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Thank You for Your Servitude: Donald Trump's Washington and the Price of Submission by [Mark Leibovich]

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Thank You for Your Servitude: Donald Trump's Washington and the Price of Submission Kindle Edition

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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1

The Problem

August 2015-March 2016

E veryone had a theory about why it was their turn.

Chris Christie kept pushing the idea that voters tend to favor presidential candidates who represent the biggest departure from the incumbent. He was their departure. "That is the argument people make to me about why I should run," Christie told me, just before he started his prolonged public campaign of "looking at it." "They say, 'No one could be more the opposite of Barack Obama from a personality standpoint than you. Therefore, you're perfect.'"

Governor Perfect had built-in assets. New York-D.C. media and GOP donor types loved him. He was great on WFAN and a superstar banterer in the TV greenrooms. He was a merciless but familiar brute, like the New Jersey Turnpike. He would stay within certain lanes, unlike Trump. But if you were sick of the same old robots, clowns, Clintons, or Bushes, Christie was your viable off-ramp.

I ran into him in Cleveland before the first Republican debate of the 2016 campaign, or "cycle," as the pros call it. It was a Fox News production, billed on the chyrons as "The Rumble in the Rust Belt." Christie arrived at Quicken Loans Arena a few hours before the cattle call. He tossed out towel-snapping insults at reporters, comparing us to jackals, snakes, maggots, and other beloved creatures.

As he entered his backstage holding area in Cleveland, Christie compared himself to a penned-in bull, eager to make America his china shop. I wished him luck.

Likewise, Rand Paul, who was entering the arena at an adjacent loading dock. He had heard that libertarians were, at long last, "having a moment" in America. Why not him? He was younger, slicker, and less of a crank than his patriarch dad, Ron Paul, the libertarian congressman from Texas and a three-time presidential candidate. Rand had even gone straight enough to get elected to the Senate, from Kentucky. He was an odd duck, no question, but was he any worse than Ted Cruz? John McCain once referred to them both as "wacko birds."

Cruz was at the debate, too, convinced this was his moment. He was elected to the Senate in 2012 and in short order proved he had zero interest in achieving the kinds of things senators had traditionally prided themselves on, like passing laws, getting committee assignments, and earning the respect of colleagues. These were never distinctions that would impress the Fox News bookers, or the blood-lusting "base," so he never saw the point. Becoming a maximum nuisance was far more productive for his purposes.

He would do things like promise to shut down the government unless Obamacare was killed. This was never going to happen, for many reasons, two being that the president was still named "Obama" and the Constitution still granted him veto power. Cruz's colleagues knew this was a wasteful and self-destructive effort that would succeed only in "stirring up the crazies" (another McCain term).

"If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you," Lindsey Graham once said. No one exactly rushed to Cruz's defense, either, unless you counted this "defense" from Senator Al Franken, who maintained that he did like Cruz, or more than most of his colleagues did. "And I hate Ted Cruz," Franken said-important caveat.

Still, Cruz's unpopularity in Washington was a defining asset, to his mind, in that it lent him credibility as an irritant. It offered proof that he was not concerned about fitting in with these grimy swamp creatures. He was happy to play the turd in the Republican punch bowl. His problem was that Trump proved to be an even bigger turd, glowing orange and impossible to miss.

At the risk of pushing this metaphor WAY too far, Jeb Bush was the innocuous lemon slice in this punch bowl. Trump dismissed Bush, the former Florida governor, as "low energy," a brutally effective descriptor for a candidate whose logo included an exclamation point-"Jeb!"-in a desperate attempt to inject vitality.

Bush had been anointed the early "establishment favorite" by those who anointed such things. He was accustomed, by birthright, to such deference from professional Republicans. Trump never bothered with deference, at least when it came to Bush, as opposed to, say, Putin.

Neither did Marco Rubio. The former Speaker of the Florida House had been a protŽgŽ of Governor Jeb's years before, which compelled a few media Freuds to trot out the trusty oedipal clichŽ about son overtaking Dad. Others preferred the Rubio-as-Judah construction. Who did Marco think he was, anyway, not waiting his turn?

What the media geniuses all agreed on was that Trump's turn was about to end. His noisy parade float would assuredly run aground in Cleveland, because there was no chance that he could share a stage with a supposedly elite field of Republicans without having his basic ignorance exposed.

Plus, the serious anchor people had arrived and would make certain of it: in particular, Fox News' Megyn Kelly, one of the three moderators, had fashioned a formidable reputation for herself as a "real journalist," armed with tough but fair questions. She also met the minimum Fox requirement of being attractive and blond, the Roger Ailes equivalent of spelling your name right on the SAT.

