Matt Taibbi is a journalist and author who has covered numerous presidential campaigns for Rolling Stone and other publications. He has also reported on finance and sports, and in the late 1990s lived in and reported from Russia. He even did a brief stint as a professional basketball player in Mongolia. His latest book is Insane Clown President: Dispatches from the 2016 Circus. He spoke with me by telephone from his home in New York City.
Q: This book is basically a chronicle of your travels on the 2016 presidential campaign. I found it evocative of Hunter S. Thompson writing for Rolling Stone during the 1972 Nixon presidential campaign.
Matt Taibbi: Yeah, that's a tough act to follow. Obviously, it's hard not to make the comparison because I work at Rolling Stone and it's the same magazine, same assignment, but it's a little different. Hunter was out on the road a lot more than I was in this book I was working on another book during the campaign, and I ended up just gradually getting sucked into this one as Trumps candidacy started to take off.
It was pretty clear to everybody covering the early stages of the campaign, even before Trump got into the race, that this was a unique situation. A completely disorganized Republican Party had sort of coalesced around Jeb Bush. That's where all the money was going, but it was clear that the party hierarchy was not feeling enthusiastic.
Typically, what happens with campaigns is that there's a lot of momentum that coalesces around an early frontrunner, and the onus is on the challengers to overcome that. Trump entered this race and there was no momentum behind anybody, and, just because of the sheer nature of his celebrity, he was able to steamroll everybody else. None of them knew how to deal with how much attention he was getting. They just didn't have a media strategy for competing with that.
Q: But you predicted this direction for political campaigns ever since you first covered the George W. Bush and John Kerry race, didn't you?
Taibbi: I had spent a lot of time watching the campaign process and I was really interested in the idea that it was dysfunctional and that people were turned off by it. The people who did campaigning for a living, both politicians and the press, all the people who traveled "on the bus," were wrapped up in their own little world, unable to see how disconnected they'd become from the public.
So I watched that phenomenon for a long time and saw that...