March 14th, 2017
From Twitter tirades to bombastic statements, some critics of President Donald Trump are suggesting that the President might be mentally unstable and should be removed from office. The most obvious avenue in the U.S. Constitution to remove a President from office is through the impeachment and conviction process (The U.S House votes to impeach, then the U.S. Senate votes to convict). With the Republicans in control of both legislative chambers, this is highly unlikely.
Enter the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. The 25th Amendment states that should the President die or resign, the Vice President assumes the office of President. The amendment asserts that the new President may nominate a new Vice President, who can take the office upon winning a majority vote of both legislative chambers. In particular, Section 4 of the amendment provides a formula for removal of a President from office who “is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” According to the amendment, the Vice President and either a majority of Cabinet members or a majority of members of Congress must agree to remove the President. In the case at hand, this is a tall order considering that the GOP controls both the Cabinet and the Congress.
Flash back to November 27, 1963. President John F. Kennedy had been slain just five days earlier. The new President, Lyndon B. Johnson, addressed a Joint Session of Congress. The nation, still in mourning, watched the speech on television. The two men seated directly behind the President were first and second in line of Presidential succession. At this time, there was no provision in the Constitution allowing the President to nominate a new Vice President. Johnson had no Vice President until being sworn in for a full term in 1965. Had Johnson died in office, next in line to the Presidency was the 72-year-old Speaker of the House John McCormack (D-MA). Behind him was 86-year-old Senate Pro Tempore Carl Hayden (D-AZ). Neither appeared ready to serve as President.
Ironically, McCormack almost did assume the Presidency on the day Kennedy was killed. Secret Service Agent Gerald Blaine was on duty guarding Johnson’s Washington, D.C. home. He heard footsteps and fired his submachine gun in the air to ward off any potential intruders. However, the person continued to walk toward Blaine. Blaine then put his finger on the trigger ready to shoot what he thought was an intruder. Fortunately Blaine then recognized the man walking toward him. It was President Johnson.
The Kennedy assassination put passage of the 25th Amendment on the fast track.
Prior to the 25th Amendment, the Constitution did not specify a procedure should the President become too disabled to discharge the duties of the office. Some Presidents had signed agreements with their Vice Presidents, stating under what conditions the Vice President would replace the President. However, these written agreements were not legally binding.
The Kennedy assassination put passage of the 25th Amendment on the fast track. Prior to Kennedy’s death, the American Bar Association had recommended a Constitutional amendment to codify a procedure for removing an incapacitated President and choosing a new President and Vice President. In 1965, the Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments Birch Bayh (D-IN) introduced his version of the proposed amendment. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Emanuel Celler (D-NY) introduced a separate proposal. The two versions were eventually reconciled, and by 1967 received approval of the requisite two-thirds of the states.
The impetus for writing this amendment was to avoid a similar situation as happened In 1919. President Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke. His wife Edith secretly made many decisions for the President. The President could barely even sign an official document. Much of this was downplayed in public, as the President was able to hide the severity of that stroke with wit and the appearance of dexterity for visitors. When U.S. Senator Albert Fall (R-MT), a steadfast critic, came to visit him, Fall began the meeting by stating to the President: “We have been praying for you Mr. President.” In a flash, Wilson proved his mental dexterity with the following clever retort: “Which way, Senator?” Fall later reported that the President was not too impaired to serve.
I recently spoke with Jason Berman, who was a legislative assistant for Senator Bayh during the development of the 25th Amendment. He remarked: “Woodrow Wilson was the historical precedent” which the amendment was based on. The drafters of the amendment were trying to conceive of “a set of traditional types of issues for inability and incapacity. Section 4 was conceived to cover situations where the President was unable. It was meant to cover a blind spot. It was not meant to be politically motivated.”
Had the 25th Amendment not been in place when Republican President Nixon resigned, Democratic House Speaker Carl Albert of Oklahoma would have succeeded him.
The timing of getting the amendment ratified was fortuitous. In 1973, just five years after the Amendment was ratified, Vice President Spiro Agnew was forced to resign after pleading nolo contender (no contest) to charges of failing to report $29,500 of personal income. President Richard M. Nixon now had the authority to nominate a new Vice President. His first choice to succeed Agnew was U.S. Treasury Secretary John Connally. However, Congressional leaders told Nixon that Connally would have problems being confirmed, so Nixon went with his second choice, U.S. House Minority Leader Gerald R. Ford (R-MI). A year later, Nixon became enveloped in the Watergate Affair and was forced to resign from office. Ford became President.
Had the 25th Amendment not been in place when Republican President Nixon resigned, Democratic House Speaker Carl Albert of Oklahoma would have succeeded him. Thus despite the American people resoundingly re-electing a Republican President in 1972 (Nixon won 49 states), a Democrat would have ascended to the Presidency.
As President, Ford used the 25th Amendment to nominate former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller as Vice President. Congress subsequently confirmed Rockefeller.
During the interim, when Nixon, then Ford were deciding who to nominate for Vice President, and again during the time period when Congress was considering the respective nominations of first Ford, then Rockefeller for Vice President, U.S. House Speaker Carl Albert (D-OK) was next in the line of succession for the Presidency.
Speaker Albert had no presidential aspirations. However, when Nixon resigned, a battalion of Secret Service agents camped outside his apartment in a trailer. Albert’s landlord received a multitude of calls from other tenants in the building lamenting the presence of the agents. Some tenants believed the occupants of the trailer were hippies.
The disability provision of the 25th Amendment has been applied three times when the President underwent surgery. It was applied in 1985 when Ronald Reagan underwent Colon cancer surgery, and in 2002 and 2007 when George W. Bush experienced a colonoscopy.
U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) is in the process of creating a “working group to clarify and strengthen” the amendment. Blumenauer avers:
“In the absence of Congressional action, the constitutional language depends on action by the cabinet who may be fired by the President, undermining this ostensible check on an unstable president. It’s time to revisit and strengthen the Amendment and make sure there is a reliable mechanism in place.”
While the intent of the Amendment was never political, it can be a potential tool in the arsenal of those (in particular those members of the opposing party) who fear the President is mentally unstable.
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January 16th, 2017
Protocol dictates that the outgoing President leaves a note to be read by his successor upon taking office. This practice began when Ronald Reagan left a note for his successor George H.W. Bush, admonishing him: “Don’t let the turkey’s get you down.” The President then welcomes his successor to the White House. The outgoing and incoming Presidents sip coffee together in the Blue Room before entering a limousine, which will take both Presidents to the Inauguration ceremonies.
Once noon strikes on January 20 (The date was March 4 until 1937), the Chief Justice of the United States swears in the new President. The new President then observes the Inaugural Parade.
About 100 White House employees under the tutelage of the Chief Usher then rush to move out the outgoing President’s belongings and supplant them with the new President’s belongings. During the Inauguration, the Inaugural Parade and Inaugural Ball, the expectation is that the President’s residence will be transformed from the carpeting in the Oval Office to the clothing in the closets.
It is worth noting that there have been times when the outgoing President refused to attend the Inauguration of the new President. In 1801, John Adams, who lost a vituperative campaign to Thomas Jefferson, traveled directly home to Massachusetts without meeting Jefferson. Adams was livid at Jefferson, who had hired political pamphleteer James Callender to destroy Adams’ reputation during the Presidential campaign. Callender successfully spread a mendacious story that Adams’ ambition was to invade France if elected.
His son John Quincy Adams followed suit in 1829. He did not even welcome his successor to the Executive Mansion (now called the White House). The two electoral combatants had been engaged in a political battle royale. Adams’ supporters called Jackson’s wife Rachel an “adulteress” because she had not completed her divorce from her first husband. Mrs. Jackson died days before the election. An inflamed Jackson put the blame on Adams for his wife’s death, averring: “May God Almighty forgive her murderers as I know she forgave them. I never can.”
This day was also historical in that Jackson was the first commoner to assume the Presidency. Many of the “common folk” who elected him traveled to the nation’s Capital, some arriving at the Executive Mansion even before the President arrived. The crowd became increasingly inebriated on the orange rum punch, causing the event to devolve quickly into an unruly mob of obnoxious drunkards. As the large crowd pressed toward the new President, Jackson feared that he might be suffocated from the disorderly and unruly mob, and subsequently fled the Mansion through a first floor window, seeking refuge in a nearby hotel.
Inauguration Day in 1889 was a rainy day, forcing outgoing President Grover Cleveland, who Benjamin Harrison had just defeated, the indignity of holding an umbrella over Harrison during the downpour. Earlier that day, as the Cleveland’s were leaving the Executive Mansion, First Lady Frances Cleveland eerily told the White House Staff to “Take care of the place. We’ll be back.” Sure enough, after beating Harrison in 1892, the Cleveland’s were back in power for a non-consecutive four-year term.
Sometimes Presidents continue to work on the last day of their Presidency. In 1845, outgoing President John Tyler signed legislation declaring Florida the twenty-seventh state in the Union. However, Tyler also suffered a setback that day when Congress achieved the requisite 2/3 vote of both houses of the U.S. Congress to override his veto of proposed legislation to eliminate the President’s plenary Executive authority to purchase revenue-cutter ships. This was the first Presidential veto to be overridden in U.S. History.
In 1913, on his last day in office, William Howard Taft signed legislation creating the Federal Department of Labor as a Cabinet Department. The department today employs over 17,000 people.
In 2001, Transition Day came on a Saturday, the day when the President traditionally delivers his weekly radio address. Bill Clinton did not cancel the address, instead using the occasion to actuate a pledge he made “to work until the last hour of the last day.” Clinton announced that his administration is “awarding more than $100 million to fund 1,400 more police officers in communities throughout our land.”
More controversial, Clinton used his last day in office to issue 140 Presidential pardons, including a pardon for financier Mark Rich, a fugitive living in Switzerland who was charged with 51 counts of tax evasion in the U.S. Rich’s wife, Denise Rich, was a major donor to the Bill Clinton Presidential Library and Museum and to the U.S. Senate campaign of Clinton’s wife Hillary. This pardon led to a federal investigation. Federal prosecutors ruled that Clinton had not operated illegally.
Perhaps the most agonizing Presidential last day occurred in 1981. Outgoing President Jimmy Carter spent most of the last two days as President assiduously trying to win the release of the hostages seized by Iranian students in 1979. The next to last day in office the U.S. and Iranian governments agreed to The Algiers Accords. The U.S. agreed not to interfere in Iran’s internal affairs and in turn, Iran agreed to immediately release the 52 Americans it was holding hostage. However, Carter’s nemesis, Ayatollah Rudolph Khomeini, did not officially release the hostages until Carter’s term officially expired, allowing the new President, Ronald Reagan, not Carter, to announce the freeing of the hostages.
The limousine ride itself can be awkward when two Presidents from different political parties are forced to sit next to each other for the ride to the capitol. In 1953, outgoing President Harry S. Truman viewed Eisenhower with derision for his failure to condemn U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy (R-WI) after McCarthy suggested that Secretary of Defense George Marshall was enveloped in a Communist conspiracy. Truman branded Eisenhower “a coward.” Moreover, Truman thought little of Eisenhower’s political dexterity, deadpanning: “The General doesn’t know any more about politics than a pig knows about Sunday.”
Eisenhower returned the contempt, refusing to meet Truman in the White House for the traditional coffee. He instead waited in the limousine until Truman came out. The banter on the ride down Pennsylvania Avenue was contentious.
During the ride to the Inauguration, Eisenhower asked Truman who had ordered his son John to return form active duty in the Korean War to attend his father’s inauguration. Eisenhower feared that the public would view this as his son receiving preferential treatment. Truman testily retorted in the third person: “The President of the United States ordered your son to attend your inauguration. The President thought it was right and proper for your son to witness the swearing-in of his father to the Presidency. If you think somebody was trying to embarrass you by this order, then the President assumes full responsibility.” The two men had a rapprochement later in life, becoming good friends.
There is much planning that goes into Presidential Transition Day and into transforming the White House that day. Outgoing Presidents leave their thumbprint anywhere they can before leaving office. Although it is custom for the outgoing and incoming Presidents to at least be cordial to one another, this is sometimes a challenge, as the two Presidents may be bitter political rivals. While Presidential transitions usually appear seamless to the American people, they can be awkward and even contentious behind the scenes.
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October 18th, 2016
By Rich Rubino.
Before Donald Trump selected Mike Pence to be his Vice Presidential Runningmate, Pence was locked in a tight race to retain his job as Indiana Governor, sporting job approval ratings of under 50 percent.
