In the conservative book world, nothing is supposed to start a gold rush like a new Democratic president. Ever since Bill Clinton inspired a wave of right-wing bestsellers in the ’90s, publishing houses that cater to Republican readers have learned to make the most of a new villain in the Oval Office, producing controversies and revelations aimed at capitalizing on fear of the new president.
Unless the new president is Joe Biden.
His presidency may be young, but industry insiders have told me in recent weeks that the anti-Biden book market is freezing cold. Authors have little interest in writing them, editors have little interest in publishing them, and although the hypothesis has not yet been tested, it is widely believed that readers would have little interest in them. buy. In many ways, the dynamic represents a microcosm of the current political moment: Faced with a new president whose relative monotony is his superpower, the American right has gone in search of richer targets to raise.
For some in the publishing industry, the apparent lack of appetite is baffling. “In the past, it was like taking candy from a baby to write a book about the Democratic president,” a frustrated Conservative editor told me, requesting anonymity to speak candidly about internal business practices. Now? “Nobody is trying.”
For others, however, apathy makes sense. Eric Nelson, editor of Broadside Books, the conservative imprint of HarperCollins, told me that the right-wing media portrayal of Biden as a weak and confused old man is not conducive to book withdrawals. “No one watching Fox thinks Joe Biden is in charge of the country,” Nelson said. The popular narrative on the right is that Biden is sort of a figurehead whose White House is actually run by radical leftists behind the scenes. “If someone came to me and said, ‘I have a book on Biden’s secret plan to destroy America,’ I would ask, ‘How many times does the word nap appear in the index? ‘ Nelson said.
Ben Shapiro, the popular right-wing podcast host and author, echoed the sentiment. The president “has a deeply non-threatening personality,” Shapiro told me. “You feel a little bad attacking it, honestly, because it sounds like elder abuse.”
Aside if Biden’s perception of a goofy geriatric looks like the real thing, the fact that he’s so firmly entrenched in conservative media means he’s going to be hard to dislodge. To gain literary ground on the right, a villain must generate fear and outrage, not just ridicule. Consider the past three decades of conservative bestsellers. When Bill Clinton was on the cover, the books were laden with lascivious (and in many questionable) details about his alleged business and personal corruption. When it came to Barack Obama, the books portrayed him – mostly in thinly veiled racial terms – as a dangerous radical trying to transform America. And although she was never elected, the ominous prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency has generated years of right-wing bestsellers. (In 2006, while still a senator and considering her first presidential candidacy, reporter Ben Smith wrote that Clinton had already been the subject of about thirty books, with a dozen more in the works, and compared the Hillary book boomlet at The Da Vinci Code phenomenon.)
Jonah Goldberg, a former National exam Columnist who has written several popular conservative books, told me that it was never difficult to make Hillary Clinton look “sinister” to readers of a certain edge. “Hillary was sort of a Zelig figure of the post-60s left. Some associations were tenuous, but you could play the political equivalent of the Kevin Bacon game with her without needing more than a degree or two of separation. Black panthers! Communist law firms! Sidney Blumenthal! Saul Alinsky! Biden, an aging white man who spent decades in the Senate, on the other hand, is “a little conventionally boring.”
And there is another problem, Goldberg told me: “Most of the good ammunition against Biden – which I have deployed in the past – is not as effective after four years of Trump. He says crazy things! He doesn’t know what he’s talking about! He has a ridiculous ego and lies about his genius and his expertise! All of this is true. But all of this has been normalized by Trump. For a conservative movement that has “been keeping it crazy for five years,” it’s hard to get excited about measured criticism of Biden and his policies.
“The right-wing market has become radicalized,” said Goldberg, who sharply criticized the Trump-era GOP. “Not just by QAnon-type stuff, but by years of anti-Clinton-and-Obama tariffs.”
For now, the most successful conservative writers are grappling with more abstract targets, such as “awakening” and “canceling culture.” A quick review of recent bestsellers suggests ignoring Biden may work very well. According to BookScan, which tracks most hardcover sales, Andy Ngo’s book on antifa, Unmasked, has sold over 77,000 copies (an indisputable success in political non-fiction), as has Rod Dreher’s novel Don’t live by lies, which presents itself as a “manual for Christian dissidents”. Next talk radio host Mark Levin American Marxism– which will address, among other topics, “Widespread Brainwashing of Students, the Anti-American Goals of Critical Race Theory and the Green New Deal,” according to its editor – is expected to be a huge hit when it releases in July.
Shapiro attributes this trend to a larger change he has noticed in his audience. While conservatives may not care about Biden, he told me, they are petrified by the broader progressive forces they see at work in American politics. “What people are afraid of right now are not powerful public figures. What people fear are their bosses, their neighbors, that they will be harassed on Twitter and be socially ostracized. Shapiro is betting that this is where the focus will stay: his own book to be released this summer will cover what he describes as “the takeover by the left of all great institutions.”
Of course, conservative publishers also grapple with an industry-wide problem: the end of the so-called “Trump is working.” After five years of bestseller lists dominated by books on Donald Trump – from journalistic investigations to MAGA hagiographies to pro-resistance revealers – the general interest in political non-fiction may return to earth. And by deliberately positioning himself as an antidote to the tragedy of the Trump era, Biden may only serve to cool the market further.
Adam Bellow, editor-in-chief at Bombardier Books who helped popularize the anti-Clinton genre decades ago, predicted that some Biden-centric books will eventually hit the conservative market. But he told me that any attempt at a briefing could be hampered by the relative lack of journalistic firepower on the right, which weighs heavily on pundits and light on journalists. “One problem with the conservative media is… they don’t have sources in this administration,” he said. “No one will talk to them. “
Meanwhile, some in the conservative publishing world are determined to find a new bogeyman to fill the void left by Biden. One possibility is Anthony Fauci, whose advocacy for COVID-19 restrictions has angered large swathes of the right. (Faucian negotiation: the most powerful and dangerous bureaucrat in American history became a surprise hit when it was released in March, selling more than 68,000 copies.) But as the pandemic ends in America, Fauci’s resistance as an antagonist is called into question. Another option is Biden’s son Hunter, whose controversial personal life and business relationship has been covered extensively by Fox News. It is the subject of a forthcoming book, Laptop from hell, scheduled for this month of September.
A conservative editor told me that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York might be the more logical choice, given the fear of right-wing socialism, but cited a unique challenge in making the congresswoman appear menacing enough. : she to put the blanket. Instead, the editor said, the smart money goes to Vice President Kamala Harris, who could be reinvented in good writer hands as a sneaky puppeteer pulling the strings of the affable, mindless president. (Seems familiar?)
So far, however, no one – in the Conservative edition or the Republican Party – has solved the problem of the missing villains. And it’s not for lack of trying. Last month, when conservative author David Horowitz released his new book, The enemy within, the cover featured an array of so-called evil Democrats, including Harris, Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders, Nancy Pelosi, and more. It was expected to be a success; Horowitz’s latest book – a vigorous defense of Trump – had sold over 168,000 copies in hardcover alone. But apparently his readers weren’t quite so enamored with his new cast of characters. As of this writing, The enemy within sold 12,898 copies.