The Conspiracy To End America Review: Trump And The Fascist Threat

Author Stuart Stevens ran Republican campaigns but joined the Lincoln Project. His latest book delivers a chilling warning


Donald Trump’s supporters want an American Caesar. Back in 2016, Paul LePage, then governor of Maine, made it explicit. “We need a Donald Trump to show some authoritarian power in our country,” he declared. Joe Sitt, a major player in New York real estate and an early Trump backer, chipped in: “We don’t have a president, we have a king.”

Five years later, January 6 and its aftermath crystalized another reality: Trump found fair and free elections useless. He and his allies had grown weary of democracy. After all, they had lost.

The Republican party had a new credo: “Heads, I win. Tails, you lose.”

The last time the GOP won the popular vote was in 2004, and before that 1988. Seeking to return to office, Trump has threatened the media with charges of treason and hankered for the execution of Gen Mark Milley, the former chair of the joint chiefs of staff.

Against this dystopian backdrop, Stuart Stevens delivers his second book, The Conspiracy to End America, on what happened to the party he served for so long, this one under the subtitle Five Ways My Old Party Is Driving Our Democracy to Autocracy. The words are jarring but dead-on. Once a senior campaign operative, Stevens knows of what he speaks. In his view, only the Democratic party values democracy as an end in itself.

He did media for George W Bush’s White House runs, then helped guide Mitt Romney to the Republican nomination in 2012. Now, though, Stevens is at the Lincoln Project, a haven for never-Trumpers. Their commercials got under Trump’s skin – to the delectation of Democrats. They were mean and funny. On the page, Stevens picks up where he left off in It Was All a Lie, his book of 2019. Four years furnished plenty of new material. At present, Trump faces 91 felony counts across multiple jurisdictions yet is the odds-on favorite to capture the 2024 presidential nomination. Truth is stranger than fiction.

“Trump understood the true nature of the Republican party better than those who were the party’s leaders,” Stevens writes of Trump’s first campaign, launched in 2015, a tacit admission that the author himself did not fully comprehend the world around him. It was about resentments, not upward arc: “Hate was creating a surge of appeal.”

Trump beat Hillary Clinton, then lost to Joe Biden. His ambitions were only momentarily derailed. His chief challenger, the hard-right Florida governor Ron DeSantis, faded in primary polling. The rest of the field is running in place or approaching asterisk status. None can land a punch.

As Stevens sees it, the late Weimar Republic and the US today have plenty in common. As was the case 90 years ago, democracy could be made expendable, particularly if the donor class goes along for the ride.

Back then, in Stevens’ telling, the German aristocracy lost touch with the workers. Fearing communism, they and the industrialists made peace with Adolf Hitler – much as GOP donors opened their wallets to Trump. Stevens leaves little to the imagination: “Like Adolf Hitler, Trump hated the establishment figures who supported him, and they despised him.”

He quotes Mitch McConnell, the living embodiment of the Republican establishment, the Senate majority leader when Trump won the White House. With hindsight, McConnell sounds clueless, oblivious to the approaching storm.

“I think we’re much more likely to change [Trump] because if he is president, he’s going to have to deal with the sort of the right-of-center world, which is where most of us are,” McConnell told CNBC.

“Going to have to deal”? Really?

After McConnell helped Trump’s judicial nominees over the finishing line, the senator became expendable. He emerged as a target for Trump’s rants and loathing, including potshots at Elaine Chao, McConnell’s Chinese American wife, who resigned from Trump’s cabinet – if only after January 6. At times, McConnell’s disdain seeped out. Ultimately, though, he maintained sufficient devotion to his Caesar: McConnell blamed Trump for January 6 but refused to vote to convict at the second impeachment trial.

In the same quisling spirit, McConnell has said he would vote for Trump if he becomes the Republican nominee again. A coda: just like Ted Cruz, the senator from Texas, McConnell never responded to the barbs Trump aimed at his wife.

As for Cruz, Trump linked his father to the assassination of John F Kennedy and, for good measure, called his wife ugly. No matter: “lyin’ Ted,” as Trump nicknamed him, was there to polish Trump’s boots with his tongue.

Not surprisingly, Stevens shines an unflattering light on Cruz. He also stresses that McConnell wasn’t alone in trashing Trump and then acquiescing to his dominance: he namechecks the former House speaker Kevin McCarthy, the former vice-president Mike Pence, the New York Republican Elise Stefanik and senators Lindsey Graham, Marsha Blackburn and Tim Scott, all for condemning the insurrection only to backslide swiftly.

“Two weeks after the insurrection, Kevin McCarthy was once again the aging fraternity rush chairman who would do anything to be accepted by the Big Man on Campus fraternity president,” Stevens writes.

This month, in McCarthy’s hour of need, Trump did not rally to his side. The Californian became the first House speaker ever ejected by his own party – while Trump toyed with the idea of becoming speaker himself. Meanwhile, out on the presidential campaign trail, Pence and Scott go nowhere. The Republican party really is The Trump Show.

On Wednesday, House Republicans tapped Steve Scalise, reportedly a David Duke wannabe, as their guy for House speaker. But his candidacy was short lived. On Thursday, he pulled the plug. Other far-right connections continue. Eric Trump was slated to share the stage with Ian Smith, a Nazi apologist, at Trump Doral in Florida this week.

“The collapse of American democracy is like the pandemic,” Stevens warns. “Whatever you say at the beginning will sound alarmist but likely prove inadequate at the end.”

The Conspiracy to End America is published in the US by Hachette