If Pence had run for re-election and lost, his expiration date as a viable Presidential candidate would likely have passed. On the other hand, if Pence had won re-election, and if Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump were to lose his Presidential bid, Pence would be one of a litany of potential Republican Presidential candidates seeking his party’s 2020 nomination.
If this were the scenario, Pence would have to spend at least two years balancing his job as Governor with his Presidential campaign. If his subpar job approval ratings were to sustain, he would face an embarrassing backlash at home like then Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal did in 2016.
Pence is now in the electoral Catbird Seat. The GOP is split asunder between the establishment and insurrectionist bloodlines. Establishment Republicans have either disassociated themselves from Trump or are distancing themselves from the insurrectionist nominee. Contrariwise, Trump supporters are vociferous adherents of the real estate mogul’s message, and are indignant at the establishment for not being four square for Trump.
Should Trump lose his Presidential bid, Pence is the only candidate who can bridge the internecine divide in the GOP to become the consensus GOP candidate in 2020. While Pence was one of the most conservative members of the GOP during his 12-year stint in the U.S. House of Representatives, he won the support of many establishment Republicans, being elected as Chairman of the House Republicans Caucus.
Like most establishment Republicans, Pence voted for the authorization for the use of force in Iraq, supported NAFTA, and even called for “a Free Trade Agreement of the Americas.” In addition, Pence believes that if Russia “continues to be involved in this barbaric attack on civilians in Aleppo, the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike military targets of the (Syrian President Basher al-) Assad regime.”
These positions are divergent from Trump, making Pence palatable to establishment Republicans.
After Trump was caught on tape speaking of women in sexually explicit terms, many establishment Republicans reached their boiling point and unendorsed Trump. Some Republicans, like U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne of Alabama, called for Trump to “step aside and allow Governor Pence to lead the Republican ticket.”
Trump’s influence on the GOP will not likely be ephemeral. Come the 2020 Presidential cycle, the more than 14 million voters who selected Trump in the GOP Primary will likely frown upon potential candidates like Ohio Governor John Kasich who did not endorse Trump, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), who disinvited him to a campaign event, and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) who spoke at the party’s national Convention imploring voters “to vote your conscience” rather than singing Trump’s accolades.
These voters will likely see Pence as the logical heir apparent to the Trump mantra and will award him for his fidelity to Trump. Based on his recent debate performance, the GOP establishment garners a propitious view of Pence. If Trump loses in November, few Republicans will blame Pence. The argument might even be made that Pence could have won the election if he were at the top of the ticket.
There is a similitude between Pence and Richard M. Nixon. Nixon was the epitome of the moderate Republican Establishment. In 1960, then Vice President Nixon made a deal with New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, the titular head of the party’s liberal wing, adding language to the GOP platform sympathetic to Rockefeller in return for his unequivocal endorsement. U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ), a leading voice with conservatives, branded the agreement “the Munich of the Republican Party.” The agreement, labeled “The Treaty of Fifth Avenue,” infuriated some conservatives. Nixon lost that election in a squeaker.
By 1964, the insurrectionist wing became ascendant, as conservative flamethrower Barry Goldwater wrested the party’s nomination. The party’s establishment feared a Goldwater nomination. That year, Rockefeller ran against him in the primary and sent out a mailer asking: “Who do you want in the room with the H Bomb Button?”
Goldwater made little effort to mitigate his rhetoric, offering his candidacy as “a choice not an echo.” He horrified the party’s high command by exclaiming at his party’s convention: “Let me remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me also remind you that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
After he secured the nomination, potential nominees for 1968 abandoned Goldwater. Rockefeller and Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton, who both lost the 1964 nomination, did not endorse Goldwater.
Michigan Governor George Romney stated that he “accepted” Goldwater’s nomination but would not “endorse him.” In his own re-election bid, Romney’s campaign mailed out about 200,000 mock ballots showing voters how to mark their ballots for Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson for President and Romney for Governor.
Nixon however became a resolute supporter of Goldwater. He even gave the speech at the Republican National Convention nominating Goldwater and became a Goldwater surrogate on the campaign trail. Nixon held the Goldwater banner high, singing Goldwater’s’ praises across the country. This gained Nixon respect and admiration from insurrectionists who had viewed him with suspicion.
After Goldwater suffered a seismic defeat, both establishment and insurrectionist Republicans spoke of a Nixon nomination in 1968. The establishment wanted a mainstream figure and looked back fondly on Nixon, believing he deserved another chance. Insurrectionists grew inflamed with those Republicans who did not support Goldwater in 1964, and were grateful that Nixon did not bow to political pressure and distance himself from Goldwater.
Goldwater himself showed his gratitude by endorsing Nixon for the 1968 nomination as early as 1965. Nixon spent much of 1966 on the hustings, campaigning for Republican Congressional candidates of all ideological persuasions, earning political chits.
Nixon was awarded with the nomination in 1968, soundly defeating Rockefeller and Romney who had alienated the insurrectionists by not endorsing Goldwater in 1964. Nixon was the consensus candidate, winning support of both GOP establishmentarians and insurrectionist voters.
Should Trump lose the upcoming election, Pence would be wise to follow a strategy similar to the one employed by Nixon. Like Nixon, he will not be constrained by a full-time job. He can spend 2018 campaigning for Republican candidates across the nation, collecting IOU’s, and keeping his name in the news. By 2020, he could become the one candidate to win support from both bloodlines of the Republican Party, ultimately winning the nomination.
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June 28th, 2016
By Rick Rubino.
Surveys show that the overwhelming number of American journalists are left- leaning. A 2015 poll
taken by Indiana University Journalism professors David Weaver and Lars Willnat showed that Democratic journalists outnumber Republicans Journalists by more than four to one and that an overwhelming 90% of Washington correspondents vote Democrat.
This is a natural result of a free market system. Individuals with a liberal mindset tend to gravitate toward careers like Social Services, theater, academia, and journalism. Alternatively, those who gravitate toward industries like construction, oil gas, as well as coal, and agriculture tend to be conservative.
However, this only accounts for the so-called mainstream media. Liberals would be correct to point to a conservative media bias. For example, they can point to the influential talk radio sphere. In 2015, Talkers Magazine ranked four of the top five most influential radio talk show hosts as conservatives. The top two were conservative raconteurs Rush Limbaugh who raked in 13.25 million listeners weekly and Sean Hannity who pocketed about 12.5 million listeners. Fans of these programs eschew mainstream media sources, believing they are accruing the unvarnished truth from these sources. Limbaugh jokes: “There is no need for a truth detector. I am the truth detector.”
Americans no longer receive their news from a single source. The media is now fragmented. Liberals can listen to NPR, read The New York Times, and watch MSNBC. Conservatives can listen to conservative talk radio, read the Wall Street Journal, and watch Fox News. Accordingly, they choose to use the media as an echo chamber rather than a place to garner information. With so many different choices of media, many Americans engage in “confirmation bias.” They search for sources which will fortify their preformulated beliefs, rather than challenge them. A liberal is more likely to watch an interview on Democracy NOW with progressive linguist Noam Chomsky, whereas a conservative is more likely to watch Sean Hannity interview conservative commentator Denish D’Souza.
It has become conventional belief that the media is supposed to be objective. Yet objectivity is unattainable. By choosing which part of a story to emphasize, which sources to use, and the order of the stories, media organizations exhibit bias.
During the early days of the Republic, the media was expected to be biased. In fact, it was blatantly partisan. The nation’s first Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton, an exponent of an expansive Federal Government, founded The Gazette of the United States with friend John Fenno. Hamilton used his office to award printing contracts to Feno. The Publication made no attempt to be neutral. It advocated for Hamilton’s viewpoint.
Hamilton’s rival, U.S. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, who advocated a limited-purpose Federal Government, countered by co-founding The National Gazette with publisher Philip Freneau. Jefferson granted Freaneau authority to print State Department documents.
Throughout much of the Nineteenth Century, newspapers were mostly partisan propaganda machines. Many news reporters actually doubled as aides to politicians. In 1884, the Republican Los Angeles Times did not even report the election of Democrat Grover Cleveland as President for about a week. The newspaper had published an editorial supporting the Republican Presidential nominee James G. Blaine titled: “Six reasons Blaine will be triumphantly elected.”
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March 9th, 2016
By Rich Rubino.
Republican Presidential candidate Ted Cruz is taking heat for dirty tricks allegedly orchestrated by his campaign. The tricks range from photoshopping an image to make it appear that one of his opponents, Marco Rubio, is gleefully shaking hands with President Barack Obama, to allegedly creating a counterfeit Facebook profile for conservative U.S. Representative Trey Gowdy (R-SC), where Gowdy disavows his past support for Rubio and announces he now backs Cruz. It is also alleged that Cruz’s campaign tried to fool supporters of opponent Ben Carson by informing them that the retired neurosurgeon had dropped out of the race.
Political skullduggery is not a novelty in American Politics. Sometimes the tricks are quite juvenile. In 1970, 19-year-old Republican political operative Karl Rove, who later became the chief campaign strategist for George W. Bush, broke into the campaign office of Allan J. Dixon, the Democratic nominee for State Treasurer of Illinois. He then pilfered Dixon’s campaign stationery. Learning when Dixon had scheduled a rally, Rove proceeded to advertise: “Free beer, free food, girls, and a good time for nothing” on Dixon’s stationery. Rove then distributed the homemade flyers at rock concerts and homeless shelters, inviting these people to the rally. Dixon won the election and Rove eventually apologized for his actions.
Dirty tricks can sometimes backfire on the trickster. In 2010, Florida Republican State Legislative candidate Greg Brown, along with his bride, stole his opponents campaign signs from lawns. His opponent, Doug Bronson, caught the couple on video camera stealing the signs.
In 1950, Time magazine reported that U.S. Representative George Smathers (D-FL) made the following charge about U.S. Senator Claude Pepper (D-FL) while campaigning to defeat him in the 1950 Democratic Primary:
Are you aware that the candidate is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to have practiced nepotism with his sister-in-law and he has a sister who was once a wicked thespian in New York. He matriculated with co-eds at the University, and it is an established fact that before his marriage he habitually practiced celibacy.
Smathers denied making this statement and offered $10,000 to anyone who could prove he made it. No one could prove it. Smathers won the election.
The alleged tactics used by the Cruz campaign are reminiscent of those used in previous political campaigns, sometimes without even the knowledge of the candidate. In 1888, after his razor-thin victory (winning the Electoral Vote but not the national popular vote), President-Elect Benjamin Harrison said to Republican National Committee Chairman Matthew Stanley Quay: “Providence has given us victory.” Quay later opined to a newspaper reporter: He ought to know that Providence didn’t have a damn thing to do with it. Harrison will never know how many men were compelled to approach the penitentiary to make him President.”
Incumbent President Grover Cleveland was locked in a whisker-close battle with Harrison. A Harrison supporter, George Osgooby wrote a letter using the alias “Charles F. Murchishon.” He claimed to be a naturalized citizen born in Britain. Osgooby mailed the letter to the British ambassador to the U.S., Lionel Sackville West, requesting advice regarding whom he should vote for. West wrote back, suggesting he should vote for Cleveland. President Cleveland was held in high esteem by the British for his support for reducing the protective tariff on British goods imported into the U.S. When the letters were published, some Irish-Americans, indignant at the British for their treatment of the Irish, turned against Cleveland and helped put Harrison over the top.
The Kennedy family is notorious for the use of political legerdemain. In 1946, after entering a race for an open seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, future President John F. Kennedy used a clever tactic to muster an electoral advantage. A popular candidate in the race was Boston City Councilor Joe Russo. To siphon support from Russo, the Kennedy campaign persuaded and bankrolled a custodian domiciled in the district, who had no political experience or political aspirations, to enter the race. His name was also Joe Russo. The City Councilor Joe Russo complained that someone had “seen fit to buy out a man who has the same name as mine.” But the city councilor had no recourse, and John F. Kennedy won the race.
When John F. Kennedy (a Roman Catholic) sought the Presidency in 1960, his campaign, led by campaign manager and brother Robert F. Kennedy, won plaudits for their victory in West Virginia, which was about 95% Protestant. This stunning victory was not only the result of indefatigable campaigning, but also the result of implying that Humphrey had sought draft deferments because he was “a political organizer whose services were needed (as a civilian) during WWll.” The Kennedy campaign dispatched surrogate Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr., whose father’s name reached near demi-god status in the state, to suggest that Humphrey had been a draft dodger during World War ll. The accusations were mendacious. In actuality, Humphrey failed his medical examination because of a hernia.
