Both books draw their titles from Trump’s false claims: that he won — and by a landslide. Both also begin with the consequence of those lies: the deadly riot at the Capitol and the rapid impeachment that followed. Bender’s is by far the better book, but Wolff’s is instructive because of the argument at its heart — that Trump was not a proto-dictator scheming to seize power, but a bumbling amateur incapable of organizing any serious threat to the nation.
For Wolff, Trump is the weather vane at the center of the story, buffeted by a chaotic wind he welcomes but does not control. As it becomes clear that he has lost the election, those who stood by him during his presidency start to melt away, leaving him to rely on a smaller, increasingly conspiracy-minded team of lawyers and hangers-on.
But as Bender understands far better than Wolff, Trump was not being buffeted by chaotic winds, but rather bubble-wrapped by a party that sought to protect his power, and theirs, at any cost. Every step of the way, when his incuriousness, ineptitude, corruption and cruelty endangered his presidency, Republicans stepped in to save him.
That the party continues to protect Trump and the Big Lie that led to the insurrection should not come as a surprise. For five years now, they have been in hock to the former president, seeing him as the key to their political power. And while Wolff is right about the desperation and delusion behind the Big Lie and the insurrection, he is wrong to dismiss the existence of “a corrupt, cynical, despotic effort to hold on to power and to subvert democracy.” Even as Trump fades away, that remains a pithy description of the Republican Party.