Trump hops into that helicopter in January. After all, a bootlicker is nothing else if not persistent.