Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has become an eager remora, or sharksucker, to Donald Trump's ever-moving shark, attaching himself to the new predator at the top of the GOP food chain and dedicating himself to cleaning, protecting and polishing the Trumpian image.
Bad as that duty sounds, it does have its compensations. Newt publishes a fawning new biography of our 45th president, "Understanding Trump," with a forward by Eric Trump; the president names Newt's wife Callista to be ambassador to the Vatican. Everybody's happy.
But there are also challenges. Last month, for example, the highly respected Robert Mueller was named as special counsel to investigate Russia's intervention into our election and into any possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Initially, Gingrich could not have been happier:
The former speaker was hardly alone. Republicans and Democrats alike lined up to sing Mueller's praises as the perfect choice, a man with no partisan passions who would go where the facts led, and whose work would be trusted by all sides.
But the shark wasn't happy...
... and now the remora isn't either:
Others in the right-wing media are picking up the theme as well, launching an all-out attack on Mueller's credibility and integrity. On Fox News Monday night, Sean Hannity proclaimed it "time to shut down this political witch hunt." Radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin, among others, have also joined the chorus.
NewsMax founder Christopher Ruddy, a close Trump ally and longtime friend, says the president is seriously considering the step, which Ruddy argues would be a major mistake. And while the White House is pushing back on the story, the official line is that it's "unlikely" that Trump would try to fire Mueller, which is a far cry from saying it would never happen and isn't even being considered.
So how did Mueller go from a man with an "impeccable reputation for honesty and integrity" to a man allegedly conducting a partisan witch hunt against the president? The answer is that Mueller hasn't changed at all. What has changed are the circumstances.
Since Mueller's appointment, James Comey has testified under oath to the Senate that Trump had pressured him to end the investigation and possible prosecution of Trump ally Michael Flynn. He also told the Senate that he had been fired by Trump as FBI director for continuing to investigate possible collusion with Russia, and that Trump had repeatedly tried to solicit pledges of personal loyalty from Comey.¹
In addition, Mueller has assembled a top-notch prosecutorial and investigative team, indicating that he's taking this very seriously. In the past, some of those team members have given campaign donations to Democrats, giving conservatives all the excuse they need to attack them as partisans out to destroy the president, facts be damned.
In a way, I wish Trump would go ahead and do it, just to speed this national tragedy along a bit faster. He technically does have the authority to fire Mueller, although the order would have to be carried out by top Justice Department officials who might very well resign rather than obey it. Firing Mueller would demonstrate once and for all the contempt that Trump feels for the checks and balances built into the system and force Republicans in Congress to make a choice for which they could then be held accountable.
In the meantime, Mueller's firing will loom over the ongoing drama like Chekhov's gun, named after the great 19th century playwright Anton Chekhov -- a Russian of course.
"If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off," Chekhov advised his fellow writers. "If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there."
The prospect of Mueller's firing is now hanging there, for everybody to see. The suspense for the audience is how long Trump can sit there stewing, staring at that rifle, knowing it's there, without pulling it down from the wall and using it.
¹Anybody who witnessed Monday's Cabinet meeting, in which Trump's top appointees groveled before Trump and competed to sing his public praises, saw just how important such pledges must be to the president.