The Big Break

The Gamblers, Party Animals, and True Believers Trying to Win in Washington While America Loses Its Mind


By Ben Terris

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"No one gets today's Washington like Ben Terris…THE BIG BREAK is the definitive accounting of ‘how it works’ in this ongoing post-Trump (pre-Trump?) maelstrom. I just imbibed this book." ―Mark Leibovich, author of This Town

In this fascinating investigation into the real life inner workings of a post-Trump American government, uncover the odd and eccentric personalities grappling for their own bit of power in D.C.

The Big Break investigates how Washington works, and how different kinds of people try to make it work for them. Ben Terris presents an inside history of this crucial moment in Washington, reporting from exclusive parties, poker nights, fundraisers, secluded farms outside town and the halls of Congress; among the oddballs and opportunists and true believers. This book is about the people who see this moment as an opportunity to bet big—on their country or maybe just on themselves. It will take a close look at Washington’s bold-faced names as they try to get their bearings on the post-Trump (and possibly pre-Trump) landscape. And it will introduce readers to the behind-the-scenes players — MAGA pilgrims and Resistance flamekeepers and shapeshifting veterans — who believe they know what Washington, and America, must do if they’re going to survive, or even thrive.

Trump’s arrival in Washington represented a big break in how the city operated. He surrounded himself with outsiders; power structures reorganized around those who knew him or his family and those who could flatter and influence his base. He changed the way the game was played, only it wasn’t actually a game at all. When pro-Trump elements both inside and outside of government plotted to overturn his loss in the 2020 presidential election, the Capitol became a combat zone, then a military fortress. 

It was, to put it lightly, a destabilizing time. But how much did the Trump years really change Washington? Has Joe Biden’s presidency heralded a return to normal, as many had hoped? What did ‘normal’ mean before Trump, and what do people think it means now? 

The Big Break will follow a cast of D.C. characters in search of answers to these questions. They are a diverse crew—a pollster with a gambling habit, an oil heiress with a big heart, a cowboy lobbyist, a Republican kingmaker who decided to love Trump and his right-hand man who decided he couldn’t any longer. They all share at least one thing in common: They had seen their country go through a Big Break, and they’d come to get theirs.


Prologue: Is Any of This Normal?

I’m in the business of making Joe Biden’s agenda look more popular than it really is,” Sean McElwee announced to the poker table. “And business is booming!”

It was a July evening in 2021. Biden’s presidency was six months old, his approval rating was hovering around 50 percent, and his agenda was on the move. Sean, the twenty-eight-year-old head of a Democratic polling group and think tank, was a few Miller High Lifes into one of his regular poker nights hosted at his bachelor pad in Logan Circle—a recently gentrified neighborhood in Washington, just north of downtown. In the living room, a big-screen television played Rounders, the 1998 Matt Damon poker movie that was canon among Millennial gamblers. A guest bed lay in the corner. Extra-large pizzas and cheap beer cluttered the counter in the kitchen, and tubs of protein powder sat on the shelves.

Sean was new to Washington—and splitting time with New York City, where he kept an apartment—but he had the vibe of someone who’d been around forever. He wasn’t a pollster exactly (he hired experts to do the legwork there), and he wasn’t a policy nerd. He wasn’t a campaign guy either (although his nonprofit, Data for Progress, did do work for campaigns). He was sort of all of these things and also sort of none of them. More than anything, he was a political evangelist. He was in the business of making Democrats popular—figuring out what legislation to prioritize, what phrases to stop saying. And he was in the business of making himself popular too.

Since moving to town a few months earlier, Sean had managed to generate a gravity well, attracting other Democratic operators into his orbit. He hosted monthly happy hours that were well attended by professional progressives and establishment climbers. The boozy meetups were a way to see people and be seen, and it was hard to miss Sean. He was over six feet tall with a body type that fluctuated between lineman and linebacker. He had a signature look: translucent-framed glasses and black T-shirts—an outfit he deviated from just enough to avoid comparisons to Steve Jobs or, worse, Elizabeth Holmes. Sean knew everyone, and every few weeks he invited a rotating cast of his happy-hour crew over for poker.

Tonight’s table featured: a spokesman for Facebook (“I work for our tech overlords,” he said); a friendly former Senate staffer who now led an organization attempting (unsuccessfully) to end the filibuster; a former top aide to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid; a senior reporter who covered the Senate for MSNBC; and Gabe Bankman-Fried, the brother and political consigliere of the crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried.

