It’s probably best to begin a discussion of Nicolle Wallace’s flawed but fascinating new White House novel with a bit of background. Wallace served as communications director in George W. Bush’s White House and was a senior adviser in John McCain’s 2008 campaign for president, during which she clashed repeatedly with McCain’s running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
A year ago, Wallace published her first novel, “Eighteen Acres,” which featured four women: Republican President Charlotte Kramer; Melanie Kingston, the president’s friend and chief of staff; Dale Smith, an ambitious television reporter who was having an affair with the president’s estranged husband; and Tara Meyers, the Democratic attorney general of New York, whom President Kramer made her surprise choice for the vice-presidential nomination when she sought reelection. The novel presented Tara as tacky, tasteless and obnoxious, although an effective campaigner, and she could only be taken as Wallace’s vitriolic — but not necessarily inaccurate — portrait of Palin.
Now we have Wallace’s second novel, “It’s Classified,” a sequel that could have been called “The Return of Tacky Tara.” The four main characters are all back. The president remains elegant and saintly. Melanie has become the nation’s first female secretary of defense. Dale has broken up with the president’s still estranged husband and become press secretary to Vice President Meyers. In the novel’s opening pages, the vice president is tearfully resigning, after just a year in office, because she has triggered a scandal that has Kramer facing impeachment. We eagerly read on to learn the origins and outcome of this ungodly mess.
The novel glances at the four women’s love lives — is the president doomed to endless celibacy? — as well as at problems with Iran and terrorists, but mostly it’s about Tara Meyers. The new vice president suffers from adult acne and is a glutton who is rapidly gaining weight. (“Her back fat was visible around her bra straps and she could barely find her waist.”) She would rather read romance novels than study policy papers, and she often calls in sick to avoid briefings. She’s insecure, depressed and prone to tantrums. And she’s cursed with a husband who is both a jerk and a bully. (Almost all the men in this novel are essentially worthless.)
Has Tara no redeeming qualities? Well, she was once a successful prosecutor, she loves her young daughter, she occasionally endears herself to audiences — and sometimes, amazingly, she’s even perceptive about politics. No matter: Her downfall begins when she blows a televised interview, one that recalls Palin’s ill-fated encounter with Katie Couric, a real-life disaster that Palin blamed on Wallace. Tara’s botched interview sets Washington abuzz and calls forth charges by Democrats that she’s unfit for office and that the White House cooked up a terrorism crisis to divert attention from her incompetence. These charges lead, improbably, to calls for a special prosecutor and the president’s impeachment.