“If you believe America’s future depends on Donald Trump’s political machine being crushed at the polls next year, then Rick Wilson’s Running Against the Devil is a must-read.”—Joe Scarborough, MSNBC
Donald Trump is exactly the disaster we feared for America. Hated by a majority of Americans, Trump’s administration is corrupt, inept, and rocked by daily scandals. In the handling of 2020’s coronavirus pandemic, its incompetence has been deadly.
Trump can’t win in 2020, right?
Wrong. As 2016 proved, Trump can’t win, but Joe Biden can sure as hell lose. Only one thing can save Trump, and that’s a Democratic campaign that runs the race Trump wants Democrats to run instead of the campaign they must run to win in 2020.
Wilson combines decades of national political experience and insight in his take-noprisoners analysis, hammering Trump’s destructive and dangerous first term in a case-by-case takedown of the worst president in history and describing the terrifying prospect of four more years of Trump.
Like no one else can, Wilson blows the lid off Trump’s 2020 political war machine, showing the exact strategies and tactics Republicans will use against Biden, and how the Democrats can avoid the catastrophes waiting for them if they fall into Trump’s traps. Running Against the Devil is sharply funny, brutally honest, and infused with Wilson’s biting commentary. It’s a vital indictment of Trump, a no-nonsense, no-holds-barred road map to saving America, and the guide to making Donald Trump a one-term president.
The stakes are too high to do anything less.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Election Night, November 3, 2020
Imagine you’re a Democratic strategist, one of the top figures in the 2020 nominee’s campaign. It’s Election Night, and you feel something familiar in the air. It’s a feeling of confidence, of rising joy and anticipation. It’s been a long, tough campaign, but victory is in sight. You’re going to win, and you know it. It’s a certainty. After four years of Trump, the Democrats are poised to claim a sweeping Electoral College and popular-vote victory.
The last few weeks of October were a blissful whirl, with polling numbers looking strong across the board and your candidate joyfully working the crowds in swing states. She’s a happy warrior, praised for her political skills and the subject of endless glowing media profiles. Almost every newspaper in the country endorsed her in the final week. America, after so many centuries of right-wing injustice, finally appears to have achieved a state of beautiful progressive wokeness and is ready for its bold socialist future.
After the debates, it was clear your candidate, though occasionally rattled by Trump’s in-your-grill debating presence, had triumphed. She was smart, articulate, and progressive. She’s everything you’ve dreamed about since Obama. Trump has been flailing, angrily tweeting a dozen times a day, stoking the MAGA base at an endless series of campaign rallies, and sounding crazier by the minute. He’s punchy and tired, and looks worn-out.
You and your campaign colleagues have even started those elliptical conversations about what role you might play in a Democratic White House, mostly couched in the faux-modest “Oh, I just want to help the future president in any way I can . . .” tones of people who are already plotting for office space and picking out curtains.
A few of your older, wiser hands don’t seem to share the infectiously optimistic Election Night mood. They lack the same sunny optimism the candidate displayed as she sat in the holding suite after the last long day of campaigning ended. They keep staring nervously at the FiveThirtyEight map and running the same mental calculations over Electoral College numbers they’ve done a thousand times. But hey, you feel really great about this.
The campaign’s social-media metrics were weird the last few days, though, and your data and analytics people were sending increasingly worrying messages about the massive inflows of ads from brand-new super PACs and 501(c)(4) dark-money groups. You convinced yourself these were just the final gasps of the Trumpian grifters making a last buck on the Donald, or perhaps his Russian friends trying an end run. The Trump campaign and the RNC (but I repeat myself) ad buys were scattershot, and on issues that seemed off-kilter. As the night starts, the ballroom is packed to the gills with eager, happy people ready to put Trump and Trumpism in the rearview mirror of history. The media risers, crowded with the A-talent from every network, are jammed. The results are about to come in, and the army of reporters in the back of the ballroom is in a near frenzy.
You didn’t repeat the Hillary mistake of not visiting the states Trump and his Russian allies scored in 2016. Your candidate made the stops, though the crowds were never quite as large or raucous as you wanted. Your state organizers tell you they’ve got armies of volunteers knocking on doors, making calls, and driving turnout.
Hell, none of the final tracking polls showed Trump even close except in Michigan, home of Kid Rock and one of the most stark political divides between the city and suburbs anywhere in the nation. In Michigan, his numbers weren’t just surprising; they were downright terrifying, but your pollster assured you it was an outlier and that you’d still take Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Wisconsin.
The exit polls were closer than you wanted but still looked good. As the first results were about to roll in, the AP, Washington Post, New York Times, Decision Desk, and Politico analysts started pinging you and the rest of the campaign’s senior staff.
“What’s going on in Michigan? Do you hear this stuff out of Florida?” Something is off the rails, and you don’t quite know what it is yet.
By 9:30, it’s not looking like you expected. Ohio is showing a razor-thin Trump lead. He’s winning Michigan handily. Florida is Florida, and although you had projected a four-point lead, by 10:00 p.m. the vote total shows Trump up by 65,000 . . . and the Panhandle hasn’t even fully reported yet.
Florida’s enormous influx of Puerto Rican voters meant the Democrats were on track for a stunning victory there, right? Wait. Didn’t someone mention in a meeting that the Hispanic turnout operation in Florida was a bit smoke and mirrors?
