Four years ago he was at the center of the presidential circus, as the some-time chief strategist behind Mitt Romney’s run for the White House. Today, he’s hundreds of miles away from Cleveland and the Republication National Convention, living and biding his time at his home in Vermont. But Stuart Stevens is still scripting an outrageous outcome: A convention dominated by a right-wing populist, who gains momentum after a string of bombings overshadows the convention.
That’s just the fictional part, cooked up by Stevens in his seventh book and second novel, “The Innocent Have Nothing to Fear.” Released just days before the GOP gathering in Cleveland, it paints a none-too-flattering picture of a party beset by infighting and intrigue. But the long-time political consultant and some-time television writer (“Commander in Chief,” “Northern Exposure” and “I’ll Fly Away”) has just as caustic observations of the real-life GOP, views he expects to be sharing this week on outlets including MSNBC and Fox News.
“Donald Trump is uniquely unqualified to be president,” says Stevens. It’s a view he has shared regularly on Twitter. And he hopes Republicans will soon be disabused of the notion that Trump will make a sudden turn toward more “presidential” bearing. “If you have a friend who is about to marry a guy who is 70 years old and he promises he will change, what would your advice be?” Stuart muses. “No one changes at 70.”
Stevens said in an interview that he finished “The Innocent Have Nothing to Fear” a year ago, and that, while not modeled on the candidacy of Donald Trump, or any other candidate, it’s hardly divorced from current events either. “You could see these forces at work in our politics that would produce a Trump even before it happened,” said Stevens, a seventh generation Mississippian, schooled at Colorado College, Middlebury College, Pembroke College, Oxford and the UCLA Film School. “We deal with politics moment to moment but in politics, like the weather, there are patterns. Just because it gets cold outside one day in the summer doesn’t mean there is no global warming.”
Stevens said he is not surprised that Republican voters do not heed warnings from political insiders like him or even from party elders like Romney and two past presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
“There are no party leaders any more to speak of, there are no smoke-filled rooms where these decisions are made. They just don’t exist,” said Stevens. “We like to pretend when we talk about these things there is more structure than there is. Really, there is just chaos.”
Stevens said voters should be particularly alarmed the way Trump has intimated that he would crack down on the press.
The billionaire businessman has slammed the Washington Post for its tough reporting on him and banned the paper from his campaign (though Post reporters are in attendance at the GOP convention) and suggested that Post owner Jeff Bezos’ Amazon might need closer scrutiny from the IRS. “He doesn’t like a newspaper, so we are going to clamp down on this wildly successful American business?” Stevens says incredulously.
He went on to call Trump the “first candidate since World War II not prepared for the job of sitting at the top of a nuclear command chain” and said that the candidate’s many shifts on the issues suggest he has a “mind like a pin ball machine, with all this stuff just bouncing around.”
In his novel, the central character is a political consultant, J.D. Callahan, who must contend with a rogue’s gallery of characters including “a sexy, gun-toting gossip columnist” and “an FBI agent convinced that J. D. is devious enough to set the bombs himself.” The whodunit, praised by the New York Times as “funny, observant and highly entertaining” careens toward an unpredictable conclusion.
Stevens believes fate is much easier to predict in the case of Trump, given the 60% or more of voters who say they would never vote for him and polls showing minority voters turning away from him en masse.
The result, Stevens said, is that Trump’s camp is pursuing a “Lost Tribes of the Amazon” campaign. “The strategy seems to be that if you’re far enough up river and beat the drums loud enough, these large tribes of white voters will come down to the riverside and vote for you.” Concludes Stevens: “I’m sorry, but you just can’t get there.”