Never Give an Inch review: Mike Pompeo as ‘heat-seeking missile for Trump’s ass’

The former secretary of state wants to be president. His vicious memoir will sell, but he may not find buyers at the polls

Mike Pompeo is prescient, at least. Back in 2016, as a congressman, he warned Kansas Republicans of the danger posed by Donald Trump. Pompeo lamented that the US had already endured more than seven years of “an authoritarian president who ignored our constitution” – meaning Barack Obama – and cautioned that a Trump presidency would be no different.

“It’s time to turn down the lights on the circus,” he said.

Pompeo is an ex-army captain who graduated first in his class at West Point. But in the face of Trump’s triumphs, he turned tail and sucked-up. Pompeo was CIA director then secretary of state. On the job, his sycophancy grew legendary.

“He’s like a heat-seeking missile for Trump’s ass,” a former ambassador recalled to Susan Glasser of the New Yorker.

Never Give an Inch is Pompeo’s opening salvo in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. On cue, he puckers up to Trump, the only declared candidate so far, and thanks Mike Pence, a likely contestant, for bringing him into the fold. But where others are concerned, Never Give an Inch doubles as a burn book.

Pompeo strafes two other possible contenders: Nikki Haley, Trump’s first United Nations ambassador, and John Bolton, Trump’s third national security adviser.

Trump, Pompeo says, branded Bolton a “scumbag loser”. Pompeo thinks Bolton should “be in jail, for spilling classified information”. The Room Where it Happened, Bolton’s tell-all book, evidently ruffled feathers. As for Pompeo’s own relationship with classified documents? “I don’t believe I have anything classified.” It’s not exactly a blanket denial.

Turning to Haley, Pompeo dings her time as UN ambassador – “a job that is far less important than people think” – and her performance in that post.

“She has described her role as going toe-to-toe with tyrants,” he observes. “If so, then why would she quit such an important job at such an important time?”

Trump is largely spared criticism but his family isn’t. Ivanka Trump makes a dubious cameo. Jared Kushner is depicted as someone less than serious.

Pompeo edited the Harvard Law Review. He can write. His memoir is tart and tight. Filled with barbs, bile and little regret, it is an unexpectedly interesting read. It is not the typical pre-presidential campaign autobiography. This one comes with teeth. Pompeo is always self-serving but never bland.

He heaps praise on Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and has kind words for Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

“I’m troubled by the evil that has befallen his country,” Pompeo writes of Ukraine, a year into the Russian invasion. He also says he is “encouraged” that Zelenskiy, a “onetime Jerry Seinfeld” has “turned into a kind of General Patton”.

But while Pompeo deploys the word “authoritarian” more than a dozen times, he never does so in reference to Trump. Trump, remember, has lauded Vladimir Putin as “smart”; praised the Russian president’s war strategy as “wonderful” and “genius”; derided Nato as “dumb”; and unloaded on Joe Biden as “weak”.

Pompeo, the brown-noser-in-chief, has zero to say about this.

As for Netanyahu, Pompeo is silent on Trump’s reported “fuck him” for the Israeli leader. No Trump appointee has ever dared grapple with that breach of decorum.

Pompeo is happy, of course, to blame Obama for alienating Viktor Orban from the US and western Europe, and to sympathize with the Hungarian leader’s efforts to “root his time in office in his nation’s history and Christian faith”. Pompeo’s loyalties are clear. In Hungary this week, Yair Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister’s son, slammed George Soros, the “global elite” and “radical leftist” control of the media.

Pompeo is a fan of Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s defeated former leader, who he says “largely modeled his candidacy for president on President Trump”. Words written, presumably, before the mini January 6 in Brasília. Birds of a feather, etc.

Pompeo also takes Pope Francis and the Catholic church to task over their relationship with China, and derides both the reformist Pope John XXIII and the liberation theology movement of the 1970s. In 2014, five decades after his death, John XXIII was canonized. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, blurbed Pompeo’s book.

As expected, Pompeo basically ignores the insurrection Trump stoked and the attack on Congress it produced. He refers to “mayhem at the Capitol” on 6 January 2021 and targets the “left” for looking to exploit the day’s events, but says nothing of Trump’s concerted effort to subvert democracy and overturn an election.

Pompeo knows the GOP base. Three in five Republicans believe voter fraud birthed Biden’s victory. The same number say Trump did nothing wrong on January 6. Not surprisingly, Pompeo omits mention of his own tweets that day or his appearance before the House January 6 committee.

A video deposition with Mike Pompeo is played during a House hearing investigating the January 6 attack.
A video deposition with Mike Pompeo is played during a House hearing investigating the January 6 attack. Photograph: Getty Images

“The storming of the US Capitol today is unacceptable,” Pompeo tweeted. “Lawlessness and rioting here or around the world is always unacceptable. Let us swiftly bring justice to the criminals who engaged in this rioting.”

Asked about the tweets by committee staff, he responded: “I stand by it.”

He also told Liz Cheney, on the record: “I thought the courts and the certification that took place were appropriate … the vice-president [Pence] made the right decision on the evening of 6 January” to certify Biden’s win.

None of this appears on the page. Instead, Pompeo gleefully recalls how Trump approved of his loyalty.

How well is all this working? Pompeo may well sell books but fail to move the needle. Polls show him at 1% in the notional presidential primary, tied with the likes of Paul Ryan, the former House speaker, and Ted Cruz, the Senate’s own squeegee pest. Pompeo trails Haley and Pence.

The appetite for a Pompeo presidency seems … limited. Like Ron DeSantis, he is grim and humorless. Unlike the governor of Florida, Pompeo has no war chest.


Lloyd Green

The GuardianTramp

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