John F. Kennedy denounced the charge, averring that the allegations were “done without my knowledge and consent and I disapprove of the injection of this issue into the campaign.” Roosevelt later withdrew his charge against Humphrey, but the damage was done. Humphrey was running a shoestring campaign against Kennedy’s unlimited resources. In fact, Humphrey allocated funds he had saved for his daughter’s college education to pay for his last television advertisement. In addition to failing to inoculate himself from the draft dodging charges, Humphrey could not overcome Kennedy’s infinite campaign spending.
In the General Election that year, Kennedy employed the services of Dick Tuck, a noted dirty trickster. After Kennedy debated Republican nominee Richard M. Nixon, Tuck paid a senior citizen to wear a “Nixon for President” button and to approach Nixon after the debate in the presence of the media and tell Nixon: “Don’t worry son! He beat you last night, but you’ll get him next time.” Kennedy eked out a victory over Nixon.
After winning the Presidency himself in 1968, Nixon became the perpetrator of, and accomplice to, numerous dirty tricks. His Presidency was toppled as a result of the Watergate Affair, where he tried to cover-up his re-election campaign’s role in a break-in at the Democratic National Headquarters. But that was just the tip of the iceberg for dirty tricks in that administration.
Nixon and his coefficients were obsessed with enfeebling their potentially formidable opponents for re-election. Former Alabama Governor George Wallace had run for President in 1968 as the nominee of the American Independence Party. Nixon wanted to purloin and monopolize the populist blue-collar conservative message that Wallace had preached in 1968. He feared Wallace would become either the Democratic nominee or would again be the American Independence Party nominee, and would once again become the tribune of the message.
To stop Wallace, the Nixon forces subversively tried to have him defeated in his 1970 bid to recapture the Alabama Governorship. Accordingly, Nixon ordered his lawyer, Herbert Kalmbach, to clandestinely funnel $100,000 to Wallace’s opponent, incumbent Democrat Albert Brewer. Brewer defeated Wallace in the primary, but did not garner the requisite majority of the vote to avoid a runoff with Wallace. In the Runoff election, Kalmbach secretly sent a $330,000 donation to Brewer. However, the scheme proved feckless as Wallace won the General Election comfortably. Wallace then ran for President two years later, but his campaign came to a halt when he was shot and paralyzed at a campaign rally in Laurel, Maryland.
In 1972, much of the Democratic establishment was aligned with U.S. Senator Edmund Muskie (D-ME). The Nixon campaign feared Muskie would muster the nomination. To prevent this possibility, they tried to derail his candidacy before the New Hampshire Presidential Primary. They wanted to run against the insurrectionist candidate George McGovern who was well to Muskie’s left. Shannanagators in the Nixon campaign penned a letter written to the Editor of the influential Manchester Union Leader. It was published just two weeks prior to the New Hampshire Primary. The letter-writer alleged in the missive to have asked Muskie how he could represent African-Americans as President when there were so few African-Americans in Muskie’s home state of Maine. This letter went on to state that Muskie had responded: “No Blacks, but we have Canucks.” (A derogatory term for French Canadians who have a large representation in Maine).
The letter proved effective in that Muskie challenged the letter-writer and the newspaper by standing outside its headquarters and branding the paper’s editor, William Loeb, “A gutless coward.” It was reported in the media the next day that Muskie cried, though some observers maintain that the water on Muskie’s face was from snowflakes. However, after the incident some New Hampshire voters began questioning if Muskie had the temperament to be President.
Consequently, many Muskie supporters defected to McGovern. While Muskie won the primary, he garnered an underwhelming 46.4% of the vote. Muskie never reclaimed his early electoral momentum. He dropped out of the race in late April, telling news reporters: “I do not have the money to continue.” McGovern eventually pocketed the nomination.
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October 17th, 2015
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was once a benefactor of U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL). Bush donated to Rubio’s first political campaign, and in 2005, when Rubio was sworn in as Florida’s House Speaker, Bush gave Rubio a sword, informing Rubio: “I’m going to bestow to you the sword of a great conservative warrior”(referring to the mythical warrior Chang). When he ran in the Republican U.S. Senate primary in 2010, Rubio garnered the support of many of Bush’s prominent fundraisers. Though Bush remained officially neutral, his son, Jeb Bush Jr., supported Rubio. The day Rubio won the General Election, Jeb Bush stood at the podium introducing him.
Today, the two Floridians are battling for support in the Republican Presidential primary. Some in the Florida political circuit thought Rubio would not run if Bush did, but in American politics, timing is everything, and Rubio, with his political star on the rise, saw this election as “his time.” Now the gloves are coming off, and Bush is comparing Rubio to Barack Obama. Bush recently told CNN: “Look, we had a president who came in and said the same kind of thing — new and improved, hope and change — and he didn’t have the leadership skills to fix things.”
American politics is chock full of examples of former “mentees” running against their mentor, former ticket mates running against each other, employees running against their boss, and even brothers running against brothers.
In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt used his political influence to secure the Republican Presidential nomination for U.S. Secretary of War William Howard Taft over other Republicans, including Vice President Charles Fairbanks. However, after Taft was elected and assumed the Presidency, Roosevelt became disillusioned with Taft, believing he was too tethered to the conservative bloodline of the party and the moneyed interests. The progressive Roosevelt launched a bid against Taft for the 1912 Republican Presidential nomination. He told news reporters: “My hat’s in the ring. The fight is on, and I’m stripped to the buff.” Roosevelt was not above ad hominem attacks on Taft, quipping that his former ally is: “dumber than a guinea pig, a fathead.” Taft in turn branded Roosevelt’s supporters “destructive radicals and neurotics.”
After losing the nomination to Taft, Roosevelt did not make amends by supporting his party’s nominee. Instead, he bolted from the GOP, running as the nominee of the newly created Progressive Party, a.ka. the Bull Moose Party. This move split the Republican vote and contributed to the victory of Democrat Woodrow Wilson.
In 1940, Roosevelt’s cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, sought an unprecedented third term as president. Vice President John Nance Garner, a former ally, and James Farley (the Democratic National Committee Chairman and Post Master General) ran against him for the Democratic nomination.
Farley was a longtime Roosevelt loyalist, managing two successful campaigns for Roosevelt for Governor of New York and for President. He was dismayed that Roosevelt sought a third term. The ambitious Farley, who wanted to succeed Roosevelt, had been led to believe that Roosevelt would not seek a third term. Farley held that no President should seek more than two terms.
Gardner, a business-oriented conservative Democrat from Texas, thought that Roosevelt had veered too far to the left ideologically and called some elements of Roosevelt’s New Deal (Domestic program) “plain damn foolishness.” Roosevelt easily fended off both challenges.
In 1968, the Democratic Presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey selected U.S. Senator Edmund Muskie (D-ME) as his vice presidential running mate. The ticket lost narrowly to Republicans Richard M. Nixon and Spiro Agnew.
Humphrey’s presidential ambitions did not end after that election. In 1972, Humphrey again sought the Democratic Presidential nomination. He did this just six days after Muskie announced his intention to seek the nomination. Muskie was the early frontrunner and the choice of many members of the Democratic establishment, but he soon faded after a series of underperformances in the early primaries. Humphrey then became the defacto establishment favorite, but lost to the insurrectionist anti-Vietnam War candidate U.S. Senator George McGovern (D-SD). McGovern went on to lose badly to Nixon in the General Election.
McGovern won the Democratic primary with the help of the young campaign manager, Gary Hart. After McGovern lost in the General Election, Hart embarked on his own political career. In 1984, he sought the Democratic Presidential nomination as a moderate Democrat. That year, McGovern returned from the political wilderness and sought the nomination as well. He told Hart he did not believe any of the declared candidates were “saying what needs to be said.” McGovern thought his message of full employment, curtailing defense spending, and freezing nuclear production was not being addressed adequately in the campaign.
McGovern, unlike Hart, stood little chance of winning the nomination, having lost badly in 1972, and having lost a re-election bid to the U.S. Senate in 1980. Hart ran as a moderate Democrat who was not a tribune of the labor unions and the “special interest government in Washington.” McGovern ran as an unreconstructed liberal. The clash was ideological, not personal. McGovern belittled Hart’s slogan “new ideas” by averring: “Those are rather attractive slogans, but they really have no intellectual content.”
Successful candidates seize the moment even if that means running against a former boss when the boss is in political trouble. There are two recent prominent examples of this phenomenon. These are discussed directly below.
Blanche Lincoln began her career as a receptionist in the office of U.S. Representative Bill Alexander (D-AR). In 1992, eight years after she left Alexander’s office, Lincoln challenged her old boss. Alexander was embarrassed when it was revealed that he had run up overdrafts in the House bank of $208,546. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Lincoln maintained: “I’ll promise you one thing. I can sure enough balance my checkbook.” Alexander could not distance himself from the charges, and Lincoln easily defeated him.
Similarly, U.S. Representative Gary Condit (D-CA), who had been immutable in past elections was engulfed in the national spotlight for the extramarital affair he had engaged in with intern Chandra Levy. Levy died in 2001 in what was later revealed to be a murder by criminal Ingmar Guandique. Condit is not believed to have had any involvement in the murder. Still, some constituents questioned if he was involved at the time.
Then in 2002, with Condit electorally vulnerable, State Assemblyman Dennis Cordoza, who had worked as Condit’s Chief of Staff when Condit served as a State Assemblyman, challenged Condit in the Democratic primary. Believing Condit could not win in the General Election, many in the party’s high command, led by the state’s Democratic Chairman Art Torres, took the unusual step of supporting the challenger against the incumbent.
Cordoza won the nomination. The Condit team was deeply hurt by Cordoza’s candidacy, and there was no rapprochement after the election. Condit’s son, Chad Condit, protested after his father’s loss: “Gary helped Dennis. Dennis backstabbed Gary. He took advantage of a tragedy… He saw an opportunity to win an election and he did it.”
In 2004, Bill Murley, a correctional officer in Essex County, Massachusetts was disaffected with the policies of his boss, Sherriff Frank Cousins Jr. In an awkward turn of events, Murley ran against him in Cousin’s bid for re-election, while serving under him concomitantly. Murley accused Cousins of “gross mismanagement” and alleged that there was an “unwritten rule” among employees of the Sheriff’s Department to donate to the campaign. Cousins handily defeated Murley. After the election, Murley continued to work for the Sherriff’s Department.
Perhaps the most historic and bizarre race was when two brothers actually ran against each other. It occurred in 1888. The Democrats nominated former U.S. Representative Robert Taylor (D-TN). The Republicans nominated Robert’s older brother, attorney Alfred Taylor. The two brothers remained on good terms and traveled together throughout the campaign. Bob said at one of their debates that the two brothers were “roses from the same garden.” Accordingly, the race earned the moniker: “The War of the Roses.” Robert later recalled of this peculiar race: “There were lots of old fellows who didn’t vote for either of us, because they were friends of both, but I do not know of a single Republican vote that I got nor of a single Democrat vote that he got.” Robert won this election by about 16,000 votes. The election was uncommonly civil. Robert went on to serve for four years as governor of the Volunteer State. Alfred eventually captured the Tennessee governorship in 1920.
The internecine battle between Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio is just one in a litany of odd political rivalries in American politics. Despite any affection Rubio may have had for Bush, it did not dissuade him from seeking the nomination against him. As is common in American politics, Rubio simply seized the electoral moment.
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September 30th, 2015
By Rich Rubino.
Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump unabashedly touts himself as being“really rich.” According to Forbes Magazine, Trump even exaggerated his net worth, alleging to be worth almost $9 billion. Forbes pegs the number at just $4.1 billion. Trump brags that he went to a top tier school, the Wharton School of Business, and even sings the praises of an uncle who taught at MIT, John G. Trump. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump told CNN, “It’s in my blood. I’m smart. Great marks. Like really smart.” Trump even showcased his private jet at the Iowa State Fair by taking children for a ride.
Trump is the antithesis of the American politician. Most politicians who come from patrician backgrounds try to play down their heritage. They sometimes awkwardly try to play the role of an ordinary citizen. On the flip side, those politicians who hail from more modest circumstances often try to play up their humble origins rather than emphasizing their current financial situation.
For example, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee discusses his modest rearing in Hope, Arkansas, writing: “I think it’s home,” rather than showcasing his Florida abode assessed at over $3 million. Donald Trump, by boasting of his wealth, family, and his esteemed relative at MIT, is entering into uncharted territory in Presidential politics.
The greatest rouse for a politician from a patrician upbringing effectuating a narrative of being a regular guy from a humble background was perpetuated by William Henry Harrison. Harrison was elected President in 1840 by emphasizing the fact that he once lived in a log cabin. In reality, Harrison lived in a log cabin for just a brief period after leaving government service.
