Former RNC Spokesman Tim Miller Recounts 'the Republican Road to Hell' in New Book: 'I Was a Dark Artist'

Tim Miller, a former Republican "hitman," tells PEOPLE about the shift in the party and why his former friends and colleagues stayed on the MAGA train

Former RNC Spokesman Tim Miller Details 'Republican Road to Hell' in New Book
The author. Photo: Sophie Berard Photography

Tim Miller doesn't have much hope for the Republican party he once loved.

For years, he was a self-described "hitman" for the GOP, until the 2016 presidential election when the former RNC spokesman publicly announced he voted for Hillary Clinton — the same candidate he'd tried to undermine three years before.

In an interview about his new book, Why We Did It: A Travelogue From the Republican Road to Hell, Miller takes a critical (and acerbic) look back at the rationalizations that allowed him, a gay man, to do the political dirty work of his conservative, sometimes bigoted clients. After he focuses the lens on himself, he turns it on his fellow political operatives to explain why they continued on the "road to hell," leading to the Donald Trump presidency and its riotous aftermath.

"If I wanted to keep doing political writing, I needed to be candid about the areas where I felt I was complicit or was participating in the ways that our country has unraveled politically," Miller, now an MSNBC analyst and writer for The Bulwark, tells PEOPLE. "Most importantly, I felt like if I was going to talk about other people and judge other people and be an analyst that had any credibility, I needed to be candid about myself."

Former RNC Spokesman Tim Miller Details 'Republican Road to Hell' in New Book

For Why We Did It, Miller interviewed former colleagues — many of whom had previously bashed Trump either privately or publicly before his unexpected presidential win — and delves into their various reasons for supporting him. Miller also analyzes the need and ambition driving Trumpian figures like Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer and Elise Stefanik. (His categories of such people range from "The Nerd-Revenging Team Player" and "The Strivers" to "The Cartel-Cashing, Team-Playing, Tribalist Trolls." Miller most relates to the "Enabler" category, describing himself as "the onetime Compartmentalizer-in-chief" in his book.)

Miller is especially disturbed by political actors like Rep. Stefanik, who he says was a "moderate Republican" during her early campaign and advocated for better treatment of the climate, immigrants and LGBTQ+ people. "I think she will be on the short list for the vice presidency of the United States next time," says Miller. "And she's done it all through a completely bad faith heel turn that eliminates everything that she espoused in that first campaign. All the people that worked for her, none of them work for her anymore."

But Miller wants to dispel the misconception that everyone who played nice with Trump — who was impeached twice, has been accused by numerouswomen of sexual misconduct (which he's denied), and could be heard encouraging supporters who then attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 — is "evil." Miller explains that "these are people who have good traits and bad" and have their own perspectives and reasons for getting on the MAGA wagon. That's not to excuse their behavior, he explains. It just means they've continued to play "the game," even after the Republican party completely reframed itself in a way Miller could no longer stomach.

Former RNC Spokesman Tim Miller Details 'Republican Road to Hell' in New Book
Courtesy Tim Miller

"The game" isn't Miller's phrase. It's one that people in the business of politics use to describe their end goal: secure power, or be in the presence of power, by taking out hits on the enemy. The current media and social media landscape, filled with content meant to incense viewers instead of report hard news, is the perfect feeding ground for this type of politicking, Miller explains in his book.

"One of the alternate titles for the book was Confessions of a Republican Hitman," Miller says. "I was a dark artist, if you will. My job in politics was PR, but mostly negative PR, opposition research and putting up negative information about political opponents. And that whole industry, I look back on now and think, it seems very clear how we were inflaming the public."

This is a direct shift from the George H.W. Bush years when public service was still a focus, Miller explains. The shift made space for the likes of Trump, who has "some of the unique mental pathologies that make him uniquely dangerous," explains Miller. "He has this shamelessness superpower."

Before the 2016 presidential election, Miller started to realize just how dangerous "the game" was and began to extricate himself from it. He explains that when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage in June 2015, he realized his habit of compartmentalizing some of the issues he cared about most, like gay marriage, was no longer working. It was a "big wake up call," he says.

