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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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