Some of his handlers spread the yarn that he was actually born in a long cabin. In fact, one of Harrison’s supporters, whisky distiller E.G. Booze, sold whisky in log cabin-shaped bottles during the campaign to promote this master narrative (This is where the word “booze” came from). Harrison dressed down in public, styling himself as an average American. In actuality, Harrison grew up as a man of means. His father was once the Governor of Virginia. The ploy worked swimmingly. Harrison was elected President in an electoral landslide.
A hundred years later, in 1940, the Republican Presidential nominee, Wendell Willkie, often talked of his roots. Willkie was reared in the small blue-collar town of Elwood, Indiana. He rarely mentioned that both of his parents were lawyers. Willkie presented himself as a barefoot farm boy who made good, becoming a Utilities Executive. Willkie did not mention the connections to Wall Street he developed in that roll. U.S. Interior Secretary Harold Ickies dubbed him: “The barefoot boy from Wall Street.” Furthering this joke, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt, averred Willkie has: “grassroots of every country club in America.”
There have been more recent examples of politicians downplaying their resumes in the interest of not appearing elitist. Lyndon B. Johnson actually did come from a modest background, but he often exaggerated it for political effect. While he was giving a tour of his birthplace, Johnson City, Texas, Johnson showed his visitors an old cabin and told them it was his birthplace. Johnson’s mother, Rebekah Baines Johnson, said to him: “Why Lyndon, you know you were born in a much better house closer to town which has been torn down.” Johnson replied: “I know mama, but everybody has to have a birthplace.”
Johnson’s fellow Texan and political mentor, U.S. House Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-TX), lived a lavish lifestyle when in the nation’s capital. He dawned a posh wardrobe and enjoyed a chauffeured limousine at his disposal. Yet when he was back in his Texas Congressional District, Rayburn played the role of a simple dairy farmer, wore overalls, and drove a pickup truck. Consequently, as Rayburn moved up the leadership ladder in Congress, his constituents continued to see him at community events as a citizen Congressman as content in the North Texas prairie tending to his cattle as positioned behind the President when he delivers his State of the Union Address.
Nelson Rockefeller, an heir to the Rockefeller family fortune, spent much of his political career downplaying the elitist connotations that his background and fortune brought. When he first ran for Governor of New York in 1958, Rockefeller taught himself not to use the term “thanks a million” when a supporter praised him. He supplanted it with “thanks a thousand.” In addition, Rockefeller greeted voters with the folksy: “Hiya Fella.”
In 1978, Massachusetts Democratic Gubernatorial nominee Ed King called his wealthy Republican opponent Frank Hatch, “A rich incompetent.” In the last days of the campaign, the King campaign aired a television advertisement which included an aerial shot of the mansion Hatch lived in, which was situated in a lavish neighborhood. To make a stark contrast, the advertisement included an aerial shot of King’s home, which was quite modest and located in a blue-collar neighborhood. The ad is credited with slowing a late electoral surge Hatch had made with working-class voters, and may have won the election for King.
More recently, when running for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1988, Al Gore, who spent most of his youth in Washington, D.C. as the son of a U.S. Senator, and attended the prestigious St. Albans School before ascending to Harvard College (the only college he applied to), emphasized his time growing tobacco at his family’s Tennessee farm. He told North Carolina voters: “I’ve raised tobacco…I want you to know that with my own hands, all of my life, I put it in the plant beds and transferred it. I’ve hoed it. I’ve chopped it. I’ve shredded it, spiked it, put it in the barn and stripped it and sold it.”
While running for the 2004 and 2008 Democratic Presidential nomination, U.S. Senator John Edwards (D-NC), who had amassed millions of dollars as a top tort lawyer, downplayed his wealth, and mentioned that his “father worked in a mill all his life.” The younger Edwards would pose in front of the first home he lived in located in Seneca, South Carolina. Edwards did not mention that his father was promoted to a mill supervisor, and then to plant manager. Nor did Edwards mention that after a year the family moved to a much nicer home, and that his upbringing was relatively comfortable.
Donald Trump is a rare political species. Rather than hide his pedigree, wealth, and prestigious education, he is championing it, with no fear of being tattooed as an elitist by his critics. If it works, perhaps we will witness more politicians announcing their candidacies in front of their mansions dressed in expensive suits rather than in front of their modest birthplaces wearing overalls or work clothes. This would be a political sea change from what we are used to seeing.
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July 28th, 2015
By Rich Rubino.
In 2011, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was a champion to conservatives who admired his combative approach to critics and his willingness to stand up to the public sector unions. Moderates saw him as a blue state Governor who worked well with Democrats and who balanced the state’s budget. The Republican establishment took notice, seeing him as the candidate who could bridge the ideological chasm between conservatives and moderates, and by doing so close party ranks, unifying the party.
Many prominent Republicans beseeched Christie to seek the GOP 2012 Presidential nomination. Polls showed Christie sporting a redoubtable lead against all other potential Republican opponents, and leading President Barack Obama in a hypothetical general election matchup. However, Christie resisted the pressure and announced that he would not run for the nomination, averring: “Now is not my time.”
After the Republican Party’s 2012 nominee, Mitt Romney, lost the race to Obama, Christie began preparing for a 2016 Presidential bid. Christie was at the high watermark of his popularity. One year later, he exhibited his electoral bone fides by being re-elected as Governor of Democratically leaning New Jersey with 60 percent of the vote. He was ready to use this landslide victory as an argument to Republican voters that he could garner votes behind enemy lines in a General Election campaign as well. Then, Christie’s good political fortune regressed. It was revealed that after Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich refused to join other Democratic mayors in endorsing Christie, Christie aides schemed to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge allegedly as political retribution. This began a nosedive for Christie’s job approval rating in New Jersey. This was then compounded by discontent among state residents over Christie’s frequent out of state political trips and the credit downgrades in New Jersey. Consequently, Christie now harbors job approval ratings of just 30 percent in his home state, and is in the middle of the pack of Republican Presidential candidates nationally.
Contrawise, after delivering the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, Barack Obama, then a recently minted nominee for an open U.S. Senate seat in Illinois, rose to national political stardom in the Democratic Party. After being elected to the Senate, liberal, moderate and conservative Democrats requested that Obama campaign with them in their home states. Obama was one of a very few national Democrats who were welcome in Nebraska to campaign for the re-election of conservative U.S. Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) and in Vermont to campaign for U.S. Senate candidate Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist. Consequently, members of the Democratic high command geminated with rank-and-file Democrats and persuaded Obama that 2008 was Barack Obama’s time. Despite a dearth of experience, and the fact that he made the following pledge to his new constituents: “I can unequivocally say that I will not be running for national office in four years,” Obama broke his pledge and sought the nomination.
There was a vacuum for a major candidate who was charismatic and not an entrenched member of the Beltway Establishment who had opposed the Iraq War from the start and could assemble a coalition of African-Americans, gentry progressives and disaffected Independents. Obama saw that the electoral stars were aligned in favor of his candidacy. He ran and won. Had he waited, the issue of the Iraq War likely would have become a less prominent issue, and Obama would have been seen as just another U.S. Senator with Presidential ambitions.
Similarly, the timing of Bernie Sander’s in entrance into the race for the Democratic Presidential nomination is politically impeccable. With the more centrist Hillary Clinton as the preponderant front-runner for the Democratic Presidential nomination, there was an aperture on the left for an unreconstructed progressive candidate. Many grassroots Democrats have never gotten over Hillary Clinton’s 2002 vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq. The Occupy Wall Street movement unleashed a cavalcade of opprobrium toward the financial elites on the left. Hillary is viewed with suspicion for her ties to Wall Street and the fact that seven of her top ten donors since 1999 are Wall Street related.
Sanders was a vociferous opponent of the authorization of the use of force in Iraq, and the flagship issue of his 2016 Presidential campaign is combating what he calls “unquenchable greed of the Billionaire Class” The result is that Sanders is surging in the polls, is drawing better than expected crowds to rallies around the country and is making Hillary less immutable than many political observer thought she would be in the Democratic Primary.
For Hillary’s husband, then Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, the timing of his centrist message was spot on. In 1984, U.S. Senator Gary Hart (D-CO) ran for President as what is now known as a “New Democrat.” The impetus of his campaign was to foster economic growth rather than push for the redistribution of wealth. Hart argued that the Democratic Presidential nominee should not be captive to labor unions and to the “special interest government in Washington.” However, Democratic voters nominated former Vice President Walter Mondale, a traditional liberal. Mondale was trounced in the General Election, losing 49 states.
Four years later, two centrist candidates, former Arizona Governor Bruce Babbitt and U.S. Senator Al Gore (D-TN), ran for the nomination, but again, the party chose a more traditional frost-belt liberal: Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. Dukakis won just ten states in the General Election.
By 1991, the Republican Party was desperately looking for a winner. President George H.W. Bush, in the wake of his handling of the Persian Gulf War, seemed indomitable, at one point sporting a 91 percent job approval rating, and defeating the leading potential candidate, New York Governor Mario Cuomo, by a jaw dropping 62 points. One-by-one, potential Democratic contenders announced they would not seek the nomination.
The afterglow for Bush of the U.S. victory in the Gulf proved ephemeral. As the economy cratered, Clinton, who had promised Arkansas voters during his 1990 re-election campaign that he would serve out his full term, saw his chance. He went on a tour of the state, asking his constituents to release him from his campaign pledge. With a less than stellar field shaping up, and his tactical electoral antenna at its optimal height, Clinton announced his candidacy in October of 1991.
Clinton ran as a “New Democrat.” At a time of discontent among voters within the political establishment, Clinton deadpanned: “I’m against brain-dead policies in either party or both.” Clinton pledged to: “end welfare as we know it,” and wanted to establish a nationwide paramilitary “boot camp” program for non-violent first-time offenders. Moreover, he praised Bush’s handling of the War, and, like Hart, called for economic growth rather than redistribution of the wealth. The party decided that nominating a winner would trump nominating an ideologically rarified candidate. Unlike the three aforementioned centrist candidates, Clinton was in the right place at the right time, and won the nomination and the Presidency.
Contrawise, one of Clinton’s opponents in that race, U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), unashamedly branded himself: “a liberal.” He exclaimed: “I’m the only real Democrat in this race.” Harkin’s message was almost a mirror image of the one Sanders is now peddling. The populist Harkin excoriated corporate leaders whose “pay increased four times faster than employees did and three time faster than profits” and called “for resourced-based economics.” Harkin exclaimed: “No more trickle down. Put it in at the bottom. Let it percolate up for a while.” However, Harkin’s’ progressive message failed to resonate with a large swath of Democratic voters as he only won his homestate primary. Harkin’s old-time liberal religion might have struck a resonate chord with Democratic voters in 1984 and in 1988, but by 1992 the message became antediluvian. Harkin’s message did not correspond to the times.
An effective Presidential candidate must strike at the right time with an image and message that resonates for that election cycle. Christie may have had had both in 2012, but failed to seize the opportunity. Harkin ran at a time when the Democratic Party was moving to the center and away from his traditional liberal message. Obama, Sanders and Clinton seized and capitalized on the moment. As the late nineteenth century British Prime Minister William Gladstone observed: “In Politics, timing is everything.”
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May 19th, 2015
By Rich Rubino.
President Barack Obama is engaged in a feverish effort to shepherd the Trans-Pacific Partnership (a free trade treaty between the U.S. and 11 other nations) through the U.S. Congress. The preponderance of the opposition to the pact comes from the Democratic Party base. Obama is battling environmental advocacy groups, labor unions, and his own party’s Congressional leadership, including U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
If passed, this agreement will be a major legacy item for the president. Ironically, for a president who won the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination with the support of the left wing of the Democratic Party, much of his presidency has been spent battling and trying to persuade liberal Democrats into supporting his policies.
Obama’s flagship legislative achievement was the Affordable Care Act of 2010. To get the measure through the Democratic Congress, Obama importuned liberal members of Congress who favored a single-payer health insurance system to support the act, which did not even include a public option. In fact, it provided subsidies to private health insurance companies and granted them 31 million new customers.
Obama put out a full-court press to get liberal stalwart U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) to vote for the bill. A reluctant Kucinich agreed to support the proposed legislation, affirming: “I have doubts about the bill. I do not think it is a step toward anything I have supported in the past. This is not the bill I wanted to support.”
During his first year in office, Obama withstood opposition from the left when he ordered an additional 68,000 troops to Afghanistan. He recently announced thatnearly 10,000 troops would remain in the country into 2016. Obama has also faced excoriation from the left for his expanded and ambitious use of predator drones in the Middle East.