Like any effective Washington operator, Sean was good at getting close to people with money—or at least close to people who were close to people with money. Sean wasn’t ultra-wealthy himself, but he did all right—his salary was $180,000 and he had started picking up lucrative consulting gigs on the side. He’d recently started doing work for Gabe’s organization, Guarding Against Pandemics (GAP), which, backed by millions from Sam, was quickly becoming a powerhouse in Washington. One of Sean’s main jobs for GAP was to hype their work at every opportunity.

“This pizza is good,” someone said at the table.

“You know what else is good?” Sean said, looking at Gabe. “Pandemic prevention.” Subtle.

The conversation bounced around, from Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema’s habit of screwing up her party’s legislative agenda (Sean: “She has such bad politics, but she’s so hot”) to the question of whether Donald Trump would be president again (Sean: “He’s a cooked turkey”). There was talk, too, of the various recreational drugs used by different Democratic operatives (apparently Ecstasy was a popular choice for one well-known data guru). No one here was a particularly serious poker player. They bought in for $100 and bluffed when bored. Sean, especially, was prone to wild swings in chip count.

But Sean’s biggest wagers had nothing to do with cards. They had to do with politics. Tonight, Sean had his eye on the upcoming Democratic primary in Ohio, where Shontel Brown, the establishment choice running with the backing of the Congressional Black Caucus, was up against Nina Turner, the former Bernie Sanders campaign staffer and progressive-wing favorite who once compared voting for Biden to eating “a bowl of shit.” Political observers had been watching this race closely, since the outcome might hint at whether Democratic voters wanted to lurch left as the 2022 midterms approached (Turner) or stay the course (Brown).

Sean was betting it would be the latter. Literally. He had placed bets online and stood to win nearly $14,000 if Shontel Brown won.

“I make a lot of bets that would make progressives cry,” Sean said.

“How many active bets would you say you have right now?” someone asked.

“My inbox is so full of bets,” Sean said, “I don’t even remember what I have money on.”

“Do you make bets on races you’re working?”

The question lingered as the players seemed to mull the ethical implications. Betting on politics while working in politics, betting on clients? Was this normal? Should it be?

After a few seconds, Sean laughed.

“Who can say?” he said.

What is normal?

That was a common question after four years of Donald Trump in Washington. “This is not normal,” people would say when the leader of the free world raged at his own Justice Department, or undermined civil servants, or appeased bigots, or winked at conspiracy theorists, or palled around with geopolitical adversaries, or profited from his office, or told the American people blatant falsehoods over and over again. “Don’t normalize this,” admonished the admonishers. Nevertheless, Official Washington rearranged their habits around Trump’s personality. The opportunists went on television to lobby a president addicted to cable news. They sucked up to a praise-starved man in hopes of avoiding a “mean tweet” that could sink their business prospects or political aspirations. They wore ugly red hats and changed their opinions about free trade. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was spotted moving his hands around during speeches—as if playing an invisible accordion—just like Trump did.

When Joe Biden ran for president, he offered a selling point that was rare for political campaigns: a return to business as usual. After he won, Washington residents cheered from their balconies and banged pots and pans and honked their car horns. It was a catharsis, Victory Day for normality. But the war wasn’t over. Two months later, Trump supporters led a violent siege of the U.S. Capitol to disrupt the peaceful transition of power. A coup attempt was thwarted, and Biden did assume his rightful office, but the odds of a return to normalcy were difficult to determine.

The future was a blind bet, and I spent the first year watching people place their wagers. I did interviews with President Biden’s Covid response team as they prepared to declare “independence” from the pandemic on July 4th, and then watched the Delta and Omicron variants keep that mission from being accomplished. I met retiring Democrat Representative John Yarmuth for an interview in his Capitol Hill office, and the Kentuckian described to me a recent argument on the House floor—between the progressive Mark Pocan, of Wisconsin, and the more moderate John Garamendi, of California—that he said nearly turned into a physical fight. (“John was basically telling Mark to get his head out of his ass,” Yarmuth explained to me.) Things were tense, he said. He drank a Dixie cup of whiskey during the interview; it was 2:30 p.m.

I watched Republicans take a step away from Trump after the insurrection, then watched them run back to him once they decided denouncing those lies was bad politics. I watched corporations stop donating to Trump allies who voted against certifying the election and then watched them start again. I heard MAGA diehards like Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, the conspiracy theory fan turned bigoted blogger turned Georgia congresswoman, double down on the Trump election lies that had inspired the attack on the Capitol. I heard Dan Crenshaw, the Republican congressman from Texas, dismiss Greene as a performance artist who specialized in “self-inflicted controversy followed by claims of victimhood.”

