New York Times' Top Books of 2019
Politico Magazine’s chief political correspondent provides a rollicking insider’s look at the making of the modern Republican Party—how a decade of cultural upheaval, populist outrage, and ideological warfare made the GOP vulnerable to a hostile takeover from the unlikeliest of insurgents: Donald J. Trump.
The 2016 election was a watershed for the United States. But, as Tim Alberta explains in American Carnage, to understand Trump’s victory is to view him not as the creator of this era of polarization and bruising partisanship, but rather as its most manifest consequence.
American Carnage is the story of a president’s rise based on a country’s evolution and a party’s collapse. As George W. Bush left office with record-low approval ratings and Barack Obama led a Democratic takeover of Washington, Republicans faced a moment of reckoning: They had no vision, no generation of new leaders, and no energy in the party’s base. Yet Obama’s forceful pursuit of his progressive agenda, coupled with the nation’s rapidly changing cultural and demographic landscape, lit a fire under the right, returning Republicans to power and inviting a bloody struggle for the party’s identity in the post-Bush era. The factions that emerged—one led by absolutists like Jim Jordan and Ted Cruz, the other led by pragmatists like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell—engaged in a series of devastating internecine clashes and attempted coups for control. With the GOP’s internal fissures rendering it legislatively impotent, and that impotence fueling a growing resentment toward the political class and its institutions, the stage was set for an outsider to crash the party. When Trump descended a gilded escalator to announce his run in the summer of 2015, the candidate had met the moment.
Only by viewing Trump as the culmination of a decade-long civil war inside the Republican Party—and of the parallel sense of cultural, socioeconomic, and technological disruption during that period—can we appreciate how he won the White House and consider the fundamental questions at the center of America’s current turmoil. How did a party obsessed with the national debt vote for trillion-dollar deficits and record-setting spending increases? How did the party of compassionate conservatism become the party of Muslim bans and walls? How did the party of family values elect a thrice-divorced philanderer? And, most important, how long can such a party survive?
Loaded with exclusive reporting and based off hundreds of interviews—including with key players such as President Trump, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Jim DeMint, and Reince Priebus, and many others—American Carnage takes us behind the scenes of this tumultuous period as we’ve never seen it before and establishes Tim Alberta as the premier chronicler of this political era.
Republican congressional factions battle each other and Donald Trump for the party's soul in this sweeping study of modern American politics. Politico magazine correspondent Alberta surveys a decade of GOP upheaval; he begins with the rise of the ultraconservative Tea Party and its feud with establishment Republicans during Barack Obama's presidency, moves on to party leaders' failed efforts to quash Trump's 2016 campaign, and recounts their struggle to corral votes in a Republican Congress after Trump's victory and to deal with the president's volatile style and erratic leadership. Drawing on extensive interviews with politicians and pundits, Alberta's engrossing narrative is full of sharp intrigues and vivid personalities and focuses on attempts by House Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan to craft legislative compromises against furious resistance and speakership challenges from the party's uncompromising right wing. Alongside the horse-trading, Alberta explores two tectonic shifts in the American electorate: the Republican base's turn away from small-government, fiscally austere, free market, free trade Tea Party doctrine to a Trumpian populism of anti-immigrant xenophobia, protectionism, and free-spending industrial policy, as well as an overall demographic shift toward a less white, better educated, more urban population. Incorporating trenchant analysis and a wealth of detail in stylish prose, Alberta highlights the broad currents beneath the chaos of recent politics.
Truly fascinating book. Great read. Full of really interesting tidbits and even some great snarky gossip. Recommend to all.