- - Monday, January 4, 2016

Over the weekend, I enjoyed reading McKay Coppins’ new book, “The Wilderness: Deep Inside the Republican Party’s Combative, Contentious, Chaotic Quest to Take Back the White House.” Coppins, senior political writer at BuzzFeed News, serves up a dish of anecdotes and analyses that comes from interviewing a ton (300-plus, according to Coppins) of political insiders and operatives.

The book serves to explain the 2016 GOP nomination, and it accomplishes this by running through everything that has happened since the night President Obama won a second term of office in November 2012.

I say “everything” loosely, because this book was released in November 2015, so the manuscript would have been into the editors months earlier. And depending on how many months “earlier” that actually was, the book would have already been out of date in terms of predicting who was going to lead the GOP nomination.

Donald Trump is hardly mentioned at all until a long section tacked on at the end. In other words, Coppins — like most of us — did not see Trump’s rise in 2015 from a sideshow to a real candidate. Of course, most Americans are still unconvinced that Trump is more than a fun sideshow. 

Not surprisingly then, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and even Mitt Romney received a lot of attention from Coppins, as he must have sensed that each of these men would play an important role in the 2015 buildup. Even Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal and Chris Christie got a fair bit of mention.

And, quite frankly, Coppins knows that most readers enjoy reading something about Sarah Palin (mentioned on 11 pages); not so much for George Pataki (not mentioned at all).

But Pataki is not alone in being snubbed. Lindsey Graham, Jim Gilmore and … Ben Carson(!) also failed to make even a single appearance in Coppins’ material.

OK, so it’s not strange to find analysts who never saw Carson as a legitimate candidate. But to leave him out of the book entirely, that seems like an editorial oversight. Coppins should have tossed the names of these men into the book somewhere — even if just to say, “Ben Carson never had a chance.” At least then he would have been in the index.

In real life, Romney cut himself out of 2016 talk fairly early, but Bush and Rubio indeed have been considered “top-tier” since even before they launched. Plus, Coppins was wise to invest a lot of material into Rubio’s story anyhow, as the senator from Florida won’t be going anywhere even if he doesn’t win the nomination itself. Wait, actually he is going somewhere — leaving the Senate and all — a fact that raises the question about what he will do post-primaries if he is not the nominee.

Finally, Coppins dealt with the story of Ted Cruz in a good amount of pages, though a close reading would not indicate that the author saw Cruz as having a viable chance. So, with a Monday morning quarterback’s knowledge of Cruz’s fundraising abilities, we are now able to say that, yes, he does have a strong chance of winning the nomination. Cruz launched his campaign at Liberty University, sending a strong message that Evangelicals should get on board with his candidacy. But since the kickoff, he has also worked hard to remind his non-evangelical tea partiers who their man should be. And, for good measure, he has spoken a lot about “Reagan Democrats” on the campaign stump, emphasizing his goal of pulling in “iron workers in Ohio” and people who know something about hard work.

In summary, Coppins’ book was all I hoped it would be: fun and full of previously unknown stories that shed light on these GOP hopefuls.

And we can all agree with his book-opening thoughts on the importance of the November 2016 election for the future of our country:

The stakes are high. Whoever wins the election will take office at a moment of uncommon uncertainty and upheaval in American life — tasked with setting the national agenda for the most contentious issues of the era, from racial injustice to religious freedom, from police accountability to privacy rights, from immigration to income inequality. The average age of the Supreme Court justices has now passed seventy, and the next president could plausibly make as many as four new appointments to the bench, on top of thousands of other appointments across the judiciary and executive branches — an almost unprecedented opportunity to shape American jurisprudence for decades to come. Abroad, the growing terrorist threat of the Islamic State and the geopolitical bullying of countries like Russia will present the new commander in chief with a host of life-and-death, war-and-peace decisions that could have lasting global repercussions. And back home, the outcome of the election will almost certainly make the difference between an Oval Office occupant who celebrates, solidifies, and builds upon President Obama’s liberal domestic policies and one who spends the next four years actively working to unspool his legacy.

The choice facing the country is start, its consequences far-reaching…

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