STuart Stevens’ “It Was All a Lie” is a sustained attack, both whining and confession, on the Republican Party he served for 40 years. His is the hand at the political party of Belshazzar: “All these unchanging truths have turned out to be marketing slogans. None of this meant anything. I was the guy who worked for Bernie Madoff who actually thought we were really smart and we were just crushing the market.
Stevens, a consultant, is refreshingly candid about his role and responsibilities. “Blame me,” he wrote, adding, “I’ve been lying to myself for decades.” He’s looking for a new leaf on a “crazy idea that a return to personal responsibility begins with personal responsibility.”
Unsurprisingly, it begins with race, “the original Republican sin … the key in which much of American politics and certainly all of Southern politics has been played out.” Since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Republicans have struggled to attract African-American voters. Stevens is not surprised.
“What if you spend decades attracting white voters and treating non-white voters with benign neglect at best? You are doing what it takes to attract white voters. How, for example, does a black man hear “avowed hatred of government”?
The political effects are shocking; electoral effects have only recently become apparent as demographics change. Yet the strategy “was so obvious that even the Russians adopted it, attempting to stir up tension among black voters to help Trump win.”
This deception extends to other areas, notably foreign policy, in which “the Republican Party has gone from ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” to a Republican president who responds to Vladimir Putin like a stray dog, eager to follow him home. “. All without too much protest from those who know better.
Stevens believes Donald Trump is “just removing the need to pretend” that Republicans care about social issues. Instead, it’s about “attacking and defining Democrats.” The idea that “character matters”, so prevalent in previous decades, is forgotten.
In short, stripped “of any pretension of philosophy of government, a political party will by default be controlled by those who shout the loudest and are not hampered by any semblance of normality”. The first victim is the truth. “Large elements of the Republican Party have made a collective decision that there is no objective truth” and that a cause or mere access to power is more important.
Rather than saying the sky is green, the new strategy is to “build a world in which the sky is actually green.” So whoever says it’s blue is clearly a liar. Unfortunately, it worked. Stevens notes that once “there is no challenge to the craziest ideas that have no basis in fact, it’s easy for Trump to take a little bit of truth and turn it into an elaborate fantasy. “
He rightly calls this fear and cowardice: “To voluntarily follow a coward against your own values and place your own power above the good of the nation is to become a coward.” People know better – including Republican members of Congress – but don’t speak. However, Stevens recalls that “the story of Faust is not only that Mephistopheles takes your soul, he does not keep what he promised”.
The remedy is simple. “You can always say no. I so wish the Republican leaders would try it ”.
What was Trump’s role in all of this? Both a facilitator and someone who took a fragile foundation and crushed it. Trump “clarified everything and made the pretension impossible.” For Stevens, the GOP “rallied behind Donald Trump because if that was the deal needed to take back power, what was the problem? Because it’s always been about power.
Stevens praised two former clients, George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, “honest men who tried to live their lives according to a set of values that represented the best of our society.” Yet neither of them could win today. He quotes George HW Bush’s passionate resignation letter from the National Rifle Association after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, and realizes that few would do so now.
Stevens is deeply concerned about the future of American democracy, comparing some tests in the How Democracies Die study with actions taken under the Trump administration.
With a party having failed in its role of “circuit breaker”, he cites the “urgent need for a center-right party to advocate for a different vision and philosophy of government” as Democrats drift to the left. Although moderate Republican governors remain popular, it is distinctly pessimistic that today’s Republicans can be this party, for they have “legitimized bigotry and hatred as the organizing principle of a political party in a country with a unique role in the world ”.
Stevens has little hope that the GOP will run away from Trump or meet the challenge of adjusting to an increasingly white America. Losing, seriously, is his only hope of focusing Republican minds on the new reality of American demographics. In the absence of this, his prescription is final: “Burn it to the ground and start again.” “
The first can happen. The latter is less predictable.