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Books like this usually burst out with a few anecdotes from the news industry, and Wolff delivers a few of them. Trump believed that Democratic Party elders would pull Biden, who was sure to lose, at the last minute and replace him with a ticket from Andrew Cuomo and Michelle Obama. He toyed with the idea of using the pandemic as an excuse to postpone the election indefinitely. The most notorious line in his speech to the beginning mob on January 6th – “We’re going down to the Capitol” – was an ad-lib, not in the text his staff had prepared. But the strength of “Landslide” comes less from these stories than from a coherent argument that Wolff, in collaboration with his sources, brings about how we should understand the period between November 3rd and January 20th. The fastest-produced books on political events do not.
Trump is self-obsessed, delusional, and administratively incompetent on these sites. He has no interest in or understanding of how government works. He doesn’t read or listen to briefings. He spends a lot of time watching conservative television channels and talking to pals on the phone. The pandemic puts him at a particular disadvantage; Many of the people around him are either sick or afraid to come to work because it would mean adhering to a regime of Covid non-compliance that Trump is calling for. If someone tells him something he doesn’t want to hear, he’ll marginalize or fire that person and find someone to listen to, who may or may not hold an official position. When Fox News is no longer entirely loyal, it switches to Newsmax or One America News Network. He lives in a self-curated information environment that has only a fleeting reference to reality.
Before the belief that the election was stolen had full control over Trump’s mind, the idea was already there – because he viewed all forms of expanded access to the right to vote that tended to favor Democrats as stealing. He declined requests from his staff to set up a Republican early voting operation, just as he declined requests to support masking and social distancing during the height of the pandemic: alien. He was completely disorganized, with endless layoffs and key changes in the cast. And during his second impeachment trial, Trump was represented by a weirdly incompetent, bickering team of lawyers he had barely met.
In the wee hours of election night, when he was way ahead of the pre-election polls, Trump decided he had won. After it became clear to everyone but himself that this was not the case, he appointed an alternate reality team of advisors, led by Rudy Giuliani, that included people whom even Giuliani found unacceptable, such as Sidney Powell, the freelance attorney, and Mike Lindell , the CEO of MyPillow, and he embraced every conspiracy theory and strategic fantasy available on how to change the outcome. For Trump, Wolff said, elections are somewhat similar to the due dates for loans in his real estate business – a place to negotiate. Because he divides people into two categories, strong and weak, and because he has the deep cynicism of an unprincipled person, he chose to believe that he wasn’t the first presidential candidate to deny the result, just the first man enough was to get a typically corrupt result.
No one in official power in the White House or the Republican Party – especially Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell – took Trump’s frenzy seriously, so the horrific events of January 6 came as a surprise, probably even to Trump himself. The various rallies that day had been organized by independent right-wing political entrepreneurs who wanted to promote business, not the White House, and most Republicans in Washington did not yet realize how fully Trump’s supporters had accepted his insistence that the election had been stolen. Almost no one in the White House was actively trying to convince members of Congress to vote for the election challenges that faced them on Jan. 6.