Last September, the New York Times published an op-ed, titled, “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.” Its author, described by the Times as “a senior official in the Trump administration whose identity is known to us,” opted to withhold his or her name and job title from readers, for what could only be described as obvious reasons.
This mysterious official, describing him or herself as a conservative who “want[s] the administration to succeed and think[s] that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous,” went on to describe a White House in which “the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic,” while insisting that “many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.”
Naturally, the column caused a sensation in the days following its publication, sending the White House into a white-hot panic and inducing every pundit in Washington, D.C., and on Twitter to breathlessly speculate on who the unnamed official could possibly be.
Eleven months after the fact, we still do not know the answer to that question. Nor, so far as we can tell, does anyone in the Trump White House—a place, we might add, where the person in question may well still be working today.
Considering that we live with a media-political-industrial complex that generally leaks like a sieve and cannot keep a secret to save its life, it’s worth noting just how remarkable it is that this particular secret has been faithfully maintained for all this time. As we sit here, the identity of the author of this explosive missive remains a mystery to all but a small handful of people, none of whom has spilled the beans—not even to the Times’ own reporters. (The paper’s news and editorial pages are functionally separate entities.)
While I hadn’t paid much thought to this ongoing whodunit for quite some time, it all returned to me last week upon the resignation of Jon Huntsman, Jr., as U.S. ambassador to Russia—a position he has held since October 2017.
Huntsman, 59, is an interesting character in the American political milieu, having previously served as America’s chief diplomat in Singapore in the early 1990s under George H.W. Bush, and later as our man in Beijing under Barack Obama. (Huntsman speaks fluent Mandarin.) In between, he was elected governor of Utah twice—with approval ratings north of 80 percent at times—and in 2012 he even found time to run for president, albeit with extremely limited success.
As the most moderate of Republicans, Huntsman has long presented as something of an odd man out, having committed such party heresies as acknowledging the existence of global warming and the dignity of same-sex marriage. Huntsman has always made a point of marching to the beat of his own drum, speaking freely—often curtly—about issues that every other member of his party would rather avoid. (A tweet from 2011: “To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”)
It’s a tribute to Huntsman’s intelligence and guile that he has accomplished as much as he has, considering how inhospitable the GOP must be to someone of his particular ilk.
Could he be the guy who wrote the Times op-ed? It certainly wouldn’t be out of character. Indeed, the more one thinks about it, the more sense it makes.
That was the feeling of William Saletan in Slate two days after the op-ed ran last fall. In a piece titled, “The Obvious Suspect,” Saletan argued that when you combine the column’s overall style, tone and content, its (over)emphasis on U.S.-Russia relations, and Huntsman’s literal and ideological remove from the Trump White House and Trump himself, the case for Huntsman’s authorship more or less writes itself. It persuaded me then, and it persuades me now.
Of course, all of this “evidence” is circumstantial and speculative at best, and in a way, it doesn’t really matter who wrote the damn thing in the first place. The fact that somebody did—somebody who managed to slip into the Trump orbit only to announce to the entire world how dysfunctional and duplicitous the whole operation is—continues to be the primary, unalterable fact of the matter.
It begs the question: How many of these democracy-loving, Trump-thwarting people are left inside the noxious tent? Have they all since been purged and spit out, or are a fair number of them still lurking, protecting us from the president’s worst instincts on foreign and domestic issues alike? Is it possible we’ve been living with a tethered, Diet Coke Trump all this time, with the unadulterated, full-flavored version still to come?
When it comes to the most amoral chief executive since Richard Nixon suggested bombing the Brookings Institution for sport, it’s worth noting that things can always get worse—which, in this case, they most assuredly will. To the extent that not every individual currently working at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is an unqualified partisan stooge, the ratio has only grown more alarming with each passing week, as the administration hemorrhages competent, apolitical bureaucrats at a record clip with no signs of slowing down.
If the person who penned the Times op-ed is, indeed, still “a senior official in the Trump administration” (whatever that means), I think it is well past time for a sequel. In the meantime, there is an election on November 3, 2020. As a wise man once said, if you want something done, you just may need to do it yourself.