05/10/2020

Rick Wilson was a leading strategist for the GOP but now the self-styled apostate is turning his thunder on his old party. Andrew Feinberg reviews his new book

Self-described “apostate GOP media guy” Rick Wilson opens his latest book, Running Against The Devil: A Plot to Save America From Trump  And Democrats From Themselves, by asking the reader to imagine themselves as a top strategist for Democrats’ presidential nominee, 10 months from now. 
It’s the evening of November 3, 2020 and there’s a feeling of confidence at campaign headquarters. Democrats are poised to win back the White House and vanquish Donald Trump to the annals of history after their candidate ran a bold, progressive campaign and thrashed the incumbent president in all three debates. 
But as the results begin rolling in, a queasy feeling of deja vu overtakes campaign HQ as the incumbent squeezes out narrow wins in swing state after swing state. All those progressive plans that were a sure winner in the primary became “the weapon used to cut off your head,” Wilson writes, using a message that was “cultish, racist, and blisteringly stupid” but “simple, constant, and repeated”  “Wall. MAGA. Judges. Socialism. Revenge”.
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For Democrats, it’s a frightening scenario that will give anyone who worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign a severe case of deja vu, and will make anyone but the most enthusiastic Trump booster sick with anxiety. 
Luckily for them, however, Wilson has the cure, even if Democrats who remember the years he spent taking down their best and brightest with some of the most effective television ads in American politics will view it as warily as a 21st century physician would view a 19th century patent medicine.
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Donald Trump celebrity president: A decade in two halves
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Trump styles his ‘You’re fired!’ pose in his Trump Tower office in June 2012. At the time he was known as a reality TV star on The Apprentice
2/29
He was also well known as the patron of the Miss Universe competition
3/29
Early signs of Trump’s ambition for the presidency can be found everywhere. Not least in his 2011 book ‘Time to get tough: Making America #1 again’
4/29
Trump with Piers Morgan in November 2010. Piers Morgan has long held that he and Trump are good friends
5/29
Trump appeared on Fox & Friends, his favourite show, in August 2011
6/29
Trump considered running in the 2012 election, where he would have faced Barack Obama. He is speaking here at an event for a Republican women’s group
7/29
Trump was subject to a Comedy Central roast in 2011. He is pictured here being roasted by rapper Snoop Dogg
8/29
Given that this Trump store is in the lobby of Trump Tower, it can be said that Trump sells merchandise of himself out of his own home
9/29
Trump held meetings with prominent Republicans when considering his 2012 bid. He is pictured here with Alaska governor Sarah Palin
10/29
He didn’t end up running in 2012 afterall, instead endorsing Republican candidate Mitt Romney
11/29
Trump’s golf course in Aberdeen proved controversial in 2012 when he began lobbying the Scottish government against wind power in order that they wouldn’t install turbines off the shore by his new course
12/29
He even gave evidence to a Scottish parliamentary committee discouraging wind energy
13/29
He still found time for a round of course
14/29
On 16 June 2015, Trump announced that he would run for the presidency of the United States in the 2016 election as a Republican
15/29
His campaign was divisive, courting controversy wherever he went. Ultimately he was declared the Republican candidate in June 2016
16/29
Trump took part in the TV debate against opponent Hillary Clinton on 9 October
17/29
Trump and wife Melania vote in the presidential election on 8 November 2016
18/29
Hillary Clinton conceded defeat at 2:50am on 9 November and president-elect Trump swiftly delivered his victory speech to a crowd of supporters
19/29
News coverage around the world focused on the huge political upset that Trump’s victory spelled
20/29
Trump met with president Obama to discusss transition planning on 10 November. Obama had fiercely denounced Trump during the election campaign, at one point even swearing that he would not leave the White House if Trump won
21/29
Donald Trump and Nigel Farage pose in the golden elevator at Trump Tower on 12 November 2016. Farage was the first British politician to meet with Trump after the election
22/29
The inauguration of Donald Trump took place on 20 January 2017. Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer boasted that the crowd was the ‘largest ever’ to witness an inauguration, a claim that was proved not to be true
23/29
In his first 100 days as leader, Trump signed 24 executve orders, the most of any president
24/29
One of Trump’s most memorable election pledges was to build a wall between the US and Mexico. He is standing here in front of a prototype for a section of the wall
25/29
Trump’s meetings with other world leaders have provided no short supply of photo opportunities
26/29
Trump was welcomed to the UK by the Queen and a state banquet was held at Buckingham Palace in his honour
27/29
Not everyone welcomed the president. Mass protests were held in London throughout his visits in both 2018 and 2019
28/29
One of the most significant meetings Trump has held with another leader was with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. In June 2019, Trump became the first sitting president to set foot in North Korea
29/29
2020 will see president Trump fight for a second term in office, who knows what the next decade will bring?