“She lucked her way into Congress,” Crenshaw told me. “She says crazy things. And yet is looked up to. Why? What are we doing, guys?”

What some lawmakers were doing was trying to make federal legislation bipartisan again. The summer after Biden’s inauguration, Senator Chris Coons, the Delaware Democrat, told me about how a group of senators who were trying to wrap up an infrastructure bill had bonded as party guests on Joe Manchin’s houseboat, docked in a D.C. marina. Somebody else told me a story about Texas Senator Ted Cruz polishing off three beers in a matter of minutes while posing like Captain Morgan and chatting with a liberal colleague on Joe Manchin’s houseboat. Another person told me an anecdote about Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski bursting into a chorus of “God Bless America” as she beheld the sight of the Washington skyline from the deck of Joe Manchin’s houseboat.

Senators schmoozing: That was normal, right? So was intraparty jousting: Manchin eventually helped sink Build Back Better, the huge bill that Biden hoped would guide his progressive agenda through Congress. Meanwhile, there was a lot of hand-wringing about Biden’s diminishing poll numbers and his advancing age. Trump and his lies had not gone away. Neither had the coronavirus. The pandemic had knocked the supply chain out of whack. Inflation was on the rise. For all his year-one wins—pandemic relief money, infrastructure, judicial appointments—Biden had failed to make things normal again. Even those who hadn’t soured on him began to wonder whether it might be time to consider an alternative candidate for 2024, especially with Trump lying in wait to retake the White House.

In February 2022, I walked into the White House to talk to Jen Psaki, then Biden’s press secretary. She had no reason to believe Biden wouldn’t run again, she said. And yet it had been a topic of conversation in her own home.

Her brother-in-law had come over for dinner recently, and Psaki had joked that she hoped there was a secret meeting happening “in a basement somewhere” to figure out a plan in case Biden didn’t run, she told me.

“And he looked at me,” she said, “and was like, ‘Should we be having that meeting now?’”

I was rarely the kind of reporter who chased The Big Story. I was more interested in the sideshow. When I started covering politics in Washington in 2010—first for National Journal magazine and later for the Washington Post—my job included writing about weirdos. People like Senator Jim Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican and octogenarian climate change denier who forced me to consider my own mortality when he took me for a spin on his tiny airplane. And Brett Talley, a Republican speechwriter, who dabbled in paranormal detective work and took me ghost hunting in a cemetery near Georgetown. And Stephen Bassett, a registered lobbyist who represented UFO abductees.

When Trump descended from a golden escalator and became a candidate for president, he was just a sideshow. In fact, the Post didn’t plan to send a reporter to cover his announcement in person. I lobbied to be there—I was the sideshow guy. It was quickly becoming clear, however, that the sideshow was moving onto the main stage. With Trump in the White House, it was boom time for weirdness in Washington. The president suggested nuking a hurricane. He said of Kim Jong-un, the dictator of North Korea’s nuclear hermit kingdom: “He wrote me beautiful letters. And they’re great letters. We fell in love.” The coronavirus came and the president mused about injecting disinfectant and bringing light into the body. I reported a story about whether a recovered crack addict known as The MyPillow Guy represented the future of the GOP. Before it was over, a man dressed like a Viking would enter the chamber of the U.S. Senate.

Yes, Washington felt different under Trump. But what about once he left? Who was allowed to become powerful, and from where would they draw that power? What were the rules of the game, and how did you win? That’s a big part of what this book is about. It’s about the Washington that predated Trump, and the Washington he left in his wake.

Mostly, though, it’s about people.

I wanted to explore these questions by spending time with people who were trying to make post-Trump Washington work for them. I wasn’t as interested in the politicians themselves (boring, busy, overexposed) as much as the people whispering in their ears, or trying to. People like Sean McElwee.

Sean seemed to me like a type of person made specifically for Washington after Trump (brash, ideologically malleable, an outsider who wormed his way inside), while also being a type of creature that had swum this swamp for eons (brash, ideologically malleable, an outsider who wormed his way inside). He made big bets, big allies, and big enemies. He walked right up to the line of acceptable behavior, and kept walking. At my second poker night at his house, Sean showed off a new pair of pink high-tops he had bought with the money he’d made betting against Nina Turner’s primary campaign.

“I was polling for Nina Turner’s super PAC,” he announced to the table. “So I knew Shontel Brown was going to win.”

