Day 6

'How the Hell Did This Happen?' Satirist P.J. O'Rourke's take on the election of Donald Trump

In his latest book, "How the Hell Did This Happen? The Election of 2016," conservative political satirist P.J. O'Rourke breaks down the "obnoxious political spectacle" that was the election of 2016, and considers why his country was left with so many undesirable people running for president.
(Grove Atlantic)

"A pity they both can't lose."

And with that quote attributed to Henry Kissinger, P.J. O'Rourke begins his latest book: How the Hell Did This Happen? The Election of 2016.

O'Rourke is a journalist, pundit and satirist, and that opening quote gives you a sense of how he felt about the candidates in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

For him, none of them measured up.

Eight of the candidates who ran to become the 2016 U.S. presidential nominee for both the Republican and Democratic parties. (Getty Images)

In fact, in his book, O'Rourke picks apart every single one of the main candidates who wanted to president — all 21 of them. He kept a running diary of sorts throughout the election campaign, with each of those entries now serving as a chapter.

The book is satirical, self-reflective and delightfully judgemental. Of everyone.

 "Is the process itself, has it become so unpleasant that no normal person would want to undertake this?"- P.J. O'Rourke

"One thing about politics, you never want to say about politics [that] it can't get worse than this. It always can," jokes O'Rourke.

O'Rourke is a regular panelist on the NRP news quiz, Wait, Wait … Don't Tell Me. He's also a die-hard conservative. He shocked listeners last May when he declared his support for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

"It's the second-worst thing that can happen to this country," he said of Clinton being President.

The worst, in his view, now occupies the oval office.

As he tells Day 6 host Brent Bambury, he thinks things will get worse before they get better. He uses a sporting analogy to describe Donald Trump's presidency thus far.

"Say you had an Olympic sailing team and you were really disappointed in that team, angry at that team, ashamed of that team. In fact, you were so distraught with your sailing team that you thought, 'Well, let's just pick some random guy off the street and we'll put him in the boat,' explains O'Rourke. "And so you've got this guy … looking around the boat going, 'Hey! I wonder what'll happen if I undo this rope!'"


The candidates

After reviewing every presidential hopeful, O'Rourke concluded that none were worthy of the office, and he struggles to understand why.

"Have we gone so trash-reality television in our culture that no normal person could get through the process?" asks O'Rourke. "Is the process itself, has it become so unpleasant that no normal person would want to undertake this?"

O'Rourke says the election has resulted in a little soul-searching about the kind of candidates the office attracts, or whether the office of the president still holds the same status.

President Donald Trump shows a signed executive order with members of his cabinet at his side in the Oval Office. (Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)

He also notes that some candidates simply have 'the touch,' that they have natural appeal, like former vice president Joe Biden.

"They just have that touch, they connect with people."

In his book, O'Rourke expresses relief when Biden decides not to run as the Democratic presidential nominee, not because he doesn't like Biden, but because he feared that Biden — a Democrat — might win the election.

 I'd rather have somebody that I had an honest, adult disagreement with, in fact I'd rather Hillary were president.- P.J. O'Rourke

Now, O'Rourke says he'd much prefer to have Biden heading up the White House, despite the fact that he doesn't support Biden's fiscal and political views. O'Rourke notes that while he is a conservative, he is more accurately identified as a libertarian.

Hillary Clinton with her family as she concedes the presidential election in November 2016. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

"I mean, I'd rather have somebody that I had an honest, adult disagreement with, in fact I'd rather Hillary were president," says Biden. "I'd rather have a fellow adult in the room to argue with than whatever it is that we've got now."


Fashion choices of the candidates

O'Rourke dedicates an entire chapter in his book to the clothing worn by the presidential hopefuls.

"We've tried looking deep into these people," he laughs, "maybe we just need to be more superficial. Let's look at what they're wearing."

O'Rourke takes exception to Trump's overly long ties.

Tape appears to hold together the end of U.S. President Donald Trump's tie. (Joe Burbank/Canadian Press)

"This guy's six-feet-two, and he wears a Windsor knot. It takes up a lot of slack in a necktie," explains O'Rourke. "I don't even know where he finds ties that are so long that they manage to hang down around his knees."

As for Hillary Clinton's legendary pantsuits, O'Rourke says he's still not clear about the message they're meant to convey.

"What I did was ask a bunch of powerful women," he says of Clinton's fashion designer. "All the women I talked to, and they are women who travel a lot, said [they're] brilliant. This stuff packs really well."

O'Rourke says beyond travelling well, he's still a little confused about the fit.

"Hillary's garments seem to be sort of oversized. It's like watching a David Byrne 'Burning Down the House' music video."


Not an election

O'Rourke describes the 2016 election as a rebellion, rather than an election. And he notes that the United States isn't the only country going through an "awkward political moment."

He attributes the rebellion to a world-wide dissatisfaction with elites. He points to Brexit and the rise of alt-right parties as an example.

You have Xi Jinping and Putin taking measurements for a new iron curtain. You know, it's disturbing out there.- P.J. O'Rourke

O'Rourke says the rebellion is a result of various factors coming together. He says the rapid change in the economy is partly to blame.

"It's very disturbing to a lot of people. It's cost a lot of jobs."

He also says the political elites have failed in the Middle East, which has led, in part, to the refugee crisis.

He blames the political elites for failing to deal with Russia or China.

"You have Xi Jinping and Putin taking measurements for a new iron curtain. You know, it's disturbing out there."

When fear exists among voters, O'Rourke says they tend not to turn to small 'c' conservatives or common sense politicians.

"There's a tendency in people to say, 'Oh, we need somebody to come in here and shake things up.'"

O'Rourke still has a hope that Washington will absorb and handle Donald Trump.

"The test is not in all these self-administered doses of trouble, the test will be when some real crisis from the outside, that's not caused by himself, happens. And it happens to every President. You don't want to wish it to happen. But that will be the test."

To hear Brent Bambury's conversation with P.J. O'Rourke, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.