The subtitle of BuzzFeed News reporter McKay Coppins’s book promises action and entertainment coupled with the gain of insight.
Deep Inside the Republican Party’s Combative, Contentious, Chaotic Quest to Take Back the White House.
If you’ve been following the Republican Primary since the Summer of Trump, you won’t be surprised by the circus-like ruckus implied by these words.
When Mitt Romney lost to Barack Obama in 2012 by quite a margin, establishment Republicans embarked on a painful process of soul-searching and arrived at the conclusion that the GOP needed to be more inclusive and soften its stance on problems like immigration in order to increase its demographic outreach.
While reasonable on paper, this process has now come to a screeching halt, with Donald Trump’s entering of the stage only as the final nail in the coffin. The first elections are only months away and the field of presidential candidates reflects a party divided more and more into irreconcilable factions.
There’s the big donors who prefer spreadsheets over the Bible and would like to see the GOP adopt a softer stance on immigration.
There’s the religious faction strongly against abortion, gay marriage and scientific textbooks.
There’s the neocons and hawks whose Middle Eastern policy basically boils down to the question formulated by Ted Cruz on December 5th whether sand can glow in the dark.
There’s the shrinking libertarian fan base of Senator Rand Paul whose philosophy ranges between liberal and conservative.
And then there’s the huge mass of the angry and disenchanted who just want to stick it to the establishment. Members of this crowd can also be found in any of the above.
So this is the situation of the present we live in. What Coppins sets out to do in his book is to describe the years between 2012 and mid-2015 when the presidential protagonists of 2016 were “wandering through the wilderness”. He analyzes the inner struggles of the Republican Party to rebuild a winning coalition of voters for the presidency.
Remarkably to me, Coppins writes about the well-known politicians as if they were figures in a novel. He makes them his focalizers and describes their respective developments in the past three years, but also the earlier periods of their lives, so that the book can also be seen as a collection of mini-biographies. I thought this approach to be a little risky. After all, these are real people, and you can’t enter their heads like the narrator of a novel. But when all is said and done, what counts in politics is narrative. It might be only fitting to write about it the same way.
It’s fairly amusing to think of the Republicans wandering into the desert like Moses to find the promised land of electability. This is what Coppins does by structuring the book into four subdivisions: “Exile”, “Prophets”, “Wandering” and “Promised Land”. Originally I thought that each of these parts denominated a theme for a certain set of candidates, but what they actually seem to refer to is the unfolding chronology of the overall narrative. We start with Paul Ryan in November 2012, right after losing the election, and end with the wild, raucous Summer Of Trump in 2015.
A question that came up for me, though, is whether the book dives too deeply into the individuals’ past. At least in some of their pasts. While it’s interesting to read about Marco Rubio’s show acts as a kid, why should they be more important than Chris Christie’s childhood, who only appears at the edges? Why do we find out so much about Rand Paul while Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum are practically omitted?
One answer would be that it’s their relevance in this election, dictated by the poll numbers, that influences their status in the book.
But that ignores Bobby Jindal. Bobby Jindal, who by now has dropped out of the presidential race, features strongly. We find out a lot about him, from his childhood years to his college experience (which apparently included an exorcism), to his first failed gubernatorial bid. Why is that? Is it because he was more available to McKay? I’m reluctant to believe such factors driving the whole structuring of a Book although it could be the case. More likely that he represents an important strain of conservatism, namely the Christian one. Like Rand Paul, Jindal is closely associated with a certain segment of conservative voters, which makes it important to describe who he is. But then again, so is Santorum.
No idea. I guess, Coppins should have elaborated on that a little more in his preface on sourcing.
Generally, though: A well-written ans interesting read on one of my favorite topics: the American politics of power. (Yes, I know it’s bizarre!)
Bottom Line: If you want to fully immerse yourself in the swampy mess that is the Republican presidential primary of 2016, this book should be the choice for you.