I couldn’t believe he’d just admit that. Even Pete Rose had the good sense to pretend he didn’t bet on baseball. What was even more surprising to me than the gambling was that, at the poker table, nobody seemed to think it was a big deal. By then it had already become clear to me that Sean was destined either to become the biggest thing in Democratic politics or to completely flame out. Because it was Washington, I also had to consider the possibility that both those things would happen.

Washington is a weird place like that, even in normal times—a place of change agents and stalwarts, strivers and survivors, wonks and wannabes, hustlers and true believers. Over the course of two years, I talked to as many of them as I could—an heiress to an oil fortune who got her start in politics at Occupy Wall Street; a cowboy diplomat who made his fortune as a fixer for foreign governments; the Republican shape-shifter who shifted his shape to thrive in Trump’s Washington; and the exiled Republican spokesman who eventually decided he couldn’t do the same. I talked to people working on Capitol Hill who were trying to figure out if Washington was the right place to be if they wanted to repair the country. I talked to a guy who left in order to repair himself.

In the course of reporting on their lives, I thought about how strange it was that they all ended up in the same city. They seemed so different. But in an important way they were similar: Politics was personal for them. The drama with their friends, the balance on their bank statements, the speeches they hoped people would give at their funerals, and the country they hoped to pass on to their kids—all were tied up in the livelihoods they had chosen for themselves.

America had gone through a big break, and in Washington people were sorting through the pieces—trying to put something together, or to keep something together. They were placing bets on the future, and hoping things would break their way.

Part 1

The Players

Chapter 1

A Tale of Two Parties

December 2021

It was the edge of winter in Washington, one year into the new-New Normal. Each day it grew darker earlier, people were getting sick again, and anti-democratic forces were on the rise. Maybe there was still time to turn things around. Or maybe it had been too late for too long and everyone was kidding themselves. But you had to do something, right? And so, with all signs pointing toward doom, Leah Hunt-Hendrix threw a Christmas party.

She had the perfect house for it, a $2.2 million brick Victorian. The cherrywood floors of the spacious living room flowed right into the open-concept dining room—ideal for dinner parties. And the expansive roof deck, overlooking Logan Circle, would come in handy for bigger occasions.

Not every thirty-eight-year-old progressive activist could afford such a house, but not every progressive activist was the granddaughter of H. L. Hunt, the late oil tycoon once believed to be the richest man in the world. H.L. lived a life as large as his bank account. He was a Texas gambler said to have won the money for his first oil leases at the poker table; a bigamist with two secret families; and a right-wing communist-hater who worshipped Joseph McCarthy.

H.L. was the kind of American about whom conspiracy theories were created, and he had been linked (without evidence) to the murders of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr.

His granddaughter, on the other hand, had named her tiny white dog after Malcolm X.

“This is Malcolm,” Leah said, opening the door to her home and motioning to the four-legged cottonball yapping at her heels. “He’s my baby.”

It had been nearly a year since Donald Trump departed Washington, and I was on a mission to figure out what, exactly, he had left behind. In mid-December, this meant checking out holiday parties. Washington is always awash in Christmas parties—the perfect excuse for organizations to boost morale and liquor up potential clients, and for power players to fill their homes with bold-faced names (an oft-used expression in Washington for “important people”) in an attempt to bolden their own names by association. I’ve always found these parties to be awkward, like going to work after hours and without pay. But they are a good way to find out what people are gossiping or worried about, and so I attended two. They were only a few miles apart, but in completely different worlds. One would be at the home of Matt and Mercy Schlapp, two of the Swamp’s Trumpiest creatures. But first, I was here, among the chic radicals of the left.

A fire roared in the living room fireplace as Malcolm the Maltipoo hunted for cheese crumbs redistributed to the floor by mingling socialists. There was Corbin Trent, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s former communications director, surveying the crowd in the kitchen. Trent had come to work for the Democratic Socialist bartender turned champion of the left after cofounding a couple of progressive organizations dedicated to shaking up the House. But Trent eventually grew disappointed by how mainstream Ocasio-Cortez had become, and he left Capitol Hill and rededicated himself to being an outsider. He was now spending his days in Knoxville, Tennessee (with occasional visits to Washington), and had made it a personal mission to find a populist Democrat to run against Joe Biden in the next election. One time he drunkenly called Steve Bannon for advice.

In the dining room was Ryan Grim, the D.C. bureau chief of the lefty website The Intercept. He wore a T-shirt featuring a large photograph of Harriet Tubman, and chatted with Julian Assange’s half brother, a film producer who had traveled to the States to advocate for the WikiLeaks founder’s freedom. Grim was a regular at events like this. Faiz Shakir, a top strategist for Senator Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, was standing nearby telling guests he never came to these things.

