Wolff is a sometimes-mocked character in the worlds of media and politics. He’s been accused of being less than careful in his fact-checking. He’s been penalized for reckless writing offenses. These criticisms are valid, up to a degree. But “Landslide” is a brilliant, colorful and intrepid book. He has great instincts. I read it in two or three sittings.
It’s the book that this era and this subject definitely deserve. In that manner it’s like “His Way,” Kitty Kelley’s scathing 1983 biography of Frank Sinatra or, more favorable to the author, Tina Brown’s sinuous and alert 2007 book about Princess Diana.
You never sense Wolff has the political world in his hands, the way Theodore H. White did in his “The Making of the President” novels. He lacks the bristling erudition of a Garry Wills. “Landslide,” with its impudent and inquisitive traits, put me in mind of Joe McGinniss’s “The Selling of the President 1968.” Like McGinniss, Wolff embeds himself like a tick, even while socially withdrawing.
Wolff doesn’t have Mark Milley. He’s not too interested in the Covid tale. He zeros in on the turmoil and the kakistocracy, on how practically everyone with a sense of decency departed Trump in his closing months, and how he was left with clapped-out charlatans like Sidney Powell and Giuliani. Giuliani’s farts is a constant joke in this novel, but the author doesn’t find him humorous at all.
Wolff has scenes Leonnig and Rucker don’t. These contain election night specifics, such as the freak-out in Trump land when Fox News called Arizona early for Biden. Wolff, who penned a biography of Rupert Murdoch, remembers the frantic phone calls that raced back and forth before the word came down from the old Dirty Digger himself: “[Expletive] him.”
In this assessment, Trump belittles his admirers. “Trump often expressed puzzlement over who these people were,” Wolff writes, “their low-rent ‘trailer camp’ bearing and their ‘get-ups,’ once joking that he should have invested in a chain of tattoo parlors and shaking his head over ‘the great unwashed.’”
Wolff has an eye for status details. A typical comment: “Bedminster had promising airs of a British gentlemen’s club, but looked more like a steak restaurant.”
It was another Wolfe, Tom, who noted that “the dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet settles only in Europe.” The authors of both these books conclude with fresh Trump interviews, oceanfront at Mar-a-Lago. None think the threat of that night will fade anytime soon.