As a historian, I believe reserving judgment, at least initially, is an asset for objective analysis and review. Yet once every full moon, an excerpt of a political work comes out so biased and even dangerously stupid that further analysis and attention is not only unnecessary but debilitating.
The danger is that its perverse analysis will be taken as fact by the gullible, who are searching for vindication of their various narratives. McKay Coppins’ “The Wilderness: Deep Inside the Republican Party’s Combative, Contentious, Chaotic Quest to Take Back the White House,” to quote the great Dorothy Parker on another work of fiction, “Is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”
“The Wilderness” came out some time ago (nearly three years ago, to be exact), but I let it sit and fester, like an open, running wound. I’ve only read several excerpts of “The Wilderness,” but I’ve no intention of going further. It reads with all the subtlety of a 50-cent bodice-ripping Harlequin Romance but with less rhetorical range.
Coppins (shown above left) doesn’t even attempt a thin veneer of objectivity. The simple, sad truth is that he’s a liberal consultant parading as a writer and desperately trying to convince the reader he’s morally superior to other con man consultants.
Welcome to the modern political era, where shallow and tawdry printer cartridge-stained wretches conspire with shallow and tawdry consultants to cover and produce shallow and tawdry campaigns to create a perpetual feeding machine. The silly candidates come and go, but the consultants and writers remain forever.
I’ve never believed that people’s personal politics should inherently rule them out of writing the history with which they may disagree. In fact, tremendous history has been written by those from all sides of the political spectrum, but writing about a group you clearly hate — that’s a deal-breaker.
When someone writes, “The American Right has always contained a combative, nativist fringe, where radicals and kooks bend world events to fit their conspiracy theories,” that isn’t history; that’s a liberal nephew at Thanksgiving railing against the conservative family that subsidizes his liberal arts junior college degree.
Beg pardon, but it isn’t the Right that comes up with conspiracy theories about JFK’s being assassinated by the government, that 9/11 was an inside job, that the Iraq War was launched to get oil contacts for Halliburton, or that President Richard Nixon’s minute dirty tricks somehow kept George McGovern from winning the 1972 election.
How does someone write a scathing and derisive analysis about how the other side is scathing and derisive — without the slightest hint of irony or self-awareness?
Serious historians, and indeed serious writers, don’t make blatant statements involving an entire class of Americans. It’s just not important or germane, unless Coppins wishes to smear the entire GOP, which appears to be the main goal. Before this book, Coppins was known for rancid pieces about Republicans.
I’ve sometimes disagreed with Michael Steele, but he said something not too long ago that was rather apt. Joan Walsh, editor of Salon, the left-of-center blog, called Trump supporters the “lowest common denominator” who lacked a “firm grasp on reality.”
Without missing a beat, Steele hit back and said her comments, dripping in derision for common Americans, enabled the rise of individuals like Trump. Honest Americans do feel there is a political and media elite that has rigged the game and decided that government gives them the right to tell us how to live our lives. He was right.
The Coppins book lacks footnotes, sources, or other supporting material, which would demonstrate a serious work. It does reveal — horrors! — that Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) wore a Groucho Marx get-up in college and further says, without credible sourcing, that Paul’s father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), was “privately antagonistic toward his son’s political rise.”
A sure indication of Coppins’ sense of ethics is in the acknowledgements section, where he thanks Dave Weigel, who tried to organize leftist reporters into a secret, anti-conservative conspiracy along with his other breaches of ethics. But to Coppins’ meager credit, he comes close to admitting to making things up in his note on sourcing when he writes, “I reconstructed the dialogue without using quote marks.”
Coppins should have taken a moment to think about this book. If his hope was that a hate-filled screed would shine a light on Trump’s base and embolden the campaign against him, he would have known the failure it would be. Instead, it’s yet another example of an entitled liberal consultant/media class that despises the very electorate it seeks to cop into voting for whomever pays him the most money.
Craig Shirley is a New York Times best-selling author and presidential historian. He has written four books on President Ronald Reagan along with his latest book, “Citizen Newt: The Making of a Reagan Conservative,” about the early career of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. He lectures frequently at the Reagan Library and is the Visiting Reagan Scholar at Eureka College in Illinois, the 40th president’s alma mater. He also wrote the critically acclaimed “December 1941.”
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