Opinion | When You Don’t Have Trump to Hide Behind

And that was true. But like many other journalists, I didn’t get into the ugliness in some founders’ pasts, such as a 2002 ad by Rick Wilson that tied Max Cleland, a Democratic senator who lost both legs and part of one arm during his military service in Vietnam, to Osama bin Laden. (“Worse than disgraceful,” John McCain said of it at the time. “Reprehensible.”)

Also like many other journalists, I skimmed over questions about the extent to which the Lincoln Project was enriching its leaders. Some answers have recently emerged. The Lincoln Project “raised more than $87 million in the 2020 election cycle,” as Miranda Green reported in New York magazine last week, and “much of the money was paid to firms run by the Lincoln Project’s co-founders, including nearly $25 million to Summit Strategic Communications,” run by Reed Galen. A firm run by another founder, Ron Steslow, received more than $20 million.

We have such specific information now because the filing of financial disclosure forms lags the collection and dispersal of funds by many months. And the Weaver scandal broke only recently not because journalists had known about and ignored his behavior but because the reporters who were tipped off to it finally had the interviews and evidence that they needed.

But the just determination to nail down when Weaver’s colleagues were warned about him, the widespread belief that they’re lying about that, the infighting between them, the exodus of many of them and the coverage of it have a post-Trump feel. His monopoly on our conversations and our fury has been broken up.

Also, consider this: If the Trump of today were the Trump of yore — which is to say, if he had won the election, hadn’t been kicked off social media and was still tweeting to his spleen’s content — he would have fired off such excessively cruel, overwrought nastiness about the Lincoln Project that these attacks would have competed with the organization’s sins for notice and censure. But Trump is off Twitter, which puts others on the spit.

That dynamic may be having an impact on Andrew Cuomo. Would his concealment of Covid-19 deaths among New York’s nursing home residents be sparking as much outrage if Trump were still in the White House to mismanage the pandemic and lie more extravagantly about it than anyone else — and to deflect criticism of his own failings with hyperbolic rants about Cuomo’s? Recall that Cuomo won acclaim during the first chapter of the pandemic in part by specifically styling himself as Trump’s public-relations antonym and holding news conferences that were (supposedly) as factual as Trump’s were fantastical. He no longer has that counterpoint and counterpart to burnish him.

Trump, sadly, isn’t going away: He retains more sway over the Republican Party than any other individual. Candidates who have his blessing, mirror his positions and even try to mimic his style will shape political debates, keep Trumpism alive and give anti-Trumpism continued relevance.

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