Interestingly, many presidents are defined in history by the times they stood against the bases of their own parties.
There are eerie parallels between Obama and the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton. One of Clinton’s signature legislative achievements was the passage of The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Though Clinton had not focused on the issue during his presidential campaign, he spent much of his political capital promoting the treaty. Liberal Democrats wanted him to spend that political capital on health care reform rather than on getting NAFTA passed. The president and his team worked feverishly against the Democratic House leadership, including Majority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO) and Majority Whip David Bonior (D-MI), to get the votes of enough rank-and-file Democratic members to get the treaty passed. U.S. Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen quipped: “I courted some of these congressman longer than I courted my wife.”
Furthermore, in 1996, to the consternation of the liberal base, Clinton signed legislation which ended welfare as an entitlement program. U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) called the legislation “the moral equivalent of a Dear John letter to poor people.” U.S. Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY) bemoaned “My President — he’s a winner — and the kids are the losers.” Mary Wright Edelman, the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, said: “President Clinton’s signature on this pernicious bill makes a mockery of his pledge not to hurt children.”
A year later, Clinton signed the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, which his team negotiated with the Republican Congressional leadership over the objection of the Democratic Party’s base, including Gephardt. The act cut discretionary spending by $77 billion and reduced taxes by $135 billion.
Republican Presidents have also defied their political bases on occasion. Though Ronald Reagan cut taxes in 1981, the federal budget deficit skyrocketed, and the next year, to the chagrin of conservatives, Reagan signed the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982, which raised taxes by $37.5 billion annually. A year later, Reagan, working with the liberal U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neill (D-MA), signed legislation raising the payroll taxes and truncating Social Security benefits to wealthy recipients in an effort to preserve the program.
Reagan’s greatest legislative coup was the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) with the Soviet Union. The treaty eliminated nuclear and conventional ground-launched intermediate range ballistic and cruise missiles. At the time, there was vociferous opposition from the Republican base. U.S. Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), a long-time ally of the president, averred: “The President doesn’t need to discard the people who brought him to the dance.” In fact, sixty conservative organizations signed a petition admonishing that the treaty would bring the United States “Into strategic or military inferiority.” In fact, conservatives ran newspaper advertisements comparing the treaty to the 1938 agreement in Munich, Germany between Adolph Hitler and British Chancellor Neville Chamberlain. The ads read: “Appeasement is as unwise in 1988 as in 1938.”
Republican Gerald R. Ford was ridiculed by hardliners in his own party for signing the Helsinki Accords. Under this agreement (also signed by the Soviet Union and 33 other nations), each country agreed to respect the autonomy of every nation-state in Europe and not encroach upon their territory. Ford withstood a redoubtable challenge in the Republican primaries by former California Governor Ronald Reagan who said the Helsinki Accords put a “stamp of approval on Russia’s enslavement of the captive nations.”
In the spirit of détente (relaxation of tensions with the Soviet Union), Ford accrued a firestorm of indignation for refusing conservative overtures to meet with soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn, author of Gulag Archipelago. The conservative Wall Street Journal blasted the decision as “the most unworthy decision of his tenure.”
Going further back, Theodore Roosevelt spent much of his presidency fighting his Republican base, most notably battling with U.S. House Speaker Joe Cannon (R-IL). Cannon was a “standpatter” who thought the federal government should be a limited-purpose entity. He often remarked: “The country don’t need any legislation.”Contrariwise, Roosevelt was a progressive Republican who favored a more activist federal government. The two men clashed over much of Roosevelt’s domestic agenda, including the presidents’ successful effort to preserve conservation lands. Cannon asserted: “Not one cent for scenery.” In addition, Cannon, a strict Constitutionalist,complained: “Teddy Roosevelt has no more use for the Constitution than a tomcat has for a marriage license.”
The standpatters, distraught with Roosevelt’s progressive policies, were plotting a challenge to his nomination for a full-term by supporting U.S. Senator Mark Hanna (R-OH). Financier J.P Morgan, who mustered what in contemporaneous dollars would be about $340 billion, was offering to finance Hanna’s campaign. However, Hanna succumbed to typhoid fever, allowing Roosevelt to garner the party’s nomination unopposed.
In 1883, Republican President Chester A. Arthur, in an impavid but politically suicidal move, signed into law the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act. The act requires the hiring and promotion of federal employees based on merit rather than on political connections. The law also made it a crime to raise political money on federal property.
Mr. Arthur was a member of the “Stalwart” faction of the Republican Party, which opposed Civil Service Reform. He was offered the Republican Vice Presidential nomination by James Garfield, a supporter of Civil Service Reform, to balance the ticket. When Arthur assumed the Presidency upon the untimely death of President James Garfield, Arthur made the Pendleton Act his number one priority, challenging and taking on his base and shepherding the legislation through the Congress. As might be expected, Arthur became an apostate to his former Stalwart backers. This inflamed U.S. Senator Roscoe Conkling (R-NY), Arthur’s political mentor. Consequently, Arthur did not muster “Stalwart” backing in the 1884 Presidential nomination sweepstakes and did not garner the GOP presidential nomination.
Barack Obama is certainly not the first president to challenge and even oppose the positions of his political base. The current battle over the Trans-Pacific Partnership showcases a classic struggle between a president and his political base.
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May 10th, 2015
By Rich Rubino.
Bill and Hillary Clinton have amassed a fortune since leaving the White House. Because of this financial windfall, Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is facing charges of “elitism.” The revelation that Hillary decided to run for President at the Dominican Republic estate of fashion mogul Oscar de la Renta, and the revelation that some of the participants in an Iowa forum that she participated in were Democratic campaign workers rather than rank-and-file voters, make some Americans wonder if Hillary is “out of touch” with the Middle Class.
Even though the Clinton’s did not have a monetary fortune in their early years together, during Bills’ first gubernatorial term in Arkansas, Hillary became susceptible to charges that she was a cultural elitist. When the Clintons first married, Hillary kept her maiden name, Hillary Rodham. This was very rare in the conservative state of Arkansas and viewed by traditionalists as elitist.
In 1980, Bill Clinton lost his bid for re-election, making the 34-year-old the youngest ex-Governor in American history. Bill Clinton’s Republican opponent, Frank White, exploited the maiden name issue by continuously introducing his own wife as “Mrs. Frank White.”
In 1982, Bill Clinton regained the Governorship, defeating White. Hillary became more engaged in the campaign and changed her name to Hillary Clinton, telling a reporter: “I’ll be Mrs. Bill Clinton.” During the next nine years of her husband’s Governorship, Hillary gradually shed the elitist label, as she chaired the Arkansas Education Standards Committee and was successful in bringing a neonatal clinic to Arkansas’s Children’s Hospital in Little Rock. By 1990, there was even talk of Hillary running to succeed her husband as Governor of Arkansas. Bill instead ran and won re-election.
When Hillary ran for the 2008 Democratic Presidential nomination, she became a champion of blue-collar voters and lunch bucket Democrats, focusing on economic issues and championing her humble roots. Her main opponent was U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), who battled charges of cultural elitism because of his professorial speaking style. These allegations were compounded when he seemed to be patronizing working class Americans by telling attendees at a San Francisco fundraiser that working class voters “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade.” Historically, it is a struggle for wealthy candidates for public office to relate to voters. Whether they hail from patrician backgrounds, are self-made, or marry into wealth, most of their coefficients come from upper-income tax brackets. They take on the language and demeanor of the wealthy, making interactions with voters somewhat awkward. This leads to many Candidates developing specific strategies to downplay the inevitable elitism charges.
Nelson Rockefeller, in his first campaign for Governor in 1958, would tell voters who praised him: “Thanks a thousand” rather than his customary “thanks a million” so that voters would not associate Rockefeller with his vast inherited wealth.
In a rare case of taking the issue of Elitism head-on, Massachusetts Republican Governor Bill Weld, after losing a hard-fought U.S. Senate race in 1996 to incumbent Democrat John Kerry, made light of his patrician pedigree and cultural elitism. He told New York Times reporter Sara Rimer: “It was not my first defeat. There was the Rhodes scholarship, the Marshall scholarship, the Harvard Law Review. My life is a tangled wreck of failures.”
George H.W. Bush, the son of a U.S. Senator, learned to take the offensive when it came to his wealth. Before being branded as an “elitist,” Bush would suggest the same of his opponents. Bush was reared in Greenwich Connecticut, was educated at the prestigious Philips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts and then graduated from Yale University.
Despite Bush’s own privileged background, when he ran for the Republican Presidential nomination in 1988, he derisively referred to one of his opponents, Pierre (Pete) S. du pont (a fellow ivy leaguer from a patrician background) as “Pierre.” Mr. DuPont always referred to himself as “Pete,” knowing that “Pierre” triggers elitist connotations. His other opponents referred to DuPont as “Pete.” Despite Bush’s background, his first name did not denote elitism in voter’s minds like the name “Pierre.”
After mustering the Republican nomination that year, Bush successfully countered his patrician heritage, including his accent and demeanor, by framing his Democratic opponent Michael Dukakis as a “cultural elite.” Bush often referred to him as “that liberal Governor from Massachusetts.” Interestingly, though Bush was an Ivy leaguer himself, he bashed Dukakis, who graduated from Harvard Law School, asserting: “His foreign policy views born in Harvard Yard’s boutique, would cut the muscle of defense.” These charges helped Bush turn a seventeen- point deficit into a ten-point victory over Dukakis. Although Dukakis tried to suggest Bush was a “financial elitist,” his charges gained him little political traction. Dukakis averred: “George Bush plays Santa Claus to the wealthy and Ebeneaser Scrooge to the rest of us.” In the end, the American people chose the “financial elitist” over the “cultural elitist.”
Bush’s son, George W. Bush, is a rare breed of politician. Despite his Ivy League education and immense inherited wealth, he was successfully able to style himself as “an old boy from West Texas.”
In 1978, when Bush ran for an open Congressional seat, his Democratic opponent, Kent Hance, was successful in branding Bush as an “Ivy Leaguer.” Hance used his own humble background to lambast Bush’s elite upbringing. Hance lamented: “Yale and Harvard don’t prepare you as well for running for the 19th Congressional District as Texas Tech [Hance’s alma mater] does.” Hance also said “My daddy and granddad were farmers. They didn’t have anything to do with the mess we’re in right now, and Bush’s father has been in politics his whole life.” Hance won the race.
However, George W. Bush learned his lesson, and when he ran for Governor of Texas in 1994,he turned the tables by presenting himself as the antithesis of his background. He even succeeded in talking in colloquialisms, calling parents “moms and dads” and calling voters “folks.” In his race for Governor in 1994, Bush beat popular incumbent Governor Ann Richards despite her personal approval ratings, which exceeded 60%. He did this with a disciplined message, focusing on issues which struck a resonant chord with socially conservative Texans, including welfare reform, tort reform, and juvenile justice reform. Moreover, Bush excoriated Richards for vetoing a concealed carry handgun bill. Lone Star state voters came to see Bush as one of their own, not as some “phony Texan” from Yale.
In 1999, as Bush was beginning his Presidential campaign, he purchased a ranch in Crawford, Texas. This was a strategic and political tour de force. The Bush team successfully effectuated a master narrative of Bush as a rugged individualist and a rhinestone cowboy clearing brush from his ranch while the Eastern elite sit in their ivory tower air-conditioned offices mocking working class Americans. Bush exploited the undercurrent of virulence in Middle America toward the people he had gone to school with, and he did it brilliantly.
Bush knew that Harvard and Hollywood don’t play well in America’s heartland. By emphasizing his slight Western accent, his love for the outdoors, and his devout Christianity, Bush became public enemy number one in the eyes of the coastal establishment. They mocked him as obtuse, ignorant, and anti-intellectual. In both 2000 and 2004, Bush ran against two fellow patricians, Ivy Leaguers Al Gore and John Kerry, respectively. In both cases, Bush won the election, in part by creating a master narrative where he was a plain-talking Texan challenging “intellectual out-of-touch elites.”
During his successful 1992 Presidential campaign, Hillary’s husband Bill emphasized his humble background and pledged to be a voice for the plight of “the forgotten middle-class.” During a primary debate, former California Governor Jerry Brown accused Bill Clinton of using his power as Governor to funnel money to the Rose Law Firm, where Hillary worked. In response, Clinton portrayed Brown as an elitist, retorting: “Jerry comes here with his family wealth and his $1,500 suit, making lying accusations about my wife.”
