‘Everything Trump Touches Dies’

SOME SAY DONALD TRUMP IS THE PRICE THIS NATION IS paying for too many years of partisan bickering and division. Some say ‘Merica’s forgotten workin’ men rose up in a single, inchoate scream of rage at a system that for too long provided them with nothing but empty promises, bad trade deals, and government-subsidized carbs. Some claim it’s from a generation weaned on talk radio, Fox News, and the comments sections of a million Tea Party websites. Some say it’s a sign of a merciless God testing us to the breaking point.

I still think it’s because we didn’t let that old gypsy woman vote when she couldn’t produce a photo ID back in 2012.

All those reasons fall short of the mark, though, don’t they? By now, it should be clear that Trump’s election was a sign of the coming Apocalypse, soon to be followed by a rain of blood, seven years of darkness, and a plague of frogs. That may be exaggerating slightly, but we do have a plague of Pepes, the cartoon frog meme that is a favorite symbol of Trump’s alt-reich fan base, and there’s an odds-on chance that our grandchildren will hear this tale while hunched over guttering fires in the ruins of a radioactive Mad Max–style hellscape.

The Trumpian heroic narrative is simple; powerful alpha male warrior descends golden escalator. Forgotten Americans rise, don red helmets. Evil sorceress Hillary is defeated in single combat. Great feasting and rejoicing by the unwashed masses follows. Swamp is drained and all live MAGA ever after.

The truth is, as you might imagine, more prosaic, more horrible, and more human.

The mythology of Donald Trump’s rise to the Oval Office is rich in Trump-aggrandizing explanations that ignore the enablers, normalizers, media fellators, ideological arsonists, and moral ciphers who make up Washington’s and New York’s political and media culture. They’re the proximate reasons Trump was able to overcome the field of almost a dozen serious Republicans, and Ben Carson.

No, MAGA-hat fans, you didn’t simply rise in your mighty millions and elect The Donald all by your deplorable selves. You had help, much of it from the very elites you so revile. (“Revile” means hate. Sorry. I know you’re in an oxy stupor much of the time, so I’ll try to move slowly and not use big words.)

‘Everything Trump Touches Dies’ by Rick Wilson. 336 pp. Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Yes, Trump’s election shocked the world, but the forces, conditions, and players who enabled and empowered Trump’s rise to the Republican nomination and the presidency have been with us all along. They’re perfectly explicable, if honestly embarrassing, to the world’s longest-running democracy.

For all that Trump voters claim to hate the swamp and the coastal elites who populate it, they owe the reptile-American population a note of thanks. The hated New York, DC, and media elites helped Trump more than they’ll admit. I’ll leave Russia’s role in the 2016 campaign to the many outstanding books on the topic, and to that Mueller fellow.

It was the cable networks (and no, not just Fox), the elite media, inert major donors, a monied horde of lobbyists, and the professional conservative activists who ditched principle for revenue, clicks, ratings, and transitory influence. They enabled, empowered, and elected Trump and continue to do so with their rolling coverage of his every presidential distraction strategy.

Without a particular confluence of their attention, resources, and focus, the Trump clown show would have been like every other kooky email chain forwarded by your mom or the contents of some narrow-gauge but high-cray Facebook group like Tea Party Patriots Against the Soros Moon Base. (I know you’re about to search Facebook for TPPASM. The question isn’t whether that’s a real group. The telling factor is that in this era you think it could be.)

The swamp played its role and does to this day; Washington’s culture is nothing if not resilient, adaptable, and resistant to change. I lived in it for years and watched it grind down the most idealistic people into the venal, smug, insular elites America loves to loathe. Washington is the drug-resistant syphilis of political climates, largely impervious to treatment and highly contagious. Donald Trump may have infected Washington with his own nationalist STD, but Washington returned the favor.

In early 2015 the DC political class of lobbyists, staffers, associations, think tanks, and the rest of the Washington ecosystem viewed Donald Trump as a political impossibility. He was the vulgar clown prancing and bellowing on the national stage, but never for a moment someone they could take seriously. The Old Order money liked Jeb Bush. The optimists liked Marco Rubio, the purists Ted Cruz. The 348 GOP candidates on the campaign trail, on the early debate stages, in the political scrum that was the 2016 GOP primary were almost all experienced, successful, and well-staffed. They were, by and large, Serious People. It was the quality of that divided field that let the political version of Gresham’s law sweep Trump into a position where Washington and national Republicans made the most consequential and destructive compromises in modern political history.

Excerpted from Everything Trump Touches Dies: A Republican Strategist Gets Real About the Worst President Ever by Rick Wilson. Copyright © 2018 by Rick Wilson. Excerpted with permission by Free Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.