TThe 45th president is removed from office and Michael Wolff has ended his Trump trilogy. First there was Fire and Fury, then there was Siege, now there is Landslide. The third is the best of the three, and that’s saying a lot.
Three years ago, Trump ridiculed Fire and Fury as fake news and threatened Wolff with legal action. Now Trump is officially speaking to Wolff about what was and could still be, while the author takes a long, nuanced take on the post-election debacle. Wolff describes Trump’s angry final days in power.
Helpers and family members walked away, leaving the President to simmer, rage, and plot with Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and other conspiracy theorists, all eager to stoke the big lie about a stolen election. Giuliani calls Powell “crazy”. Powell holds Giuliani in the same way. “I didn’t come here to kiss your fucking ring,” she told the former New York mayor.
Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is elsewhere hammering out the “Abraham Accords”, seeking to leave his mark on the world with some sort of step towards peace in the Middle East. Hope Hicks, one of Trump’s favorite advisers, is gone. Two independent wealth cabinet secretaries, Betsy DeVos and Elaine Chao, say farewells. As with hurricanes and plagues, the rich know when to head for the heights.
Kayleigh McEnany, Trump’s fourth and final publicist, is delighted. Even Stephanie Grisham, Melania Trump’s ultra-loyal chief of staff, resigned rather than testify to the president’s implosion in the aftermath of the deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol.
Wolff’s interview with Trump is remarkable. He stands in the lobby of Mar-a-Lago, the Florida resort town to which Trump has retired. The club’s “throne room”, in the author’s words, is filled with “blonde mothers and blonde girls, infinitely busty”. Fertility and lust on the parade. A palace built in the image of its creator.
The interview is a Trumpian settling of scores. He calls Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor brutally fired from the transition in 2016, a “very disloyal guy” – seemingly as revenge for a debate prep session that stung Trump with his ferocity, exposing his vulnerabilities in the eyes of others.
Christie told Trump what he didn’t want to hear about his handling of Covid-19. He referred to phrases such as “blood on my hands” and “failure”. He also reminded Trump that while Hunter Biden, the son of his opponent’s scandal magnet, was unique, there were a whole bunch of Trump kids to target. Their father was not amused.
When it comes to the Supreme Court, Trump goes after Brett Kavanaugh and John Roberts, the chief justice. Trump accuses Kavanaugh of lacking courage and expresses his “disappointment” in his most controversial choice for the bench. Under Roberts, judges refused to call off the election. So Trump was of little use to them. It also targets the Republican House leader. Apparently, Kevin McCarthy’s abject prostration still left something to be desired.
Trump calls Andrew Cuomo, now governor of New York, but once, in a sense, Trump’s own lawyer, a “thug”. He has kind words for Roy Cohn, another attorney for Trump, before that an assistant to Joe McCarthy in the 1950s witch hunts who carried that four letter word much better. But he’s been dead for a long time. Bill Barr, the attorney general who shut down the Mueller report but didn’t support the big lie and resigned before it was finished, is doing badly.
Trump laments four years of “outright scum and betrayal and bogus witch hunts.” Introspection has never been his strong point. “I have done a thousand things that no one has done,” he says. A landslide illustrates the connection between Trump and his supporters. Wolff sees the relationship as unconventional and organic. Trump has only ever been a candidate. He also led a movement: “He didn’t know anything about government, they didn’t know anything about government, so the context of government itself became irrelevant. The link was rooted in the charisma. Trump was “the star – never forget it – and the base was his audience.”
Landslide acknowledges that Trump’s efforts to overturn the election arose out of his disregard for democratic norms and his inability to acknowledge his defeat. His legal and political arguments escaped the swamps of fringe fever. As the drowning men rush to search for lifelines, Trump, Giuliani and Powell have hung on.
Wolff is open to criticism when he argues that the path between the Jan.6 insurgency and Trump is far from linear. According to Wolff, those who stormed Capitol Hill may have been Trump’s people, but that’s not his idea. Six months ago, Trump also put some distance between himself and the events of the day. No more.
Trump kissed the supposed martyrdom of Ashli Babbitt, the Air Force veteran who attempted to storm the Chamber chamber, where the members were sheltering in place.
“Boom,” he mentionned July 7. “Directly by the head. Just, boom. There was no reason for it. And why is this person not open, and why is it not studied? “
Beyond that, ProPublica produced a written record which supports the conclusion that key Trump aides knew the rally they organized near the White House on January 6 could turn chaotic. What more we learn will depend on a select committee of the House.
Wolff also fails to combat the tendency of the Red States to wrest control of elections from the electorate and hand them over to the Republican legislatures.
Trump’s false claim that the presidential election was stolen is now an article of faith among Republicans and QAnon novitiates. A new feature of the political landscape is “audits” of black money-funded ballots. Democracy appears to be in danger.
Trump tells Wolff his base “feels cheated – and they’re angry.” Populism does not concern everyone, only some of them. As for responsibility, Trump washes his hands. As Wolff’s third Trump book closes, it looks like it might not be the last after all. Perhaps the whole trauma of 2020 was just a prelude to a Trump-Biden rematch.