In the 2016 Presidential election, Hillary must counteract charges of both cultural and financial “elitism.” She must prove to voters that despite her recent fortune, she is still the same woman who grew up in a middle-class household in Park Ridge, Illinois, moving to Arkansas after college.
One way to showcase this would be to dispatch her contacts from Parkridge and Arkansas to the early primary states to make the case that Hillary has not changed. This will counteract the inevitable charges by critics that Hillary only associates with the rich and famous. In Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 Presidential campaign, he dispatched the family’s Arkansas friends to campaign for him around the nation. They came to be known by the moniker: “Arkansas Travelers.” Hillary must show voters that despite her wealth and elite friends, she still views the country through the prism of everyday Americans, not through the prism of the nation’s economic and cultural elites.
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May 1st, 2015
By Rich Rubino.
Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) in his two failed quests for the Republican presidential nomination are irritated with his son, Rand Paul. Rand Paul, who recently entered the sweepstakes for the GOP presidential nomination, has moderated his positions on some key issues. For example, Rand asserted in 2007 that Iran’s alleged pursuit of a nuclear weapon “is not a threat.”
Yet in the U.S. Senate, he supported a resolution that called Iran’s nuclear ambitions: “a tremendous threat.” In another instance, Rand indicated his support for eliminating foreign aid to Israel. However, now he maintains: “I haven’t proposed targeting or eliminating any aid to Israel.” Then in 2011, Rand called for a 23 percent reduction in U.S military spending.
Now he calls for a $190 billion increase in military spending. Rand Paul is doing what any savvy political operative would advise him to do: alter and mainstream his message to appeal to as many voters in the Republican Primary as possible. Unlike Rand Paul, the elder Paul stuck vociferously to his ideological convictions.
In his 2012 presidential campaign, the elder Paul surged, with strong showings in New Hampshire and Iowa. Then he hit a ceiling. Rather than adapt by amending his positions, Paul did not alter his non-interventionist foreign policy views and stood by his belief that the 9/11 hijackings were effectuated by blowback from the nation’s interventionist foreign policy.
Paul lost the GOP nomination. While Paul cultivated support from Independents, Libertarian-minded Republicans, and some Democrats who voted in Republican primaries, a Washington Post-ABC poll taken in 2011 showed that only 8 percent of self-identified “Conservative Republicans” viewed him as “strongly favorable.” The younger Paul knows that in the political big leagues, candidates of conviction who refuse to moderate their message or refuse to adapt to the prevailing contemporaneous political sentiment, are often abandoned at the alter by the electoral consumer.
Be that as it may, candidates who change their beliefs are often labeled as “flip floppers.” Yet the excoriation a candidate receives for altering a position is not as damaging as the opprobrium a candidate accrues from taking an unpopular position. The three most recent presidents have shown a willingness to change positions in what many would view as rank electoral opportunism.
In 1996, while running for an open State Senate seat in Illinois in a liberal area of Chicago, Barack Obama wrote: “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.” Then in 2008, as a presidential candidate appealing to a more ideological heterogeneous constituency, Obama exclaimed: “I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I am not in favor of gay marriage.” In 2012, with polls showing a wider acceptance of gay marriage, and with Vice President Joe Biden announcing his support for gay marriage, Obama, asserted: “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.” Many U.S.
Senate Democrats also disavowed their past opposition to gay marriage with alacrity. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, had a similar electoral conversion. As a presidential candidate in 2000, Bush was a steadfast exponent of free trade. He pledged as president to: “end tariffs and break down barriers everywhere, entirely, so the whole world trades in freedom.”
Yet in 2003, just one year before his re-election, Bush uncharacteristically levied tariffs on imported steel, a move that was popular with the domestic steel industry in the electorally critical showdown states of Ohio and Pennsylvania. By contrast, two years later, Bush shepherded through the U.S. Congress the Dominican-Republican-Central American Free Trade Agreement, ignoring protests from Louisiana’s Republican Governor Mike Foster that the treaty would “gradually wipe out the Louisiana sugar industry.”
Of course, Louisiana is a “safe Republican state.” Like Obama and Rand Paul, Bush was willing to alter his ideals for electoral advantage. In 1992, as Democratic presidential candidate Paul Tsongas picked up electoral support — winning the primary in fiscally austere New Hampshire — he refused to alter his fiscal austerity mantra. While his “root canal” economic policy of raising taxes, truncating federal spending, and controlling entitlement expenditures had played well in the Granite state, it was less popular in other parts of the nation.
Tsongas held himself out as a man of convictions and would not support a 10 percent middle-class tax cut favored by one of his opponents, Bill Clinton. Tsongas averred: “I’m no Santa Clause.” He also called Clinton a “pander bear” who “will say anything, do anything to get votes.” Tsongas called Clinton a “cynical and unprincipled politician.” Voters might have admired Tsongas’s convictions, but it was Clinton’s more populist message that struck a resonate chord with Democratic primary voters as Clinton secured the nomination.
Two recent presidential nominees, Democrat Al Gore and Republican Mitt Romney, had an ideological makeover, yet charges that they were unprincipled or flip-floppers did not stop voters from awarding them the presidential nomination. Gore began his political career in 1976 by winning an open House Seat in culturally conservator middle Tennessee. He represented his constituents’ views, supporting the Hyde Amendment, which disallows federal funding for abortion and “shall include unborn children from the moment of conception.”
Gore branded homosexuality “abnormal sexual behavior” and said it “is not an acceptable alternative that society should affirm.” In 1988, Gore ran as the most conservative presidential candidate, showcasing his support for tobacco farming, telling a North Carolina audience: “‘I’ve chopped it. I’ve shredded it, spiked it, put it in the barn and stripped it and sold it.” In addition, in 2000, Gore ran for the presidential nomination as a supporter of abortion rights and gay rights, and was a supporter of regulations on the tobacco industry.
Voters did not punish him for altering his views. He won the nomination. In 1994, Romney challenged U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy in liberal Massachusetts. Romney supported abortion rights, favored federal campaign-spending limits, and said he would vote for the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. In 2002, while running for Governor of Massachusetts, Romney said: “I’m someone who’s moderate. My views are progressive.” By the time he was running for the 2012 presidential nomination, Romney had disavowed each of these positions and now called himself: “severely conservative.” Yet, like with Gore, voters granted Romney the nomination.
Rand Paul is one of a long line of presidential candidates who is willing to alter or change positions as the situation warrants. Like Tsongas, Ron Paul ran a campaign of stout consistency. He stuck to his ideals even when unpopular. Rand Paul is more in the mold of the other aforementioned politicians. He wants to break through his father’s ceiling to garner the Republican presidential nomination and the Presidency.
While a candidate who changes positions on issues is often steered off message to explain his/her altered positions, as a cold hard strategic political calculation, the scorn the candidate will take for modifying his/her positions may be worth the price. This is a simple cost-benefit analysis.
Perhaps Rand Paul has learned the lesson not only of his father and Paul Tsongas, but also of U.S. Senator Ernest “Fritz” Hollings (R-SC), who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 by pledging to reinstate the military draft and to freeze federal spending. Hollings never wavered from these unpopular views. The result: Hollings garnered just 3.5 percent of the vote in the New Hampshire presidential primary. Upon dropping out of the race, Hollings declared: “Well, nothing happened to me on the way to the White House.”
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March 21st, 2015
By Rich Rubino.
On election night 2010, Scott Walker’s victory in the Wisconsin Gubernatorial sweepstakes flew under the national radar. More national focus was thrust upon Texas Governor Rick Perry’s successful re-election bid, and the election of Marco Rubio to the U.S. Senate in Florida. Yet today, Walker sits in the first tier of 2016 Republican Presidential aspirants, and is actually ahead in some polls. He is garnering a cavalcade of national media attention. The other two potential GOP Presidential candidates have been relegated to the second tier of possible Presidential candidates. How did this happen? In his first year as Governor, Walker struck a resonate chord with one issue, his proposal to limit the rights of public sector unions to collectively bargain.
When Walker’s indignant opponent’s succeeded in securing the requisite signatures to recall the Governor that year, money flooded into Wisconsin from conservatives from all over the country. Walker became the national tribune for those Americans who believe public-sector unions wield an inordinate amount of power in state capitals. Walker won the recall election and became a household name on the political right. Consequently, Walker was catapulted from political obscurity to a top tier Presidential candidate because of this single issue.
American Presidential politics includes other examples where one issue (or galvanizing event) has launched a national political career. For example, in 1918, Republican Calvin Coolidge was elected Governor of Massachusetts by just 16,733 votes, defeating Democrat Richard H. Long. Coolidge won largely because of his association as Lieutenant Governor with the popular outgoing Republican Governor Samuel W. McCall. The next year, the unassuming, low key Coolidge became a hero in conservative quarters. The Boston Police went on strike after the city’s police commissioner, Edwin U. Curtis, denied them the right to join the American Federation of Labor (AFL). With the city in a near state of anarchy, Coolidge ordered the Massachusetts National Guard to supplant the Boston police officers during the strike. The Guard succeeded in reestablishing order in the city. Coolidge became a political folk hero to conservatives when his response to a letter written to him by AFL President Samuel Gompers was disseminated. Coolidge wrote to Gompers: “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, at any time.”
Similar to the recall election with Walker, Coolidge’s 1919 re-election campaign became a referendum on Coolidge’s leadership during that strike (At the time, Massachusetts Governors were elected to one-year terms). Unions worked feverishly for Richard H. Long, who once again ran against Coolidge. The race became a cause célèbre for the unions because of Coolidge’s handling of the police strike. The Boston Central Labor Union called for voters to oppose Coolidge so as to: “remove this menace to public safety and vindicate our cause.” Bay State voters, however, were not singing from the same hymnbook as the unions. Coolidge was soundly re-elected as Governor.
Coolidge’s handling of the police strike and his subsequent statement against the strikers, coupled with his resounding re-election as Governor against a union backed candidate, precipitously elevated Coolidge to national stardom with the Republican Party’s conservative bloodline. At the 1920 Republican National Convention, some conservatives wanted to place Coolidge’s name as a candidate for the Presidential nomination. Coolidge refused the overtures.
The nomination instead went to the conservative U.S. Senator Warren G. Harding (R-OH). The GOP establishment wanted to balance the ticket with U.S. Representative Irvine Lenroot, who was the tribune of the party’s liberal bloodline. However, after Lenroot’s name was placed into nomination, conservatives rebelled against the establishment and chanted Coolidge’s name. Delegate Wallace McCamant soon placed Coolidge’s name in nomination. Coolidge handily defeated Lenroot. The Harding-Coolidge ticket won the race, and Coolidge assumed the Presidency in 1923 after Harding died from a respiratory illness.
In 1938, Wendell Willkie, a wealthy utilities executive and a Democrat, became disenchanted with the New Deal policies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and their effects on the utilities industry. He agreed to debate Assistant U.S. Attorney General Robert Jackson on the issue of Free Enterprise on national radio. Willkie wooed conservatives with his stronger than expected performance. With that one appearance, an attendant draft movement began among Republican activists for Willkie to run for the GOP Presidential nomination in 1940. The movement picked up steam, and Willkie pocketed the GOP nomination on the sixth ballot at the Republican National Convention. However, he lost the General election to Roosevelt.
Two Democratic Presidential candidates also used a single issue (in their roles as Committee Chairmen) as a springboard for a Presidential candidacy. In 1950, while television was in its infancy, U.S. Senator Estes Kefauver (D-TN) was Chairman of a Special U.S. Senate Committee that held hearings on organized crime. While many Americans did not own a television, some stores placed a television in their window so that Americans could watch these high-profile hearings. Many Americans became entranced watching as mobsters and politicians testified before the Committee. The hearings made Kefauver a household name. Kefauver ran for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1952 and defeated incumbent President Harry S. Truman in the New Hampshire Primary. Truman subsequently bowed out of the race. Kefauver went on to win 12 of the 15 primaries. However, at that time, primary voters had little power, and the high command preferred Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson who was able to muster the nomination on the third ballot.
Similarly, in 1975, U.S. Senator Frank Church (D-ID), also the chairman of a Special U.S. Senate Committee, launched hearings into abuses by U.S. In. The hearings were launched after revelations by Seymour Hersh in The New York Times that U.S. intelligence agencies had been engaged in covert actions to assassinate foreign leaders, had engaged in illegal wiretapping of Americans, and had opened citizens’ mail. Church excoriated the intelligence agency’s illicit activities, and branded some agents “rogue elephants.” This led to President Gerald R. Ford signing Executive Order 11905, which promulgated: “No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination.”
