What does a high-ranking White House official have to do to get a book contract around here?
Recently departed Trump administration officials are complaining that publishers aren’t competing for their insider accounts of the presidency the way they once did. What happened to the auctions for White House memoirs with little more than a few juicy tidbits dished up over poached salmon in Manhattan? To three midday glasses of Chardonnay and a soft landing at a network?
If you wanted to follow in the footsteps of Clinton aide turned ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos, you should have chosen a less miserable president—one who didn’t sleepwalk through a pandemic that killed a half-million Americans on his watch before encouraging an insurrection against his own country.
The problem for you long haulers, defined loosely as anyone who stayed after Trump OKed the purchase of a million doses of useless hydroxychloroquine and suggested bleach as a cure for COVID, is that the easy money’s already been made by those who left early and spilled generously. The best you can do now is get lucky, like former House Speaker John Boehner did with his surprise bestseller, On the House: A Washington Memoir, about his 25 years in Congress.
Boehner had the good timing to get pushed out of power, his many political sins washed out of the popular recollection by the horror of the ensuing Trump years. The speaker returns in the guise of lobbyist and author, unrepentant. Still, there are lessons in his approach:
First, ladle some Boehner bipartisanship into your proposal. Don’t worry, not the genuine kind where Nancy Pelosi would be routinely invited to meetings in the Roosevelt Room. The commercial kind where you trash-write both sides and double your chances of getting read.
It’s hard to pull off a full Boehner—drinking, chain-smoking, f-bombing and yet somehow engaging. Is there anyone who would want to cozy up with Stephen Miller’s recollections of working late into the night snatching babies from their mothers? Mike Pompeo might get an offer if he tells us how he turned our allies into enemies and vice versa, and why he thought the inspector general wouldn’t find out he ordered staff to walk the dog, make hair appointments for his wife, and hold personal dinners for potential donors in the State Department’s ceremonial rooms.
But you can follow Boehner’s example in skating around your actual record. Reading his book, you’d never know he was there for the birth of the Tea Party, Fox as its mouthpiece, and that he weaponized ethics to create fake scandals to take down his enemies. There’s a straight line from Boehner to Sarah Palin but his book is full of shots at the “lunatics,” the “kooks” and the “knuckleheads'' in the GOP. The man voted for Donald Trump. Twice.
Still, like him, you should assure publishers you can get airtime to muse about what a wonderful world it would be if you were still in power. Last Sunday on CNN, Boehner lamented the “heartbreak” of mass shootings and how gun legislation would be his “top priority” if he were in office. When he was in office, the Sandy Hook massacre of schoolchildren clutching sippy-cups mustn’t have been heartbreaking enough for him. He didn’t bring one gun bill to the floor.
That’s the facts-are-stupid-things attitude that earns the big advance, assures a publisher you’ll make news, gets you a cozy kitchen interview on 60 Minutes along with articles praising your “rollicking, foul-mouthed” read.
For good measure, toss in an apology—and you Trumpers have lots to choose from—like Boehner offering his regrets for voting to impeach Bill Clinton, admitting it was nothing more than a Hail Mary pass to win House seats in 2000. His bad! I’m sure the Clintons really appreciate that.
Or you could suddenly become interesting, like the last vice president did when the ultimate loyalist and sycophant found himself a named target of Trump’s insurrection with rioters carrying “Hang Mike Pence” signs and nooses. There’s a dramatic video of the second-in-command being hustled down the stairs to an undisclosed location just a step ahead of the boss’ murderous fans. Someone at Simon & Schuster must think Pence is the leading candidate for president in 2024 as he got a two-book deal. To justify that, he’s going to have to tell us about the weekend he and mother went to ground after the Access Hollywood tape and almost quit the ticket.
Kellyanne Conway was already interesting. She got a reported $2 million and you can be sure it wasn’t for alternative facts but a promise to reveal what it was like to be caught between the leader of the free world and her lawyer-husband in the most curious love triangle since The Age of Innocence. Call it The Age of Guilt: George hated her boss so much he co-founded the anti-Trump Lincoln Project and wrote the seminal piece in the Atlantic about how Trump’s malignant narcissism rendered him unfit for office. Mr. Kellyanne Conway, as Trump called George, is partly why Kellyanne is making cameos on American Idol and hawking her tales of having been in the White House rather than being there now.
It’s too late to get yourself dramatically fired like former FBI Director James Comey but not too late to rewrite your proposals to mine every meeting for material: walks across the South Lawn to Marine One, rides with Lindsey Graham in an armored Cadillac Escalade, lunch on the terrace at Mar-a-Lago watching the courtiers come and go. Comey had plenty of high-minded policy in A Higher Loyalty but also delivered some low-minded you-are-there nuggets from his copious notes about meetings with a small-handed, short man with orange skin. He had a million dollars in sales his first month.
But don’t go so whole hog on research that you can’t swear that No Staffers were Harmed in the Making of This Book. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo now faces an official investigation into charges he enlisted aides to help him with American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic, in the middle of the pandemic, no less. He says staff “volunteered.” We’ll see.
Cuomo reportedly tried to get $4 million for that book (and has refused for months to say what he did end up scoring) even after the Murdochs bribed—oops, advanced—him $780,000 for a previous memoir that sold 3,200 copies, meaning he got paid roughly $250 for each copy sold. It’s nice work if you can get it.
You Trump loyalists without a direct line to the Murdochs have the chance of winning one of the GOP’s participation trophies for effort. When readers weren’t racing to buy Triggered, Junior’s 2019 inquiry into why the left hates his family so much and why Dad doesn’t love him as much as Ivanka, the RNC activated its multimillion-dollar bulk sales program. Then, voilà, Junior vaulted onto The New York Times bestseller list, albeit with an asterisk, and got some proof Dad might just love him more after all. Ivanka got no such rescue from the embarrassing Women Who Work which, according to Forbes and BookScan, didn’t manage to earn back its advance.
Luckily you don’t need to worry much about what Trump thinks of your handiwork. Who looks to a man whose briefers came with one-page color coordinated charts for book club ideas? Omarosa’s effort sold (Trump hated it) and Sean Spicer’s bombed (Trump loved it). Despite dressing up as a bunny on Dancing with the Stars to attract attention, Spicey sold 74 books in his first two months.
In his introduction, Boehner suggests that the reader “Pour yourself a glass of something nice. You’re going to enjoy this.” Maybe so, if only to learn that Mark Meadows came to his office, “got down on his knees and begged for forgiveness” for voting against him for Speaker. Boehner wouldn’t have dredged that up, a friend says, if Trump’s last chief of staff hadn’t remained a dick to this day.
To Meadows and the rest of you hoping for your own publishing gold, pick your dicks carefully, be willing to make Trump one of them, speed past your role in not making America great, and pile on easy marks in your tribe to convince Whoopi and Meghan on The View that you see the world from both sides now. There is bipartisanship in Washington. Too bad it’s only in publishing.