This week, Ralph Reed, chairman and CEO of Century Strategies and chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, is author of the new political thriller, The Confirmation, about a Supreme Court–confirmation fight. You’ll see echoes of the fights over Clarence Thomas, Miguel Estrada, John Roberts, and Sam Alito in it. You’ll see strategy and backroom maneuvers and Beltway crime and punishment from an insider’s viewpoint. Reed talks about his latest novel — his second (and there is another in the works) — with National Review Online editor-at-large Kathryn Jean Lopez.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Why write a book on a judicial confirmation? Is that the most dramatic, interesting event we’ve got in politics, now that conventions aren’t what they used to be?
: I was fascinated by what might happen if a Democrat-turned-independent elected president by social conservatives nominated the swing justice to the Supreme Court and sent the nomination to a Democratic Senate whose majority leader lost to him in the previous presidential campaign. Having had a front-row seat to seven Supreme Court nominations, with Clarence Thomas’s nomination being the most memorable, I thought it was a great way to pull back the curtain on how Washington really works.
Lopez: I don’t think I walked away from your book hating any character. And I was totally tempted. Did you plan it that way?
Reed: No, but my editor told me something early on that helped me as an author of fiction. He said, “Ralph, no one is completely evil or entirely good. Even evil people have admirable qualities, and good people have a little larceny in their heart.” That made sense to me, and I wrote accordingly. Dr. Andrew H. Stanton, the evangelical leader, is a good and moral man, but also a brass-knuckled political player. Bob Long finds God and has upstanding character but is also a little like Tony Blair, a good and decent man who can be coldly calculating and constantly maneuvering to achieve victory. Politics is a contact sport. There are not many people who rise to the top in politics without knowing how to take a punch and throw a good one. I tried to portray that, and I hope it makes The Confirmation authentic.
Lopez: In the very opening of The Confirmation, the president-elect’s fingers are shaking as he does his tie before his inauguration as president. Do men really reach that level with that kind of nervousness?
REED: You bet. The moment before anyone walks out on stage in front of a billion people, they feel nervous. Either that or they’re dead. I’ve been with presidential or vice-presidential candidates before they walk on stage in a nationally televised debate, and everyone, from the candidate to the family to the campaign staff and handlers, is a little jumpy, even if they try to hide it. There’s a lot on the line — maybe the election, perhaps their political career.
Lopez: Is your Andy Stanton Rick Warren?
Reed: No; nor is it Andy Stanley (Charles Stanley’s son), even though the name is similar. I have had evangelical leaders tell me with absolute certitude Andy was based on them. I get a kick out of that because it tells me I might have nailed the character. In truth, Andy is not based on any one person. He is an amalgam of all the religious leaders I’ve encountered over the decades who impressed me with their toughness, their intelligence, their vision, and their larger-than-life personalities. The last name was chosen as an homage to Jack Stanton, the character based on Bill Clinton in Primary Colors by Joe Klein. I wanted the first name to be accessible or familiar, which I found to be the case with many evangelical leaders. Usually they were known simply as “Jerry,” “Pat,” or “Billy.” No matter how big Billy Graham got, he was always “Billy” to everyone. That’s where I got the name. The rest came naturally from all my encounters, some of which I hope are entertaining.
Lopez: Do you get tired of questions like that one? Or do you just enjoy that people get into the characters and care enough to ask?
Reed: I love the fact that the characters are so real to people. They are real to me, in part because they are based on real people from real campaigns. Almost every word of dialogue actually happened. I merely changed the names to protect the innocent and the guilty.