1/29
Trump styles his ‘You’re fired!’ pose in his Trump Tower office in June 2012. At the time he was known as a reality TV star on The Apprentice
2/29
He was also well known as the patron of the Miss Universe competition
3/29
Early signs of Trump’s ambition for the presidency can be found everywhere. Not least in his 2011 book ‘Time to get tough: Making America #1 again’
4/29
Trump with Piers Morgan in November 2010. Piers Morgan has long held that he and Trump are good friends
5/29
Trump appeared on Fox & Friends, his favourite show, in August 2011
6/29
Trump considered running in the 2012 election, where he would have faced Barack Obama. He is speaking here at an event for a Republican women’s group
7/29
Trump was subject to a Comedy Central roast in 2011. He is pictured here being roasted by rapper Snoop Dogg
8/29
Given that this Trump store is in the lobby of Trump Tower, it can be said that Trump sells merchandise of himself out of his own home
9/29
Trump held meetings with prominent Republicans when considering his 2012 bid. He is pictured here with Alaska governor Sarah Palin
10/29
He didn’t end up running in 2012 afterall, instead endorsing Republican candidate Mitt Romney
11/29
Trump’s golf course in Aberdeen proved controversial in 2012 when he began lobbying the Scottish government against wind power in order that they wouldn’t install turbines off the shore by his new course
12/29
He even gave evidence to a Scottish parliamentary committee discouraging wind energy
13/29
He still found time for a round of course
14/29
On 16 June 2015, Trump announced that he would run for the presidency of the United States in the 2016 election as a Republican
15/29
His campaign was divisive, courting controversy wherever he went. Ultimately he was declared the Republican candidate in June 2016
16/29
Trump took part in the TV debate against opponent Hillary Clinton on 9 October
17/29
Trump and wife Melania vote in the presidential election on 8 November 2016
18/29
Hillary Clinton conceded defeat at 2:50am on 9 November and president-elect Trump swiftly delivered his victory speech to a crowd of supporters
19/29
News coverage around the world focused on the huge political upset that Trump’s victory spelled
20/29
Trump met with president Obama to discusss transition planning on 10 November. Obama had fiercely denounced Trump during the election campaign, at one point even swearing that he would not leave the White House if Trump won
21/29
Donald Trump and Nigel Farage pose in the golden elevator at Trump Tower on 12 November 2016. Farage was the first British politician to meet with Trump after the election
22/29
The inauguration of Donald Trump took place on 20 January 2017. Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer boasted that the crowd was the ‘largest ever’ to witness an inauguration, a claim that was proved not to be true
23/29
In his first 100 days as leader, Trump signed 24 executve orders, the most of any president
24/29
One of Trump’s most memorable election pledges was to build a wall between the US and Mexico. He is standing here in front of a prototype for a section of the wall
25/29
Trump’s meetings with other world leaders have provided no short supply of photo opportunities
26/29
Trump was welcomed to the UK by the Queen and a state banquet was held at Buckingham Palace in his honour
27/29
Not everyone welcomed the president. Mass protests were held in London throughout his visits in both 2018 and 2019
28/29
One of the most significant meetings Trump has held with another leader was with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. In June 2019, Trump became the first sitting president to set foot in North Korea
29/29
2020 will see president Trump fight for a second term in office, who knows what the next decade will bring?
But the GOP’s turn to Trumpism was too much for even a master of the dark political arts like Wilson, who explains early on that he no longer uses his “particular set of skills” to serve Republicans because the party he once loved is “gone”.
While most formerly anti-Trump GOP consultants and operatives have come back into the fold since the president’s surprise victory, Wilson has turned the acid pen he wielded against Democrats against his former party and the president leading it. He even used his ad-making skills to elect one Democrat  Alabama’s Doug Jones  to the Senate in order to prevent Roy Moore, who has been accused of sexual misconduct with teenagers, from occupying former attorney general Jeff Sessions former (and perhaps future) seat.
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Readers who enjoyed Wilson’s first book, Everything Trump Touches Dies, will be pleased to know that he is in hilarious form. The 300+ page manuscript is packed with the same punchy, straight-to-the-jugular humour that has made him a sought-after television guest and columnist in the Trump era. 
But whereas his first book was a cathartic collection of observations about the 45th president and the people who he surrounds himself with, Running Against The Devil takes on a sense of urgency. 
The first quarter of the book is the equivalent of a doctor sitting his patient down to tell him he’s got 10 years to live if he doesn’t get in shape, or a “scared straight” programme for troubled teens. It’s a vision of all the horrors that are in store should Democrats fail to limit the Trump presidency to a single term.
Having sufficiently terrified the reader, Wilson spends the balance of the text explaining exactly how to avoid that fate. It’s packed full of the advice Wilson would give a client  say, a Democratic presidential candidate  on how to win in November by avoiding unforced errors while fighting back against the culture war-heavy playbook that Wilson and his former compatriots perfected on the way to win after win over the best the Democratic Party had to offer. 
It’s a step-by-step guidebook to defeating Donald Trump, written by “a Republican who knows how and why the Democrats often lose big elections they should win”.
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And Wilson explains it all. Chapter by chapter, he debunks the myths, wishes, and pipe dreams which have led previous Democratic presidential nominees down the garden path to the runner-up’s position in November. 
Those whose hearts lie with the Bernie Sanders / Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party won’t like his advice. But at the end of the day, you can’t argue with it. 
Wilson brings the experience earned by besting many a Democrat in close elections over the years, and he brings the receipts (as the kids say) to back that experience up by devoting an entire section of the book to explaining exactly how President Trump’s campaign will use Democrats’ best intentions and hopes against them. 
Those who still think politics is a sport contested between two groups of well-meaning people who disagree on the issues  think Joe Biden  will similarly be left mouths agape by Wilson’s tell-it-like-it-is advocacy for a realpolitik style of campaigning that owes more to The Hunger Games than The West Wing.
Trump supporter can’t think of a single thing the president has ‘done well’
But any Democrat looking to beat Donald Trump  or really, any Democrat looking to beat any Republican  or anyone who enjoys reading and learning more about how politics really works would do well to crack the spine of Wilson’s sophomore effort. After all, it’s the best bargain in town  top campaigns have paid Wilson obscene sums of money for the advice he doles out in Running Against The Devil, but you can have it for a cool $37 or equivalent. Use it wisely.
Running Against The Devil: A Plot to Save America From Trump — and Democrats from themselves, by Rick Wilson
Published by Crown Forum in the US and by Bantam Dell Publishing Group in the UK on 14 January