The hearings made Church an exemplar of truth to some on the left and led to a Church candidacy for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1976. In his announcement speech in Idaho City, ID, Church sagaciously used the national fame he had accrued from the hearings. He bellowed: “It is a leadership of weakness and fear which permits the most powerful agencies of our government – the CIA, the FBI, and the IRS – to systematically ignore the very law intended to protect the liberties of the people.”
While there was a brief bump of momentum for Church (winning Democratic primaries in Idaho, Montana and Nebraska), his entrance into the race in March of 1976 was too late to stop the eventual nominee, former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter. However, the hearings did propel Church to be considered as a potential Vice Presidential nominee. However, Carter skipped over Church for U.S. Senator Walter Mondale (D-MN.)
Scott Walker is one of a very small number of Presidential candidates to have been catapulted into the national spotlight by a single galvanizing issue or event. Walker’s challenge to public sector unions struck a nerve with rank-and-file Republicans, as well as with Libertarian-oriented Tea Party voters and GOP benefactors.
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March 7th, 2015
By Rich Rubino.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani created a firestorm by publicly stating:“I do not believe the President [Barack Obama] loves America.” Giuliani also suggested that Obama developed negative feelings toward America from Frank Marshall Davis, a member or the Communist Party USA, who was introduced to Obama by his grandfather, Stanley Dunham, at the age of nine.
Lost in the controversy over Giuliani’s comments is the misapprehension many people have about the meaning of the word “Patriotism.” The term generally means love of one’s nation and a feeling of unity with its people. By and large, Americans have come to believe, although erroneously, that Patriotism is tantamount to support for the Constitutional system of government and the policies instituted by the government. In truth, an American Patriot can love his/her country while opposing the polices of the government and the nation’s Constitutional system.
Obama is not the only politician to be mendaciously criticized for a lack of patriotism. After the 9/11 hijackings, U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), MIT Linguistics Professor Noam Chomsky, and former Libertarian Presidential nominee Harry Browne faced these same charges because of their view that U.S. foreign policy effectuated the attacks. They were branded unpatriotic and anti-American. Yet they said nothing suggesting that they had disdain for the country, its people, or its land. They only excoriated the foreign policies of the U.S. government. It could easily be argued that their criticism was actually patriotic in that they were warning that the continued bi-partisan interventionist foreign policies of the American government could result in greater danger to the homeland and to the nation’s economy.
Love for one’s country has little connection to the form of government a county’s citizenry live under. In 1787, 55 prominent Americans met at the constitutional convention in Philadelphia under the guise of amending the existing Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. The Articles were viewed by many Americans as allowing too much decentralization, granting the respective states too much power, rendering the federal government essentially impotent. During the Constitutional Convention, delegates debated the proper form of government. Today, some of these proposals would incorrectly be called anti-American. For example, Alexander Hamilton proposed delegating almost all power to the Federal government and almost none to the states.
Some delegates refused to sign the document or left the Convention early in protest. Caleb Strong left because the document did not allow the State Legislatures to choose the President. John Lansing left because he thought the Federal Government would have too much power. Luther Martin did not sign because he believed the document would be an affront to states’ rights. These Americans were opposed to the new document because they believed it would cause deleterious effects to the nation. They were patriots who opposed the positions of the majority of the delegates. Today, anyone who is vehemently critical of the Constitution, or a substantive provision within it, might be roundly assailed as being “unpatriotic.”
In suggesting that an avowed Communist influenced Obama, Giuliani suggests that there is an inherent contradiction between being a Communist and being an American patriot. However, even if Obama was a Communist, that would not in and of itself make him any less of a patriot than if he were a Capitalist. If any American genuinely believes that it would benefit the U.S. to live under a Communist system, or under any other ideology, and is willing to advocate for it, that person could be considered a patriot. Likewise, if a Communist truly believes America would be a better place under Communism, that would not make that person unpatriotic.
If there were to be a coup d’état in the U.S., and a new regime were to assume power, be it Communist, Fascist, Socialist, ect., Americans who supported the old Constitutional Republican system and opposed the new system would be no less patriotic. They might despise the new regime, but that does not mean they would no longer love their country. The fact that the new government might change the flag and actuate a new constitution would be irrelevant to whether or not an American citizen is patriotic.
Bill Clinton once said: “You can’t say you love your country and hate your government.” But in fact, love for one’s country and love for one’s government or constitutional system are mutually exclusive. An American patriot can be a Communist, Capitalist, Liberal, or Conservative. All can want the best for the country, but harbor divergent views of achieving that goal.
No political ideology has a monopoly on patriotism. During the dark days of 1968, with the nation deeply divided over U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, U.S. House Minority Leader Gerald R. Ford [R-MI) told his constituents: “We will survive and become stronger – not only because of a patriotism that stands for love of country, but a patriotism that stands for love of people.”
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February 10th, 2015
By Rich Rubino.
Prospective Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie is known for his confrontational style. Unlike most politicians, Christie has no problem telling-off hecklers and giving candid responses to questions. For example, during a town hall meeting, Christie told a heckler: “Sit down and shut up!” He publicly said of New York Daily News sportswriter Manish Mehta, who had criticized New York Jets coach Rex Ryan: “When reporters act like jerks, you need to treat them that way. This guy’s a complete idiot, self-consumed, underpaid reporter.” In another instance, Christie responded to a protester holding a sign that read: “Do Your Job” with: “You do yours, buddy!”
Christie’s unfiltered, candid style runs contrary to most contemporaneous politicians. In the era of the 24-hour news cycle, and where campaigns hire trackers to follow opponents on the campaign trail waiting for them to make a faux pas that they can then use against them, politicians have become near robotic. They appear to be in a hypnotically induced trance during public events. The politician may walk into a room and greet people with the familiar: “Hi, how are you? Nice to see you. Thank you for being here.” The politician tries to saunter to the next person without having an actual conversation for fear of being asked his position on a controversial issue.
Some of the most entertaining and memorable moments in American politics occur from these unscripted moments when politicians speak off-the-cuff and mince no words. While Christie is a good example of this, President Harry S. Truman also spoke quite bluntly in public. While on the campaign trail in 1948, Truman was a sharp contrast to his ultra-scripted Republican opponent, New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey. Dewey tried to sit onto his electoral lead by avoiding any controversial statements. At his campaign rallies, Dewey would often bellow platitudes. Truman capitalized on one such platitude. In an address in Phoenix, Dewey asserted: “America’s future, like yours in Arizona, is still ahead of us.” Truman responded by telling a crowd in Yonkers, N.Y.: “Well I hope the future will last a long time for all of you, and I hope it will be a very happy future — and I hope it won’t be a future under Republicans, either.”
At a campaign stop in Spokane, Wis., a supporter shouted that Truman should throw eggs at his chief U.S. Senate critic Robert A. Taft (R-OH). Truman candidly retorted: “I wouldn’t throw fresh eggs at Taft. You’ve got the worst Congress you’ve ever had. If you [referring to the audience] send another Republican Congress to Washington, you’re a bigger bunch of suckers than I think you are.”
That year, voters chose the candid Truman over the robotic Dewey in arguably the greatest upset in American Presidential election history. After winning the election, Truman continued his candid style. During a 1951 ceremony observing National Music Week, President Truman told the assembled crowd of musicians: “There is usually one aria or one song in nearly every great opera that is worth listening to — most opera music is boring. I don’t want you to say that out loud. It might hurt the Metropolitan Opera.”
In 1960, former President Truman spoke at a rally for Democratic Presidential nominee John F. Kennedy and made no effort to hide his true feelings toward Republican Presidential nominee Richard M. Nixon: “Nixon has never told the truth in his life… He is against the small farmer. He is against small business, agriculture, and public power. I don’t know what the hell he’s for, and that bird has the nerve to come to Texas and ask you to vote for him. If you do, you ought to go to Hell.” In response, Kennedy joked: “I’ve asked President Truman to please not bring up the religious issue in this campaign.”
Similar to Truman, the 1940 Republican Presidential nominee Wendell Willkie, who had never before run for public office, was often unfiltered. His vice presidential running mate, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles L. McNary (R-OR), offered Willkie the following advice: “In politics you’ll never get into trouble by not saying too much.” Contrary to this advice, Willkie put his foot in his mouth during the campaign by appearing to suggest that he did not care if voters chose him. Willkie told a crowdin Kansas City, Mo.: “I’m the cockiest fellow you ever met. If you want to vote for me, fine. If you don’t, go jump in the lake.” Willkie lost the election to Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt.
When a member of the U.S. Congress holds a town hall meeting, they subject themselves to moments of acute criticism. Most politicians stay above the fray, usually answering the hostile constituent with preformulated talking points. They then try assiduously to move on to the next constituent. Occasionally, however, a member of Congress will fire right back at the constituent, usually drawing thunderous applause from their supporters in the audience.
In 2009, U.S. Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) was asked by constituent Rachel Brown (who came to the meeting holding a sign depicting Barack Obama with an Adolf Hitler-style mustache): “Why do you continue supporting the Nazi [Heath Care] policy as Obama has expressly supported this policy? Why are you supporting it?” Frank Responded: “On what planet do you spend most of your time… Ma’am, trying to have a conversation with you would be like arguing with a dining room table: I have no interest in doing it.” Ironically, Frank landed up having nearly a one-hour conversation with Brown, as she ran against him for the Democratic nomination for re-election. The two candidates also participated in a debate.
In 2010, many members of Congress who supported the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, were receiving hostile receptions at town hall meetings. This prompted U.S. Representative Paul Kanjorski (D-PA) to tell WILK Radio that he would supplant traditional town hall meetings with teleconferences. Kanjorski candidly asserted: “We’re going to do everything we can to get opinions from people, to meet with people. But I’m not going to set myself up for, you know, nuts to hit me with a camera and ask stupid questions.” Kanjorski lost his re-election bid that year.
Indignant constituents often write their legislators, criticizing their job performance. Most politicians take this criticism in stride, and sometimes send impersonal form letters back to the constituent. However, there have been a few politicians who have written back to the constituent, telling him/her exactly how they feel. John S. McGroarty (D-CA 1935-1939) once wrote back to a constituent who had sent him a critical letter lambasting him for not fulfilling a campaign promise regarding the reforestation of the Sierra Madre Mountain chain. McGroarty wrote back: “One of the countless drawbacks of being in Congress is that I am compelled to receive impertinent letters from a jackass like you in which you say I promised to have the Sierra Madre Mountains reforested and I have been in Congress two months and haven’t done it. Will you please take two running jumps and go to Hell?”
Similarly, U.S. Senator Stephen M. Young (D-OH 1959-1971) had little patience for critics. One of Young’s critics wrote a letter to Young that ended with the following phrase: “I would welcome the opportunity to have intercourse with you.” Young responded: “You sir, can have intercourse with yourself.”
Of course, it is common for politicians to become candid the day they lose office. After losing a Democratic primary for a State Senate seat in California, Dick Tuck quipped to supporters: “The people have spoken, the bastards.” Similarly, after losing a re-election bid in 1834, U.S. Representative Davy Crocket (Whig-TN) exclaimed: “I told the people of my district that I would serve them as faithfully as I had done; but if not… you may all go to Hell, and I will go to Texas.” He did go to Texas and died at the Battle of the Alamo on March 6, 1836.
Should Christie publicly deride liberal critics to their face, he would win plaudits from some conservatives, yet this may not play well with the more moderate establishment bloodline of the Republican Party who would view this behavior as unpresidential. They might worry about how Christie would conduct himself should he garner the nomination. For that reason, members of the establishment bloodline of the party might lend their support to the more measured establishment candidate, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
Christie is a rare breed of a politician who is not afraid to excoriate critics publicly to their face. The question is: How this will play in the 2016 Presidential sweepstakes?
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January 29th, 2015
By Rich Rubino.
The positions of political parties are not static. In fact, they sometimes change rapidly. Ideological shifts usually begin at the grassroots level, and then trickle up to the political leadership. Those who do not change with their party on major issues often become heretics. Two prime examples of this are U.S. Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA), who during his 1972 bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination continued his support for a muscular foreign policy and U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who while exploring a bid for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination, refuses to abandon his support for a pathway to legalization for illegal immigrants. In both of these examples, the politician is “out of ideological line” with the prevailing consensus among members of their party.
There are a number of illustrations of this phenomenon in American political history. For example, in 1892 the Democratic Party nominated Grover Cleveland for President. He advocated a limited role for the federal government and a continuation of the Gold Standard. By 1896, just four years later, with the nation mired in an economic depression, the party moved to the left, nominating “The Great Commoner” William Jennings Bryan, who advocated for an activist role for the Federal Government and the abolition of the Gold Standard. Cleveland Democrats became heretics, and some, including Cleveland himself, supported the hapless candidacy of John M. Palmer of the newly established National Democratic Party.
