Those of us not possessed of two Pulitzer Prizes for journalism might still be a bit peeved at Bob Woodward’s penchant for sitting on explosive Donald Trump stories until it’s book-selling time. And Woodward, appearing on Tuesday’s The Late Show, did nothing to soothe anyone irritated at his methods by revealing to Stephen Colbert that, once again, he knew just how perilously, terrifyingly close the world came to some unspeakable, Trump-ignited disaster ahead of the release of his third book on the Trump administration, the all-too-aptly titled, Peril.
How close? Well, as Woodward and Peril co-author, Washington Post reporter Robert Costa explained to a suitably aghast Colbert, the fate of American democracy was put in the hands of two very different people whose on-the-spot decisions to thwart Trump’s plans may have—barely—averted either nuclear war, or an unprecedented constitutional crisis. Or both. Colbert confessed to his guests that he hadn’t yet finished Peril, explaining his need to intermittently “close it every so often and weep.”
Woodward gets that, detailing how the recently revealed memo from Trump lawyer and would-be dictator’s henchman John Eastman was prepared specifically to pressure then Vice President Mike Pence to overthrow the results of the 2020 election—and, you know, the concept of democracy. Calling that meeting, “the ultimate temptation of power,” Woodward repeated Trump’s predictably childish appeal to Pence that, “Wouldn’t it be cool?” to just throw the election to Trump. And far be it from anyone with a knowledge of what words mean to call Mike Pence “courageous,” but here’s to the perennially terrible Pence for steeling himself to withstand Trump’s other schoolyard threat to not be Pence’s buddy anymore unless he effectively made Trump’s fascist fantasies come true.
And then there’s that other meeting, where Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley called every member of the military chain of command (including the nuclear chain of command) to tell them never to take a call from the president during the chaotic, Trump-contested election aftermath without Milley himself being on the call. As Woodward put it, Milley told him and Costa that his intention was to say “No” should Trump attempt to “blow up the world.” Noting that Milley’s decision to take such a hands-on approach to keep a defeated, desperate, and up-for-authoritarianism one-term presidential loser from pushing some buttons in his last extremity was prompted by a phone call from an adamant House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (who called Trump “dangerously crazy”), Woodward termed Milley, “the one courageous person” in the Trump administration “who did something.” (Slight to Mike Pence seriously implied.)
Apart from those bombshells, Woodward and Costa kept Colbert on edge by explaining that their multiple, recorded-for-proof interviews with Republicans show that nobody in the GOP actually believes Trump’s still-dribbling nonsense about stolen elections, but that, according to Costa, Republicans “have no political capital to speak up.” Or, to put it another way, Woodward didn’t disagree with Colbert’s assessment that the current Republican submission to fact-averse, authoritarian Trumpism represents the “most cynical or destructive use of political gamesmanship” in American history. (Woodward noted that the fact that Trump-enablers like Mitch McConnell snicker about Trump being a “fucking moron” in the Capitol cloakroom does not count as political courage.)
Colbert wasn’t getting any comfort going forward, either, as Woodward stated that both he and Costa expect the twice-impeached Trump to run again in 2024, that some 30-40 percent of voters think the reality show buffoon and accused sexual predator who almost ended the American experiment is still their guy, and that the only people (apart from the seditious, Fox News-fed yokels who stormed the Capitol) facing any consequences for all of this are the pitifully few GOP lawmakers who “did the right thing.” Calling the Big Lie of voter fraud costing Trump the election not “a passing storm,” but “the climate right now inside the Republican Party,” Costa and Woodard warned that Peril’s epilogue—ending as it does with the sentence, “Peril remains.”—could well be prologue to anti-democratic catastrophe, if American voters don’t start treating the GOP like the threat domestic that it is.