"You've called women you don't like 'fat pigs,' 'dogs,' 'slobs,' and 'disgusting animals,'" Kelly said, asking Trump to kick things off.

And we were off.

Again, you might recall some of this. Sorry to rehash. These episodes can feel as old as time and as endless. They're worth going over here, though, if only in brief and as a reminder of the low point where Trump began, to counter the dumb trope from his apologists that somehow Trump devolved as the campaign wore on. "To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle," George Orwell wrote. This was always right in front of the Republican Party's nose.

Trump would suggest the next day that Kelly's "nasty" demeanor toward him at the debate was because she was getting her period. Not classy!

This alone would make him irredeemably toxic to women voters, right? No less an authority than the former First Lady Barbara Bush would weigh in to say as much, and wasn't Babs a Grande Dame/Sacred Cow Republican at some point?

What's more, an even greater authority, Twitter, agreed, so this had to be true: the clown was dead!

Long live the clown!

The power of Twitter to codify misguided groupthink had become much greater in 2016 than it had been the last go-round, in 2012. This gap between wise-guy Twitter and Trump World reality was all too evident when I attended my first rally that summer. The pageant featured a packed crowd of seventeen thousand at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. Thousands more snaked around several city blocks and fed into an overflow mosh pit.

FUCK POLITICAL CORRECTNESS! screamed the big banner held by a guy in front of me in the metal detector line. I tried to interview him but got nowhere.

"Fuck the media," the man told me. (I recognized the sentence structure.) "And fuck Megyn Kelly." I tried to tell him that I was not Megyn Kelly, but he was not impressed.

His friend was slightly more reflective. "We're just sick of being told what to do," said the friend, a contractor named Michael Lopez. "Especially by y'all in the media."

"America is being pushed into a corner," echoed Matt Yelland, a sixty-year-old electrical engineer, just before Trump took the stage. That was a common sentiment among Trump supporters, who loved his disregard for Republican manners and sacred cows. "Trump didn't get into politics to play by somebody else's rules," Yelland said. He could care less that Trump would not commit to supporting the GOP's eventual nominee, the kind of thing that "party leaders" considered sacrilege but that many real voters believed was proof of Trump's unwillingness to be bullied. He didn't care, either, about what aspersions Karl Rove was casting upon their hero on Fox News-well, Trump himself cared, but that was just Trump (being Trump).

"Karl Rove is a totally incompetent jerk," Trump railed from his Dallas stage. The crowd went nuts at the put-down, which was itself remarkable: the "architect" of George W. Bush's political rise being abused at a Republican campaign event in Bush's home state of Texas.

Where were the GOPÕs designated adults and influencers to restore order? Erick Erickson, editor of RedState, a leading conservative publication, tried. He disinvited Trump to the annual RedState Gathering of presidential candidates in Atlanta that weekend. Take that, Donald.

"If your standard-bearer has to resort to that," Erickson said, referring to the Megyn Kelly/period unpleasantness, "we need a new standard-bearer." Alas, Trump was undeterred.

It kept going. Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman, was beside himself, but trying to be comforting in public, for the sake of the children and, more important, the donors. This robust debate was healthy and natural and part of the process, he kept saying. Privately, he tried to reassure everyone: this would not last; Trump would implode soon enough.

The other candidates figured the same. "I don't think a lot of the people on that stage were convinced that Trump would stay," Christie recalled to me later. "What we were all trying to do strategically was stay alive so that we'd be viable if one of two things happened: either Trump gets out, or he does something disqualifying. Everyone up there had the same theory of the case."

Bad theory. Nothing changed, except Trump started winning primaries. Where was Jeb? Wasn't he supposed to be the front-runner? His heart was never in this. The exclamation point was always more of a question mark.

Bush was gone soon after the voting started. Same with Christie, but not before he obliterated Rubio in a debate in New Hampshire, taunting him for his cyborg adherence to "memorized thirty-second speeches." It was classic Christie, beating up the smaller, less threatening target (Rubio) while winning favor with the real bully (Trump).

Trump sought out Christie after the debate, threw his arm around him, and praised the governor for "destroying" Rubio.

Trump won New Hampshire in a rout; Christie finished sixth and quit the race with zero delegates. Trump called him on the night of the primary and told him he loved him. This was obviously meaningful to Christie, who recounted the exchange fulsomely in his memoir. He then turned around and planted a big wet kiss of an endorsement on Trump's powdered forehead.

