Everything Trump Touches Dies: A Republican Strategist Gets Real About the Worst President Ever
- By Rick Wilson
- Free Press
- 336 pp.
- Reviewed by Sunil Dasgupta
- October 1, 2018
This deliciously acerbic take-down of the 45th president feels oddly late to the party.
Reading Rick Wilson’s Everything Trump Touches Dies in the late summer of 2018 feels like reading the Bible in the weeks before the crucifixion. American democracy is nearing its demise, the Romans are washing their hands, and this story is being told by a born-again tribune who got out before things turned really bad. The story is missing the hope of resurrection, and its ranty-comedic approach betrays helplessness rather than truth-telling.
But who can put it down?
The plotline and characters of the story are well known and the writing often resembles an annotated cast list, but what makes the book unputdownable is who is telling it. Wilson is nothing if not knowing of this selling proposition, so he sets it up right from the work’s subtitle.
“There are a lot of books on the market decrying Trump from the left,” he writes, but “Trump and Trumpism need a critique from the right that isn’t just a long swoon and reach for the smelling salts.” And Wilson, the guy Republicans called from the “back of a police car outside the shady massage parlor,” is the man who never swoons or reaches for the smelling salts.
Not only is Wilson tough, but he is filled with foresight, starting in about 2015, when Donald Trump descended that escalator to announce his run for the presidency. What happened before, you ask? “The creature that emerged after Sarah Palin crawled from the political Hellmouth in 2008 kept growing, hungry not for policy victory that realigned the regulatory state, but for liberal tears, atavistic foot-stomping rages, and purity over performance.”
In other words, Palin gave political birth to Trump. Of that time, Wilson draws moral equivalence for his actions:
“No, Democrats, don’t get smug and morally superior; your team has our analogues, and your base loves the mirror-image red meat itself. I am not here to apologize for leaving your candidates in smoking, radioactive craters.”
It is just this kind of been-to-hell-and-back bravado that lends credibility to Wilson’s criticism from the right. There are few parables we fall for more than those of redemption. Even without the Resurrection chapter, Wilson’s personal journey from Republican attack dog to country-over-party moralist is compelling in the same way that Bill Clinton sold his own redemption and left the White House with sky-high ratings after his own impeachment.
It also boosts the value of the inside dirt he scatters throughout the book as credibility markers, but there are few new names named. Well-known Trump-chumps like Reince Preibus and Paul Ryan, however, get the full treatment of that “acid-tongue” Wilson says he owns.
True to the book’s title, page after page runs a list of everything Trump touched: Republicans; more Republicans; the Republican Party; Republicans in Congress; Republicans who looked the other way; fringe Republicans like Steve Bannon and Paul Manafort; Evangelicals who would rather be Republican first; and Republican issues like limited government and constitutionalism.
Wilson sees the 2016 presidential election as a contest for the soul of the party as much as it was a selection of the leaders of the free world. Trump, it turns out, not only won that contest handily, but has now remade Wilson’s beloved old GOP. Consequently, Wilson finds the nation perched precariously: headed either to a civil war where people like Wilson mysteriously die first, or a possible national reset, a kumbaya that, in the past, he might have criticized the Democrats for naïvely wanting.
In a chapter addressed to Democrats, Wilson finds that their party is also inadequate for contemporary politics. Sure, Barack Obama blew away the GOP in two consecutive national elections, but his party lost tremendously in other areas, including: 11 governor’s mansions, 12 Senate seats, 69 House seats, 1,100 state assembly seats, and, of course, the presidency to an improbable candidate.
“Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, memes, and other appurtenances of campaigning are necessary, but not necessarily sufficient…You need to buckle down, get the data, targeting, and operational things right,” Wilson says.
Obama acolytes David Plouffe, David Axelrod, and Jim Messina, among others, clearly knew these secrets way back in 2008. So, really, Trump’s win couldn’t be pinned on all that. A few pages on, it turns out that the problem was Hillary, the wrong candidate with nothing to her claim except “first woman president.”
That, and, of course, the fact that Democrats don’t really understand Middle America. Somehow, still, after a massive rant of a book, Wilson, the hard-nosed political operative, finds it acceptable that the party he helped create saw Donald Trump as a better candidate for president than Hillary Clinton.
As a “mea freaking culpa” then, the book falls woefully short. As an analysis of the rise of Trump and Trumpism, it covers old ground. As an inside look into the Republican party, it is shallow. As the canary in the coalmine, it is too late.
This is something the comedian Dennis Miller might have written if he ever defected from Trumplandia. The book, therefore, is entertaining and has reached a number of bestseller lists. But there is a newer book out that fills in the holes left in this one. I can’t wait to read Bob Woodward’s Fear.
Sunil Dasgupta teaches politics and government at UMBC at the Universities at Shady Grove.