You post high numbers in South Florida, but everywhere else in the Sunshine State, Trump is tearing you apart. When the Panhandle does report, everything outside of the blue enclave of Tallahassee is posting numbers in the low 60 percent range for Donald Fucking Trump. Your mind flickers to an angry set of emails and Slack messages a few weeks before about avoiding the issue of gun control in North Florida, but your candidate insisted not only on an assault weapons ban but a ban on semiautomatics as well. Metrics show that north of the I-4 corridor you’re losing everywhere except liberal Alachua and Leon counties by double digits.
“What the hell is happening in Wisconsin?” is your next question. With the Democratic gains in 2018, it seemed like a lock that Trump would go down in flames, especially after the disastrous scam of Foxconn left Wisconsin workers holding the bag for a failed deal with China. Wisconsin farmers had suffered terribly from Trump’s trade war. When you see that the race is essentially tied, you think, “What in the actual fuck is going on here?”
A few thousand votes turn the easy layup of Pennsylvania into a disastrous loss. Hell, even Minnesota is closer than you thought. You get destroyed in Ohio, with record rural turnout offsetting the cities.
In nearly every swing state, you’re losing everywhere outside the metros and the most affluent suburbs. Turnout is sky-high, which your models predicted would be great for your candidate, but even then you’re just missing the margins.
That’s why, come midnight, your candidate is in the suite, calling Donald Trump to concede the election. There are tears all around. You can hear Trump on the speakerphone, curt and smug. You dread seeing that first triumphant tweet from the once and future president.
The next morning, you begin to put together the mosaic of data points in your head from the last few weeks. You start to see the messages and strategies Trump and his campaign used that seemed lurid and absurd at the time but now begin to make perfect sense.
They weren’t trying to win big, or swing the nation toward a new ideological polarity, or find the next savior. They were animals, trapped in a win-or-die moment, and they resorted to tooth and claw. You realize as the Electoral College numbers rise for the Republican that your campaign mistook Trump’s sloppy, shambolic, hateful, stream-of-excrescence campaign for what was happening behind the scenes. There, for an army of professional Republican campaigners wedded to Trump out of desperate necessity, it was ride or die.
Suddenly, your candidate’s detailed policy proposals, white papers, and granular knowledge of climate change, reparations for slavery, gun control, Electoral College reform, the Green New Deal, and healthcare reform weren’t assets. Your pride in having the most progressive candidate and campaign since FDR turns to ashes in your mouth. Maybe giving Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders keynote addresses at the convention, where they could declare fraternal communist solidarity with the workers of the world, was a mistake. You understand too late that your race to the left to win the primary and secure the progressive ideological edge blinded you to the reality of largely center-right states on the Electoral College scoreboard. You handed Trump the weapon he used to cut off your head. Sure, Trump’s lowest-common-denominator message was cultish, racist, and blisteringly stupid, but it was simple, constant, and repeated . . . and you kept feeding him issues to use against you. Wall. MAGA. Judges. Socialism. Revenge.
You thought your progressive message was universal and that the swing states have the same political polarity as California, New York, or Massachusetts. You believed you could shame Trump and Trump voters into listening to the better angels of their nature by talking about diversity, inclusion, and liberal values. In reality, you were giving the Trump campaign fodder for the weaponized grievance machine that put him in office in the first place.
Boy (or your preferred gendered interjection), were you ever wrong.
Table of Contents
A Note to Readers xiii
Introduction: Election Night, November 3, 2020 3
Why This Book? 11
Part 1 The Case Against Trump, or Four More Years in Hell 19
Four More Years in Hell 22
American Swamp 26
The Crazy Racist Uncle Act … Isn't an Act 33
Cruelty as Statecraft 38
Trump's Economic Bullshit Machine 42
Generalissimo Trump and Pillow Fortress America 50
All Rise: President McConnell's Courts 56
The Environment 61
Imperial Trumps 67
Our National Soul 72
The Mission 77
Part 2 The Myths of 2020 79
It's a National Election 84
The Policy Delusion 89
America Is So Woke 96
You'll Get Obama's Minority Turnout 117
Muh Youth Vote 121
Part 3 Army of Darkness: Trump's War Machine 125
The Trump 2020 War Machine 128
Never Underestimate Incumbency 141
Trump's Messages and Strategies 145
No Heroes in the GOP 149
His Fucking Twitter Feed, Fakebook, and Fox Agitporn 154
The Mainstream Media 158
Deepfake Nation 163
You Have No Secrets 169
The Death of Truth 175
Part 4 How to Lose 181
Flying by the Seat of Your Pants 183
Playing the Campaign, Losing the Reality Show 187
Asking the Wrong Polling Questions 194
Magical Thinking 198
The Culture War: Where Democrats Go to Die 206
Reviving the Clintons 210
The Danger of Democratic Trumps 213
Taking the Infrastructure Week Bait 216
Externalities Are a Bitch 218
Part 5 How to Win 225
Only Fight the Electoral College Map 228
Speaking American 238
The First Rule of Trump Fight Club 247
Start Early 252
Start Advertising. Now. 255
No More Potemkin Campaigns 260
Make the Worst of Trump's Base His Running Mate 265
Reaching Trump Voters, If You Must-and Sadly, You Must 268
Be the Party of Markets, Families, and Security 275
Third Parties and Spoilers 280
Investigate + Interrogate > Impeach 288
The Target List 293
Part 6 Epilogue 299
Election Night, November 3, 2020 303