This was a much bigger deal than Christie's paltry vote total would suggest, because it offered Trump a seal of approval from a big-name Republican. Christie kept talking up his long friendship with Trump, how they had so much "history" together and how loyalty was always very important to him. "Where I come from, friendship is important," Christie said. "Loyalty is everything." (Yep, friendship and loyalty, totally unique to New Jersey.)

The whole "we go WAY back" thing is always a red flag from would-be tough guys. And there was always a sense with Christie that no matter how hard he sucked up to Trump, he was destined to wind up like one of those peripheral hangers-on from The Sopranos whose limp corpse wound up getting tossed into an icy swamp.

Still, Christie had a seemingly limitless appetite for, among other things, being humiliated by Trump. This was true of a lot of people, but Christie was special in this regard. Trump mocked him for his weight ("No more Oreos"), ordered him around, and basically treated the former Garden State governor like Mr. French, the portly and exasperated butler from the old show Family Affair.

Not everyone was moved by Christie's claim of loyalty to his dear old friend Donald. "An astonishing display of political opportunism" was how Christie's own campaign co-chair Meg Whitman described his heel turn.

Christie's support "gave a stamp of credibility to a thoroughly uncredible candidate," wrote Tim Miller, Bush's former communications director. "Like every other pathetic, podgy, scared, insecure bully who has ever disgraced a schoolyard, Chris Christie talks a big game."

Christie was a bit stunned by this blowback, but that was the price he paid for the rebound relevance Trump offered him. "This is politics," he said. "You make certain judgments."

Trump is Ònot who we are,Ó Rubio declared, deploying a royal ÒweÓ that apparently did not include the Republicans who kept voting for Trump by massive margins. Things were getting desperate enough for Graham to say heÕd even support Cruz before heÕd support Trump.

Cruz called Trump "utterly amoral" and a "pathological liar" (basically true) after Trump described him as a sleazy asshole whom everyone in the Senate hated (also true). For good measure, Trump suggested Cruz's wife was ugly and his father was somehow caught up in the John F. Kennedy assassination.

The party elders were now rallying to Rubio as their preferred Trump alternative. I met up with the Florida senator in Nevada, a few days before that state's Republican caucuses in February. We were sitting aboard his campaign plane-on a short flight from Reno to Las Vegas-and I was detecting a slight whiff of Marco-mentum in the recirculated air. "This was a great day for us," Rubio kept telling me. His undertaking was as urgent as ever, he said, because he knew the GOP elders were counting on him to stop Trump. He had their endorsements to prove it. He vowed to be worthy of everyone's trust.

We were surrounded on the plane by a retinue of Rubio-backing Nevada dignitaries: the state's lieutenant governor and a former governor, a congressman, and a senator. It seemed as if every hour brought a new endorsement of Rubio from another vintage piece of the Grand Old Furniture: Lamar Alexander, Bob Dole, a senator from Indiana, the governor of Arkansas. Together, this cavalry of grown-ups would lock arms around Rubio and save the GOP from its bender with the casino owner. This had all gone on for far too long.

The night before at a rally in North Las Vegas, Rubio strode onto a stage crowded with a bunch of new brand-name validators: seventeen in all. They included a buffet of Nevada pols, someone from a reality TV show called Pawn Stars, and Donnie Wahlberg: once a New Kid on the Block, now all in for Marky Marco.

This brief Pyrrhic hot streak for Rubio in Nevada epitomized the insane fantasy that an all-powerful Republican "establishment" could swoop in and impose its will. They would anoint their choice and unleash their onslaught of elder gravitas, and Trump would never know what hit him.

"You can sort of feel it coalescing," Rubio said as he waved his hand around the campaign plane, showing off his growing entourage.
--This text refers to the hardcover edition.

About the Author

Mark Leibovich is a recipient of the National Magazine Award for profile writing. He is the author of four books, including the number one New York Times bestseller This Town, about the political culture of twenty-first-century Washington, D.C. He recently joined The Atlantic, after a ten-year stint as chief national correspondent for The New York Times Magazine. Before arriving at the magazine in 2012, Leibovich covered national politics in the Times' Washington Bureau. He previously worked at The Washington Post and the San Jose Mercury News. He lives with his family in Washington, D.C. --This text refers to the hardcover edition.

Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B09T995J6Y
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Penguin Press (July 12 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 3415 KB
  • Text-to-Speech ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Screen Reader ‏ : ‎ Supported
  • Enhanced typesetting ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • X-Ray ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Word Wise ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Sticky notes ‏ : ‎ On Kindle Scribe
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 351 pages
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