Matt Taibbi is the spiritual heir of legendary presidential campaign scribes Hunter S. Thompson and Tim Crouse, and in his latest book, Insane Clown President: Dispatches from the 2016 Circus, Taibbi explains how Donald Trump bulldozed the political establishment, captured the Republican nomination, and then won enough electoral college votes to seize the White House.
Taibbi is incisive and often incredibly funny as he recounts the foibles of candidates and the long, enervating presidential primary process. A veteran of four presidential campaigns, Taibbi knows how the game works. Or at least he knew until Trump came. Taibbi’s thesis is that in a “normal” political season, Trump would have been excoriated for his comments about women, Mexican immigrants, Muslims, and the disabled, not to mention his bawdy, adolescent boasts about grabbing women in their most private part. In a normal season, any candidate who insulted as many people and uttered as many untruths as Trump did would have been hounded out of the race by the political media, which, Taibbi points out, is ruthless when it perceives that a candidate is wounded.
The paradox of the 2016 campaign was that none of the usual norms applied. Trump rolled over a weak GOP primary field by attacking the political establishment and tapping into a vein of widespread resentment among the electorate — about jobs, race, Islamist terrorism, and identity. But, Taibbi points out, Trump also realized that he could flip the campaign on its head by treating it as a long reality TV show, driven by the same imperative for ratings and social media buzz. The more unhinged Trump’s behavior and Twitter musings, the more media coverage he gained, and the more his stock rose.
While Taibbi believed that Trump would capture the GOP nomination, he was certain, like most of the political commentariat (this writer included), that he would crash and burn in a general election against Hillary Clinton. The conventional wisdom had Clinton winning in a blowout. But the political cognoscenti, the big donors, the corporate media, and the Clinton campaign honchos all got it wrong because they failed to recognize how betrayed a large swath of the electorate felt by the status quo.
Insane Clown President is a valuable work about one of the most bizarre electoral outcomes in American history. Taibbi believes that future national elections will be “a turnout battle between people who believe in a multicultural vision for the country, and those who don’t. Every other issue, from taxes to surveillance to war to jobs to education, will take a distant back seat to this ongoing, moronic referendum on white victimhood.”
The unlikely ascendancy of Donald Trump left Taibbi wondering if the process for electing a president can get any dumber.