Former RNC Spokesman Tim Miller Details 'Republican Road to Hell' in New Book
Tim Miller. Courtesy Tim Miller

"I wasn't allowed to keep the gay issue over in a box in the back of my brain," says Miller, who is now married to his partner and has a child. "I was like, 'I'm at the RNC right now. I should be celebrating. And instead I'm helping them draft a statement about why this was wrong.'"

After Miller worked as communications director on Jeb Bush's 2016 presidential campaign, he joined Our Principles PAC, which was a group of Republicans fighting against Trump's presidential run. A few months after Trump won the Republican nomination, Miller got a call from Todd Ricketts, whose family's money had funded the PAC. Ricketts wanted Miller to join a new PAC with the purpose of getting Trump elected.

Miller thought it was a joke at first. "I was like, 'I guess I was the only one who believed this s--- when we were talking about how Trump had to be stopped," Miller remembers. He and Katie Packer Beeson, the executive director of Our Principles, were the only ones who didn't join the new group, Future 45, according to Why We Did It.

More than five years later, Miller is still shocked by his colleagues' about turn. But he hopes that his book will cause some of them and the other Trump supporters he worked with to do some reflection. More importantly, he wants people to take a hard look at the "comforting lies" they tell themselves when confronting ethical quandaries.

Former RNC Spokesman Tim Miller Details 'Republican Road to Hell' in New Book
Jeb Bush and Tim Miller. Courtesy Tim Miller

But Miller doesn't think the Republicans who have secured their positions by getting on the Trump bandwagon will ever fully get off, even once Trump is no longer a big political force.

"The demonizing of the left, the radicalizing their own voters ... feeding the crocodile more and more meat to get them more increasingly rabid, I see that continuing," says Miller, who adds that many politicians and political operatives in the GOP are being guided by the belief that "the most important purpose of public service is actually punishing your enemies rather than being a leader that represents the whole country."

Case in point: the response to the Jan. 6 insurrection. (On January 6, 2021, attendees of a Trump rally attacked the U.S. Capitol upon urging by then President Trump, who had been spreading false accusations of a stolen election for months. Currently, the U.S. House committee is holding public hearings about what happened that day.)

While some people thought Jan. 6 would result in politicians distancing themselves from Trump and the MAGA base, Miller says it was more incentive to stay.

"They all knew Trump was bad already, right, before January 6th, but they had justified sticking with him because they needed to stay in the mix or they needed to help their career," says Miller. "Or because they decided the left is a greater evil, or they decided that they cared about the game and their tribals team more than they care about particulars."

Former RNC Spokesman Tim Miller Details 'Republican Road to Hell' in New Book
Former First Lady Laura Bush and Tim Miller. Courtesy Tim Miller

He continues, "All those things were still going to be true after January 6th. And all January 6th showed those enablers was Trump's power. Look at the power he has over these voters that we need. He was able to convince them to storm the damn Capitol!"

(In February, the Republican National Committee announced that the attack on the Capitol was "legitimate political discourse" and reprimanded Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois for participating in the House investigation, according to the New York Times.)

Miller explains that the overturn of Roe v. Wade is further proof that the Republican party will continue to focus on punishing its enemies, rather than watching out for its constituents. He says that politicians who are "genuine pro-life" would restrict abortion after a certain number of weeks during pregnancy and would also emphasize things like prenatal care and paid family leave. (Not to say such restrictions would be okay with pro-choice advocates, he says, but there could have been a different way to go about "responsible governance.")

"That's not what is happening in these states. You can already see it coming with the bounties in Texas, they're going to restrict abortion and go after the women and the doctors, and the activists that are fighting for abortion rights," Miller says. "I think that's really scary. And I think that that part is going to escalate."

Even if Trump doesn't run again — though Miller thinks he will — the former Republican "dark artist" believes the GOP will continue to operate as it has since the Trump presidency.

"Anybody that is wish casting that John McCain is going to come back through that door is just lying to himself," says Miller. "It's not going to happen."

Why We Did It is on sale now.

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