The Innocent Have Nothing to Fear, Steven’s second political thriller
With Donald Trump still campaigning erratically as usual, #NeverTrump still holds onto an outside hope that the delegates could be unbound and the convention next week contested. Whatever happens, it will certainly not be as exciting as the fictional Republican National Convention in Stuart Stevens’ new novel The Innocent Have Nothing to Fear.
The novel takes place in a country eerily similar to the United States of the past eight years, with an exaggerated version of the 2008 financial crisis and fears of civil unrest and terrorism, featuring a primary contest between a wonkier version of a Donald Trump or Tom Tancredo character and a “higher energy” version of a John Kasich or Susan Collins character. Campaign manager J.D. Callahan, whose features seem to based somewhat on those of Stevens himself, has a few days to secure the nomination for his client, Hilda Smith, the Collins-esque northeastern moderate, while withstanding temptations and family pressures in the hometown he fled from, New Orleans.
In The Innocent Have Nothing to Fear, Stevens imagines what a convention that took place during a small-scale terrorist insurgency might look like. He also portrays some of the “rat-fucking” tactics and dirty tricks political strategists might play on each other during the ordinary course of a hard fought campaign. Much is made of the identity of the political strategist; as one who is hired to help a candidate win at all costs, what of personal standards and values?
“I wondered if she realized I really did feel bad about how she had been treated after I replaced her…” J.D. ruminated [of the previous campaign manager] at one point, “Not that it had stopped me from pursuing her demise for one second. But I was a political consultant. Political consultants weren’t expected to be good people, thank God.”
J.D. expressed a deep hatred for the Trump-like candidate, Armstrong George, but when his brother suggested he would take a job with the George campaign if it paid well, J.D. struggled to maintain his conviction that he wouldn’t.
“I’m a guy who will do anything to win. I’m that obsessive guy who cares about nothing in the world buy my campaign. Would I blow up the other guy’s delegates if I could get away with it? Hell, I’d burn their houses down, kill their spawn, and sow the fields with salt. … I’d do anything possible to help my candidate win,” J.D. said.
J.D.’s thoughts reminded me of some of the things Stevens said in an interview I conducted with him last year for The Federalist in promotion of his previous book, The Last Season:
“I’ve always loved in politics that you win or lose. I liked the definitiveness of it. I mean, I always liked winning a lot more than losing. I have never been somebody who had any desire to work in government. …
As a political consultant, I have been accused—sometimes by conservatives—of only caring about winning. And I just laugh. As a political consultant, I laugh, because it’s like saying of a lawyer, ‘The only thing you want to do is win your case.’
We [political consultants] are the hired help. We are hired for one reason: to help someone win. We are not hired to remind anyone of their deeply held beliefs. We are not hired to express our own beliefs. We’re hired to win.”
The book is populated with ex-football players, and Stevens, a former high school football player, is a big fan of football. He has compared campaigns to football games and gladiatorial contests like boxing, which he also has competed in. But the sport he appears to be best at is bicycling, so maybe it’s no surprise that his campaign strategist J.D. is an intense biking enthusiast.
The convention, the sex, and the violence serves as a canvas to play out the dramas of a family frayed by personal tragedies. When crisis hits, they must come together. Can they? (Family and place, too, are topics Stevens explored in The Last Season, which chronicled a year of attending Ole Miss games with his father.)
The Innocent Have Nothing to Fear is a fast-paced political thriller for those sure to be disappointed by the inevitable anti-climax of the real Republican primary.
Feature photo of SWAT team by Oregon Department of Transportation. Modified by Mitchell Blatt with GOP convention logo and Stevens book art.