“Sarah made me come,” he said, pointing at his wife, Sarah Miller, a former Treasury Department aide who now worked at a think tank trying to break up monopolies. “And we have an au pair that lives in our basement, so I had no excuse.”

Shakir may not have been a social butterfly, but he was a savvy navigator of the contradictions present in spaces like these. He’d worked for establishment figures like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He’d also started his own progressive media group called More Perfect Union, which produced slick videos boosting America’s labor movement and economic policy. He was at once an insider and an outsider—a liaison between the Biden administration and the groups who were trying to pull the president to the left. He was something for Leah to aspire to.

People like Shakir came to Leah’s party because they liked her, but also because she was an important person to know. There aren’t a lot of progressive fundraisers who come from rich families and hobnob with multimillionaires. Leah had helped seed-fund lots of her guests’ projects, including Shakir’s More Perfect Union.

Since Hillary Clinton’s defeat in 2016, wealthy, well-educated liberals had struggled with the idea that they were out of touch with the voters they needed to beat back right-wing populism. Leah’s challenge was to be part of the solution while also being part of the problem. She was a rich White lady fighting inequality and working to help Democrats better appeal to an ever-diversifying working class. She had been an early financial backer of Black Lives Matter and was helping raise money for progressive congressional candidates all across the country—including many who had signed pledges to refuse money from the same fossil fuel industry that had propelled Leah’s family into the donor class.

Leah was not the first woman in her family to try to make it in Washington. In the living room, standing underneath a peaceful painting of rowboats floating in a sun-dappled sea, was Leah’s aunt Swanee, former ambassador to Austria under Bill Clinton. Of all the people in Leah’s life, Swanee was perhaps the person she looked up to most. Swanee had an innate understanding of how “soft power” worked, of how to build out a network and use those connections for good. It was Swanee who had suggested that Leah move from San Francisco if she wanted to actually make political change. Swanee gave her approval for this house as Leah’s base of operations (they both liked its hosting potential), and helped Leah decorate it with art Swanee had brought back from far-flung locales, including the seascape she stood by now. Swanee beamed as her niece—dressed in a floral skirt, brushing her blond hair out of her eyes—topped off drinks for thankful guests.

Leah seemed in high spirits, but she was in a bit of a slump. She’d thrived, politically speaking, during the Trump years. In 2018, she’d cofounded an organization, Way to Win, which had been a bright star of the #Resistance era, helping pump more than $165 million into Democratic causes. They had been especially important in places like Georgia and Arizona, helping fund on-the-ground organizations that worked to swing the Senate into Democratic hands.

Leah was hoping to keep energy levels up for the 2022 midterms, but was finding that difficult to achieve. Much of her focus was on the House of Representatives, but there was a Senate race that meant a lot to Leah: Mandela Barnes, the thirty-five-year-old Black lieutenant governor of Wisconsin, running for the chance to unseat Trump ally Senator Ron Johnson.

Leah had met Barnes years ago when they each spoke on a panel about economic populism in Miami and hung out together at the after-conference pool party. “He was riding on one of those inflatable unicorns,” Leah said. “He was a lot of fun.” The two became friends, and when Barnes was contemplating running for Senate, Leah promised him she would do whatever she could to help. For Leah, a Barnes win would be about a lot more than just having a friend in the Senate. It was a chance to prove that a progressive candidate could win in places deemed inhospitable—like statewide in Wisconsin—and a chance to help prove that Black candidates could win there too.

The Barnes race and the House races across the country were exhausting in a way that Leah wasn’t completely used to. There had been something almost easy about doing the job under Trump: easy to convince people to give money to fight creeping authoritarianism, easy to build coalitions with fellow resisters. But now Leah was mostly involved in primaries, working to get the most progressive option through to Election Day. Dollars were harder to come by for this type of work. It also meant that many of her former allies were now adversaries. It took very little effort for Democrats to define themselves against Trump. But with him gone, Leah was struggling to rally people around a vision for what Democrats should be for, not whom they should be against.

Across town and over the river into Virginia, a yard full of Christmas lights shined upon the largest house on Mansion Drive.

