Boehner’s response? “There is no Rep—” Here he stops, hesitates, and when pressed, offers “There is [a Republican Party]. But what does that even mean? Donald Trump’s not a Republican. He’s not a Democrat. He’s a populist.”
After nearly three years of finger-wagging “I told you so” bandied about by pundits and commentators who blame Donald Trump’s surprise 2016 win on everything from millennial ambivalence to an immensely unpopular DNC pick to a couple thousand idiots who actually wrote in the name of a dead gorilla on their ballots, it’s nice to see a book that explains the rise of Trumpism as a consequence of the fractured Republican Party.
I mean, that’s only part of it, and all the aforementioned reasons are still legitimate, and it’s at least a little bit Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s fault, but the “Republican Civil War,” as Alberta calls it, definitely helps to explain how things got so bananas.
Trump is barely mentioned for the first third of American Carnage, but his schlubby shadow looms large over the chapters on John McCain and Paul Ryan’s failed presidential runs in addition to the chapters in between that describe Obama’s bipartisan relationship with the Republican Party and their attempts to reclaim power. While Trump is the inevitable conclusion to a party mismanaged for decades, he’s hardly one of the lead characters of this book, which manages to humanize polarizing figures from John Boehner to George W. Bush.
Paul Ryan appears almost as a wide-eyed Sam Seaborn type, full of ideas and energy and an ideology he hoped to fulfill and would later sell his soul to see realized. Alberta tracks Ryan’s rise and fall behind the scenes of multiple administrations, weaving Ryan’s story in with those of the men who left his party in ruins before he could even take a swing as Speaker of the House.
Other Republicans covered include Tim Scott, who fears he will forever be seen as a black man first and a US senator second; Reince Priebus, who burned out spectacularly as Trump’s original chief of staff; Jim Jordan, who, among other disgusting proclivities, drinks something called “go-go juice” every morning (OJ and Mountain Dew); and Ted Cruz, the saddest man in the swamp.
A quote from Paul Ryan at the end of the book sums up Alberta’s argument: “Trumpism is a moment, a populist moment we’re in, that’s going to be hereafter Trump is gone. And that’s something that we’re gonna have to learn to deal with.”
Alberta himself is more optimistic, suggesting that “Trumpism can be understood as a cautionary tale” and concluding, perhaps hopefully, “Given the toxicity of his time presiding over it, Trump may be remembered as the president who destroyed the Republican Party.” If Alberta’s right, let’s pour out a go-go juice for the GOP and finish them off at the ballots next year.
American Carnage is now available.
About Tim Alberta
Tim Alberta is chief political correspondent for POLITICO Magazine, covering Donald Trump’s presidency, Capitol Hill, the ideological warfare between and within the two parties, demographic change in America, and the evolving role of money in elections. Tim covered the 2016 campaign for National Review as its chief political correspondent and was previously at National Journal, where he covered Congress as House leadership reporter and later reported on campaigns as the publication’s senior political correspondent. He formerly served as senior editor of The Hotline, reported for The Wall Street Journal and worked as a web producer and assistant editor for POLITICO. Tim’s work has been featured in dozens of other publications nationwide, including Sports Illustrated, and he frequently appears as a commentator on political television programs in the United States and around the world. He lives with his wife and two sons in Virginia.