Paul Kengor: Michael Cohen, Trump’s buddy turned bad boy
Michael Cohen’s face is everywhere. Reviled by Trump supporters, cheered on by Trump opponents. The media has a new bad boy to tar and feather Donald Trump. But before he was the media’s buddy, he was Trump’s buddy.
Cohen isn’t new news to me. I wrote an article in February 2016 titled, “Trump and the Vulgarians at the GOP Gate.” My focus then, and one of my chief concerns about Trump throughout the 2016 campaign, was certain men of obviously low character that Trump surrounded himself with. Some of these guys were clear political sell-outs, hit-men, bullies. I specifically pointed to a fellow named Michael Cohen.
I remember one of the first times Cohen came across my radar — actually, my radio. It was an exchange on Sean Hannity’s show. The obnoxious voice I heard was that of Cohen, described as Trump’s “wingman,” his right-hand man. He was rude, aggressive — ripping the spokespeople for Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who did their best to react in a civil way. I cringed as I listened to his insults.
“Nobody wants them,” sneered Cohen of Cruz and Rubio. “Marco Rubio challenging Donald Trump is like Bambi fighting Godzilla,” he surmised in his thick New York accent. “Marco is trying to be a man (emphasis original) … . The American people look at Marco Rubio and they see nothing. Why? Because he’s done nothing.”
It was scorched-earth rhetoric. Slash and burn. Leave nothing standing. Cohen wasn’t engaging in the typical jousting among party rivals during campaigns; rather, he was like an angry liberal vilifying the conservative movement’s future stars. Actually, that should have been no surprise, given that Trump’s wingman was a lifetime liberal Democrat who voted for Barack Obama.
But most of all, Cohen was vulgar. And if this was a reflection upon his boss, well, that wasn’t good.
For writing that article, Trump loyalists fumed at me and still haven’t forgiven me. A certain type of Trump supporter accepts no criticism whatsoever of Trump.
And yet, it’s striking now to watch those same Trump loyalists turn on Cohen with a vengeance and vitriol that’s chilling. He’s now no longer Trump’s boy but Trump’s rat. He’s a liar, a cheat, a con, a snake. It’s shocking to watch.
For the most obsequious Trump supporters, this willful lack of discernment has been a problem from the outset, leading many critical conservatives to label them Trumpists or blast them as Kool-Aid drinkers. In reality, we all ought to be capable of looking at a man and president like Trump and non-emotionally assessing the good and the bad, from his personality and policies to the people he surrounds himself with. Good grief, no one is always right or always wrong.
And now, here we are in 2019 and this bad guy Cohen that many of us warned about in 2016 has turned on Trump and threatens to take him down for whatever malfeasances Cohen himself might have aided and abetted in 2016. That was a legitimate concern about the guy in 2016. It wouldn’t have hurt Trump loyalists to have listened to some of those criticisms. Their blind support is coming back to bite them right now in Michael Cohen — the “snake” they now denounce but once embraced.
Paul Kengor is a professor of political science and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.