A couple hundred guests mingled through the 10,000-square-foot home of Matt and Mercy Schlapp. They dressed in sweaters and houndstooth blazers, glittery cocktail dresses, and satin jumpsuits. They munched on canapés under the chandelier in the dining room, admired the cubist art in the living room, and posed for photos beside the lavishly decorated Christmas tree in a sitting room by the front entrance. In another era, many of the guests currently here would be little more than political wannabes, staffers for fringy Republicans or aspiring pundits. But they were more than that now.

“This is the White House Christmas party that should have been,” Paris Dennard said over the din.

Dennard, the director of Black media affairs for the Republican National Committee, was standing just outside the kitchen by a table loaded with malt balls and chocolate chip cookies. He was talking to Hogan Gidley, Donald Trump’s former deputy press secretary.

“You know what?” Gidley replied. “I think it actually is the real White House Christmas party.”


  • “An intimate, entertaining and damning portrait of the way Washington works, not just now but maybe always.”—Washington Post Review
  • "No one gets today's Washington like Ben Terris – in all its particular contours and caricatures. THE BIG BREAK is the definitive accounting of ‘how it works’ in this ongoing post-Trump (pre-Trump?) maelstrom. I just imbibed this book." —Mark Leibovich, author of This Town and Thank You for Your Servitude
  • "I thought nothing about Washington's sordid power-and-influence scene could surprise me--until I read Ben Terris's book. With his roguish reporting methods, Ben has revealed something original, entertaining, and profoundly disturbing about the rotting soul of the American political system. If Mark Leibovich's This Town captured Washington in its virtue-signaling heyday, Ben has produced a masterful, vice-spiked sequel for the Trump era and beyond.”—Tim Alberta, Staff writer of The Atlantic and author of American Carnage
  • "Many books promise to reveal 'how Washington really works.' THE BIG BREAK actually does—by zooming in not on the principals—the politicians and talking heads—but instead on the worker bees: the staffers who make our capital work each day, a hard to decipher mix of craven opportunists and the true believers who are sometimes one in the same. What happened next can only be understood through the eyes of Ben Terris, one of the most principled and perceptive reporters in Washington, who masterfully guides us through the destabilizing decade that followed the first black presidency." —Wesley Lowery, Pulitzer Prize winning journalists and author of American Whitelash: A Changing Nation and the Cost of Progress
  • “This is not just another book about Washington. It’s a wild ride, filled with wit, humor, actual people (not just robotic politicians), and drama—so much drama. I found myself cracking up reading Ben’s wonderful writing, and then also terrified that maybe Democracy was on the verge of cracking up too.”—Molly Jong-Fast, special correspondent for Vanity Fair and host of the Fast Politics podcast
  • “Instead of staring at the puppet show of modern Washington, Ben Terris goes behind the curtain to talk to the people pulling the strings, or at least trying to. His subjects are climbers, dreamers, con-artists and true believers, sometimes all four at once. The stories he tells here are oddly comforting, because it turns out these people are just like us, and also terrifying, for exactly the same reason." —Peter Sagal, host of NPR’s Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me!
  • "The highest praise I can give of this book is my nearly unbearable professional jealousy upon reading it. THE BIG BREAK offers as authentic a depiction of the Trump-era Washington archetypes as has been put to paper.  If you want to understand the true VEEPish underbelly of the Washington Swamp there might not be a better text. Ben's clear-eyed, perceptive assessment of DC is both empathetic and withering and filled with enough gallows humor to keep the reader from descending into utter misery over the state of affairs. I recommend it for DC insiders and outsiders alike."—Tim Miller, Author of Why We Did It and MSNBC Political Analyst
  • "Ben Terris is one of maybe only a handful of political reporters who can get into any and every room in Washington. And armed with this skill, he usually walks through the doors other reporters wouldn’t even notice. It makes him a reporter I’ve been professionally jealous of for years, and also the author of a truly spectacular story all about the inner workings of DC that I couldn’t put down.

    Ben has an uncanny ability to make people who shouldn’t trust him at all tell him everything. That can be dangerous for a political operative in DC, but pretty great for anyone who decides to dig into THE BIG BREAK."—Sam Sanders, host of Vulture's Into It Podcast
  • "THE BIG BREAK is a rollicking account of this weird era of American politics, told with Ben Terris’s expert eye for detail and appreciation of great screwball characters. In 2023, you need a guide you can trust, and for that, you can’t do better than Terris."—Olivia Nuzzi, Washington correspondent for New York Magazine

On Sale
Jun 6, 2023
Page Count
352 pages

Ben Terris

About the Author

Ben Terris is a writer in The Washington Post's Style section with a focus on national politics. He lives in Maryland with his wife, Rachel, and sons Ralph and Jack.

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