Cover image of "Thank You For Your Servitude," a book about Donald Trump's Washington

What? Another book about Donald Trump? I’ve already reviewed nearly two dozen of them. So, what could possibly move me to read another one? Well, three things, as it turns out. First, author Mark Leibovich is one of the funniest observers of American politics I’ve come across in recent years. Second, he has been on the job in Washington DC for a very long time and seems to know everybody who is anybody. And, third, his new book, Thank You for Your Servitude, isn’t really about the former President himself. It’s about Donald Trump’s Washington. The book focuses on the establishment Republicans who sold out to him during his four years at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue—and are now paying a very big price for having done so.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

The book is funny. But the joke’s on us.

The metaphor that lies at the heart of this book is “the joke.” It’s a very, very bad joke. And the joke’s on us. For four years, a mentally unstable man with a volcanic temper and an army’s worth of resentments sat staring at Fox News for hours on end and venting his spleen on Twitter. Meanwhile, those around him, and his terrified allies in Congress, pretended that all was normal at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Scores of those in senior jobs who came into close contact with him during his time in the White House confided to friends, or occasionally to reporters, that he was “an ignoramus,” “an f-ing idiot,” “an f-ing moron,” or other colorful descriptions that highlighted his total lack of fitness for the job of President of the United States. Leibovich himself refers to him as the Toddler in Chief, no doubt copying one of the Republicans he interviewed.

Thank You For Your Servitude: Donald Trump’s Washington and the Price of Submission by Mark Leibovich (2022) 348 pages ★★★★★ 

Photo of a Cabinet meeting in Donald Trump's Washington
The author reminds us that at a Cabinet meeting like this one in 2018, Trump’s most senior aides went around the table abasing themselves one after another with over-the-top expressions of gratitude to him for “giving them the opportunity to serve him.” Image: Wikipedia

The central question in Donald Trump’s Washington: why didn’t they speak out?

Deep into his account Leibovich poses the central question of his inquiry. “Were Republican leaders so unwilling to condemn Trump because their voters supported him so vigorously, or did these voters support Trump so vigorously because so few Republican leaders ever dared to condemn his actions? Chicken, egg; egg, chicken.”

There were 241 Republicans in the House of Representatives in 2017, when Trump entered the White House. “‘Since then,’ the Cook Political Report noted, ‘115 (48%) had either retired, resigned, been defeated or at that point had signaled plans to retire in 2020.’ Anecdotally, the single biggest reason these members gave for walking away was they had no interest in debasing themselves in the service of Trump any longer than they had to.”

What does this say about the 211 Republicans who now sit in the House?

Leibovich interviewed bold-faced names, not anonymous staffers

You’ll recognize many of the names of the men whose unflattering comments about Donald Trump appear in this book. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Utah Senator Mitt Romney. Former Arizona Senator John McCain. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy. His predecessor, Paul Ryan. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Trump White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. Trump’s Press Secretary, Sean Spicer. And several former Republican Senators who retired rather than face another term serving under Donald Trump. What if, instead of muttering under their breath at friends, a gaggle of these men had come together on Fox News to explain what was really happening in Donald Trump’s Washington? Could even Fox News ignore the story?

Don’t assume from anything I’ve written here that Mark Leibovich is singularly critical of Donald Trump. In fact, he is an equal-opportunity satirist. This book, Leibovich writes, “is about the dirt that Trump tracked in, the people he broke, and the swamp he did not drain.” But in a larger sense it’s about dysfunction in American government. Again and again, the author makes glancing references to Joe Biden that would cause a thin-skinned man to erupt in fury. Leibovich holds Donald Trump in contempt, but he doesn’t seem to respect his successor, either. Of course, at no point does he compare the two. I have little doubt that, even under Leibovich’s unsparing gaze, Biden would emerge unscathed by comparison.

About the author

Photo of Mark Leibovich, author of this book about Donald Trump's Washington
Mark Leibovich. Image: PBS

Mark Leibovich is a staff writer at The Atlantic. Previously, he worked as chief national correspondent for the New York Times Magazine. Leibovich is the author of one previous book about US politics and three others about other topics. He is also a familiar figure as a guest on political commentary shows on television. Leibovich holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Michigan. He lives in Washington, DC, with his wife and three daughters.

For related reading

Leibovich also wrote This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral – Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking! – in America’s Gilded Capital (Washington, DC, served up on the skewer of satire).

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