I was expecting this book to be a drier, deeper counterpart to Everything Trump Touches Dies, a William F. Buckley to the P.J. O’Rourke of Rick Wilson. I did not find that.
Instead I found a book that earned its subtitle: Why I Left the Right. Rick Wilson’s book was a rallying cry to end Trumpism. Boot’s is a personal gripe against it.
The book is broken into sections. While each has some degree of merit, the ones I found most engaging were his biographical segments and his summary of the costs of embracing Trumpism. His annotated section explaining the results of such actions, The Cost of Capitulation, is 40 pages of insight and covers a fifth of the book. Throughout the biography, though, he feels the need to interject explanations of how his thinking has evolved on some of the subjects.
This is the underpinning theme of the book. The portion of the book which describes “The Trump Toadies” is completely accurate… but minimal, clocking in at a mere fourteen pages. That’s less material, and more personally framed, than seen on the pages of TNB on many days.
Boot’s book seems most valuable not for any new information imparted, nor as a chronicle of events, but rather as an example of how Trumpism has driven some lifelong conservatives not merely from the party but from their principles. Seeing the willing embrace of racists, praise of dictators, abandonment of fiscal responsibility and the refutation of morality that the Republican party has performed across the last three years, Boot wants nothing to do with it anymore.
This is not to say he is suddenly a Democrat. In the epilogue, he chronicles a number of reasons he is not affiliating with them. He talks about fiscal conservatism. He promotes both free markets and a welfare state limited to those who truly cannot fend for themselves. He promotes free speech on all levels and opposes identity politics on all levels. He is a defense hawk.
The narrative of the Democrats was waiting for him. He steadfastly refuses to accept their demonstrably incorrect positions but, for any where there is a difference of opinion, he seems to be accepting the Democrat narrative. He speaks of his regret at not recognizing his white privilege. He advocates for a very strict militia-based interpretation of the Second Amendment and the stringent gun control which would accompany it. On many other issues he now finds himself agreeing with the Democrats; in “The Origins of Trumpism”, chapter 7, he lays the blame for Trump firmly at the feet of people like Barry Goldwater, Phyllis Schlafly, William F. Buckley and Ronald Reagan. Not that these people were Trumpists, but rather that they were progressively more doctrinarian and thus paved the way for a person to utilize the divisiveness in favor of a populist agenda.
The arguments he uses are ones which have been promoted for years by people like E.J. Dionne. I have found them fatuous, because – exactly as with many arguments produced by Ann Coulter – they rely on extrapolations of isolated incidents (such as Reagan praising “state’s rights” in a Mississippi town in 1980 after three civil rights activists had been killed by the KKK in that town… in 1964… to demonstrate that Reagan was pandering to racists).
There was a time, not long ago, when Boot was far more reasoned than this. But this book is a striking demonstration of what happens when a person is betrayed on a core level by the people he trusted. Not just a few friends or philosophical leaders, but the millions of Americans he firmly believed were better than they have demonstrated themselves to be.