A Wild Ride on a Ship of Fools
Reviewed in Canada on 27 July 2021
Three heavily publicised books came out in July 2021, all describing the last days of the Trump presidency with addenda to include the January 6 insurrection. Of the three, Wolff's "Landslide" is perhaps the most compelling read. Wolff has often been accused of playing fast and loose with the facts to suit his story line and this is probably true of his latest work. But it does make for very good reading.
Wolff's account begins with the second impeachment trial following the Trump-incited insurrection against the seat of the US Government, the Capitol. From the outset, it was clearly almost impossible for Trump to be convicted, which would require nearly a score of Republican senators to set aside their partisanship. In Trump's first impeachment trial, only one Republican, Romney, voted to convict and on only one count. But the sheer incompetence of the Trump defence team---all the original team were conveniently unavailable---made it a close run thing with 10 Republicans voting their conscience and the evidence of their own eyes. Trump naturally regarded this as yet another in a series of triumphs---as when the Mueller inquiry found him guilty of obstruction but declined to recommend prosecution of a sitting president, when the first impeachment trial failed to convict him for offering military aid to the Ukraine government in exchange for dirt on Joe Biden's son, Hunter, and of course his original landslide, losing the popular vote by more than 3 million votes to Hilary Clinton but winning in the skewed calculus of the electoral college.
Wolff quickly moves on to the 2020 election itself. Despite a series of "own goals" --- crises caused by ill-considered actions by the president and his administration --- Trump was very probably headed for re-election when 2020 began. Then COVID hit and Trump and his dysfunctional team proved hopelessly unequal to the challenge. Bluster and falsehoods were simply not able to overwhelm the reality that the pandemic was real and serious, that the economy was in sharp decline, and that the Trump team were working at cross purposes with one another.
Wolff provides chapter and verse on the resulting debacle. At its core was the fact that the first team, the original appointees some of whom were experienced and capable, had largely exited the scene, replaced by hacks and placeholders, increasingly as interim appointments without Senate confirmation. That made them even more responsive to Trump's mercurial whims and less able to achieve actual results, by Wolff's account, with uncanny parallels to Trump's television show, The Apprentice.
Despite all this, and the vicious infighting on Trump's re-election campaign team, Trump very nearly pulled it off. At the first opportunity, and against all medical advice, Trump returned to the campaign trail with a vengeance. After a fiasco at his first rally in Tulsa, he regained his stride and despite the after-effects of his very serious personal bout with COVID, he mounted a quite extraordinary blitz of wildly successful events with screaming crowds from whom he seemed to draw his energy. As a result, against the odds, he piled up the second largest vote total in history, 74 million, higher even than Clinton in 2016. This personal triumph was, of course, upset by the fact that his opponent, "sleepy Joe" Biden, beat him by 7 million votes and won the electoral college by the same margin Trump had proclaimed to be a "landslide" in 2016.
This takes us to the truly dark side of Wolff's account, and the arrival on the scene of Rudy Giuliani with his insistence, music to Trump's ears, that the only way Trump could lose would be if the election were stolen. As the ballot count proceeded in a remarkably untainted election process, Giuliani became ever more insistent that Trump should declare himself the winner by some mysterious means. Much of the resulting disgraceful and unprecedented and ongoing struggle (as of July) has been reported elsewhere. Wolff adds little to our factual understanding but does provide remarkable colour. This alone makes this book a worthwhile read, even for political junkies who know the story all too well.
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