Not that they have all disappeared — far from it. While Tea Party-adjacent Republicans like Eric Cantor and John Boehner were eventually pushed out by the impatient brawlers of the House Freedom Caucus, certain old-guard figures have since seized on what they need to do to keep their jobs and stay in power. Alberta spells out how Mitch McConnell’s refusal to allow even a hearing for Merrick Garland, Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, encouraged otherwise hesitant social conservatives — ever hopeful of overturning Roe v. Wade — to hold their noses and vote for a libertine Trump.
Alberta, who thanks Jesus Christ in his acknowledgments (“despite my straying from the path, He loves me and forgives me”), seems truly astounded by the about-face of the evangelical Mike Pence, a longtime free-trade conservative who embraced tariffs after becoming Trump’s running mate. The born-again protectionism is one thing, but it’s Pence’s unlikely portrait of Trump as a pious supplicant that gives Alberta pause. “I respect the sincerity of his faith,” Pence told Alberta on the 2016 campaign trail.
“This is when the B.S. detector starts to beep,” Alberta writes. His book generally strikes a tone of measured fairness throughout, but he eventually concludes that “Pence’s talent for bootlicking” is “obscene.”
Unsurprisingly, Republicans who have left office are game to give Alberta some of the saltiest quotes. Boehner, who retired as House speaker in 2015, says Congress is filled with “some of the nicest people” and “some that are Nazis.” Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, fumes at evangelical leaders for supporting a president who “comes along defiling the White House and disrespecting God’s children at every turn, but it’s cool, because he gave them two Supreme Court justices.”
“American Carnage” tells the degrading story of the ultimate devil’s bargain: As chaotic as the current administration is, and as much as the president torpedoes conservative shibboleths like respect for the F.B.I. and the sanctity of families, Republicans have scored some goodies they have long craved — the gutting of environmental regulations, a raft of judicial appointments and an enormous tax cut.
The question is how sustainable any of this is. Zac Moffatt, the digital director for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012, now admits that Romney’s hard-line immigration rhetoric may have had some consequences that were less intended than others.
“Sometimes you have to light a prairie fire to win,” he told Alberta. “But sometimes it comes back and burns your house down.”