Up until fairly recently, the Republican Party supported immigration reform, which included a pathway to legalization for illegal immigrants. Then a sea change occurred within the party. Beginning at the grassroots level, then ascending to the political establishment, most Republican politicians now oppose legalizing illegal immigrants, branding it as “amnesty.” However, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush continues to subscribe to the former view of his party, even doubling down, contending that illegal immigrants enter the nation as “an act of love.” He calls for “a tough but fair path to legalized status.”
Jeb Bush appears to be borrowing a page from U.S. Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA) who in 1972 doubled down both on his support for the U.S. role in Vietnam and for his opposition to cuts in the nation’s military expenditures. Like Bush, Jackson was a representative of a political view that had been the mainstream orthodoxy in his party. This position has since receded within the party and has been supplanted by a new grassroots-oriented incarnation.
Henry “Scoop” Jackson’s ideology was once the embodiment of the Democrat Party. In fact, he was Chairman of the party in 1960 and was considered by the party’s Presidential nominee, John F. Kennedy, as a Vice Presidential running mate. Jackson’s support for a munificent social service regime at home coupled with a muscular interventionist foreign policy had been the ideology of most Democrats since the inception of the Cold War. Past Democratic Presidents including Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnsons advocated for an activist interventionist Cold War foreign policy. Truman ordered U.S. troops into Korea. Kennedy and Johnson sent them into Vietnam. However, this position on foreign policy became antiquated in the party, as members virulently came to oppose the war in Vietnam. Democratic President’s Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnsons all advocated an activist Cold War foreign policy.
The Vietnam War fractured the Democratic Party, beginning with the insurrectionists in the party who called for the U.S. to abandon its efforts in Indochina. Establishment Democrats began to read the political tealeaves and joined the insurrectionist chorus. The Democratic Congress that had passed the Gulf Of Tonkin Resolution in 1964, which authorized Johnson to use “conventional” military force in Vietnam, gradually moved to oppose the war. This significant ideological shift on the issue is evinced by future U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s (D-MA) transmogrification in thinking on this matter. In 1966, Speaking at a rally at the Massachusetts State House in favor of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, O’Neill took aim at those who opposed the war, including many in academia who were his Cambridge constituents. O’Neill said: “I believe in Academic Freedom, but not as it is expounded by kooks, commies, and egghead professors.” A year later, O’Neill became an opponent of the war.
Similarly, Jeb Bush’s position on immigration reform reflects the Republican Party of the past and not the contemporaneous GOP. Today, on the illegal immigration issue, Bush is more in line with Ronald Reagan, who while running for the GOP Presidential nomination in 1980, exclaimed: “Rather than talking about putting up a fence, why don’t we work out some recognition of our mutual problems? Make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit, and then, while they’re working and earning here, they’d pay taxes here. And when they want to go back, they can go back. They can cross. Open the borders both ways.”
In 1986, Reagan signed the Immigration and Control Act, which included a provision legalizing amnesty to about three million illegal immigrants who had come to the U.S. prior to 1982. The statute contained certain caveats such as the requirement of paying back-taxes owed to the Federal Government and proving one’s ability to speak English. The act also included more federal funding to secure the U.S-Mexican border.
The Reagan position was also the mainstream GOP position in 2000. The two main Republican Presidential candidates, U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Texas Governor George W. Bush, opposed deploying U.S. troops to defend the Mexican border. They were both sympathetic to the plight of illegal immigrants. Bush asserted during the primary: “Family values does not stop at the Rio Grande River.”Furthermore, President Bush unsuccessfully sought comprehensive immigration reform that would include a pathway to legalization for illegal immigrants.
Since that time, the Republican Party has moved away from plans to grant a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens, and now supports utilizing resources to construct a border-fence. A Republican candidate will assuredly muster uproarious applause by declaring “no amnesty” to a GOP audience. In fact, U.S. Representative Steve King (R-IA), a vociferous critic of illegal immigration, has become a leading “King-maker” in the Republican Party. He is currently slated to hold forums for GOP Presidential candidates. King has branded illegal immigration “a slow-motion-terrorist attack.”
In the 1972 race for the Democratic Presidential nomination, most of the Democratic field vociferously lambasted the U.S. policy in Vietnam. Even candidate Hubert Humphrey, who as Vice President to Lyndon B. Johnson had been a public supporter of the war, began advocating for “a total military withdrawal” from Southeast Asia. Contrariwise, Senator Jackson made no effort to tone down his hawkish foreign policy views or his support for the war. In fact, he doubled down on his position.
Jackson promised: “à la Harry Truman, to tell it like it is.” Jackson’s campaign brochure stated that he “wants to bring the troops home from Vietnam as soon as possible, but he wants to give the President of the United States [Republican Richard M. Nixon] a chance to do that in a responsible manner.” In addition, Jackson did not toe the party line when it came to truncating the military budget. He said: “To those who say we must take risks for peace by cutting the meat from our military muscle, I say you are unwittingly risking war.”
While Jackson garnered support from members of his party’s establishment who had not caught up to the shift in thinking within their party, Democratic voters did not cotton to Jackson’s message, and instead selected U.S. Senator George McGovern (D-SD) as their party’s nominee. McGovern sang from the hymnbook of the Democratic base. McGovern trumpeted withdrawing U.S. troops from Vietnam along with reducing the nation’s Defense budget over a three-year time period.
There was however one last-ditch effort by some in the Democratic establishment to nominate Jackson instead of McGovern. At the Democratic National Convention, Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter placed Jackson’s name in nomination. The effort failed, and McGovern won the nomination. The hawkish foreign policy once at the mainstream of the party was now near moribund, as the party supported McGovern’s calls to “Come Home America.”
Like Henry “Scoop” Jackson on Vietnam, Jeb Bush is making no effort to compromise his beliefs on what is a flagship issue for many conservative voters. Both Bush and Jackson took a position dramatically against the ideological tide in their respective party. Jackson was unable to bring the party back to its former ideological position of supporting a muscular foreign policy. Jackson failed to rekindle his party’s past hawkish flame.
Should Jeb Bush make a bid for the GOP Presidential nomination, he will have the same challenge to overcome as Henry “Scoop” Jackson did. The question remains: Will Bush, like Jackson, be able to secure his party’s nomination despite taking an opposing stand on what is the flagship issue to many voters in his party?
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January 16th, 2015
By Rich Rubino.
Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican Presidential nominee, is making noises about another run for president. He is contacting past financial benefactors and supporters, and telling them that he is concerned with the direction of the country and inquiring about future support.
A 2016 Romney candidacy would have seemed a bit farfetched in the immediate aftermath of his last campaign. The Romney campaign won just 24 percent of the proliferating Latino vote, and Romney could not overcome his image as a patrician out-of-touch with working class Americans. Still, Romney is tempted to join the presidential sweepstakes as polls show him at or near the head of the pack of potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates.
Should Romney run for president again, he would be on the same trajectory as Democrat Hubert Humphrey. Both Romney and Humphrey first sought their party’s presidential nomination and lost. Both sought their party’s nomination a second time and won, only too lose in the General Election. Humphrey threw his hat in the ring a third time and lost his party’s nomination to an anti-establishment insurrectionist candidate. Will Romney suffer the same fate should he declare a third presidential candidacy?
Humphrey, a U.S. Senator from Minnesota, first sought the presidency in 1960. Humphrey had made his name as a tribune of Civil Rights for African-Americans, though he came from a state where the African-American population was de minimis. While in the Senate, Humphrey also championed traditional liberal issues such as economic equality, community service, and arms control. However, in 1960, Humphrey could not withstand the momentum of his more glamorous Senate colleague, John F. Kennedy. Kennedy upset Humphrey, first in Humphrey’s neighboring state of Wisconsin, and then in West Virginia. This is significant because West Virginia was about 95 percent Protestant and Kennedy was a Catholic, and because the blue-collar electorate was tailor-made for Humphrey.
Part of the reason Humphrey lost West Virginia was that Kennedy’s campaign manager and brother, Robert F. Kennedy, prompted Kennedy supporter Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr. to suggest that Humphrey had been a draft dodger during World War ll. The accusations were mendacious in that Humphrey failed his medical examination because of a hernia. Roosevelt later withdrew his charge, but the damage was done. Kennedy won the nomination.
Romney first sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. Though Romney had waged a vigorous campaign in Iowa, spending millions, he lost by nine points to former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Half of the state’s caucus goers were evangelical voters, and that group backed Huckabee, a fellow evangelical, over Romney by 27 percentage points.
Romney was then embarrassed by U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) in Romney’s neighboring state of New Hampshire. By working the townhall circuit, McCain overcame a 12-point deficit to defeat Romney. Romney was also hurt by opponents who portrayed him as a “flip flopper” for his change of position on a litany of issues, including abortion, climate change, and his support for President Ronald Reagan. McCain later bested Romney in Romney’s birth state of Michigan and went on to pocket the nomination.
Despite a bitter campaign, McCain considered picking Romney as his vice presidential running mate, but ultimately chose the more provocative and charismatic Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.
In 1964, Humphrey was selected by Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, to be his vice presidential runningmate. In 1968, when Johnson, fatigued from the escalation of the war in Vietnam, announced that he would not seek re-election as President, Humphrey entered the race as the establishment Democrat candidate. While Humphrey garnered support with the blue-collar base of the Democratic Party, and much of party high command, he became an anathema to the party’s “new left.” The new left could not overcome his support of the Johnson policy of sending more ground troops into Vietnam. They called for an immediate troop withdrawal from Vietnam and supported the candidacies of U.S. Senators Robert F. Kennedy (D-NY) and Eugene McCarthy (D-MN).
Kennedy was assassinated prior to the election. The insurrectionist forces coalesced around McCarthy as he racked up delegates in the presidential primaries. Humphrey did not enter the primaries, choosing instead to cultivate the support of elected officials who were voting delegates to the Democratic National convention in Chicago. Humphrey garnered the nomination at the Convention despite a large group of protesters outside the Convention Hall at Grant Park who believed the Convention was rigged. They called for an immediate end to the Vietnam War.
During the General Election, Humphrey began to bring some of the “new left” into the fold. In a September 30 speech in Salt Lake City, Utah, Humphrey pledged that as president he would unilaterally halt the bombing of North Vietnam “as an acceptable risk for peace.” It is estimated that Humphrey gained more than eight million votes between the Salt Lake City speech on September 30 and the election on November 5. Had the election been held one week later, Humphrey, with his accelerating electoral momentum, might very well have won the election.
In 2012, Romney was an early front-runner. He had the name recognition and had the seal of approval from the Republican establishment. Like Humphrey in 1968 with the “new left,” Romney faced significant opposition from the “new right.” The Libertarian-oriented Tea Party bloodline of the party was unimpressed with Romney’s conservative bone fides. During the primary, Romney tried to propitiate them by calling himself “severely conservative” and taking a hard right stance against illegal immigrants, calling for “self-deportation.” Luckily for Romney, the new right was fractured and could not consolidate behind a single Romney challenger. Consequently, Romney garnered the GOP nomination.
President Richard M. Nixon preached the dictum most Republican presidential candidates subscribe to: “Run to the right for the nomination and to the center in the General Election.” Romney could not get to the center fast enough because he had been forced to move so far to the right in the primary. In addition, he could not ameliorate gaffes he made during the campaign, most notably the release of a tape at a private fundraiser with well-healed donors where Romney said of supporters of his Democratic opponent Barack Obama: “There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them.” Consequently, Romney lost the General Election to Obama.
In 1972, Humphrey chose to seek the Democratic presidential nomination a third time. The establishment was not a monolith in supporting Humphrey. Many thought he had blown the past election by taking too long to partially disavow the unpopular policies of the Johnson administration in Vietnam. In response, Humphrey tried converting his past losses into an asset, stating: “with determination and faith, a man or a nation can grow from defeat.”
The early frontrunner in a crowded Democratic field was not Humphrey, but U.S. Senator Edmund Muskie (D-ME). However, Humphrey did have a loyal base of support from many in the labor movement as well as Civil Rights leaders who remembered his early passion for their cause. However, Muskie faltered and Humphrey once again became the establishment Democratic candidate. Humphrey again secured support from traditional blue-collar Democratic constituencies as well as from some in the Civil Rights community, but he could not overcome the proliferating electoral power of the “new left.” They galvanized around the insurrectionist candidacy of U.S. Senator George McGovern. While Humphrey denounced his past support for U.S. involvement in Vietnam, McGovern reminded voters of his early opposition to the Vietnam War with his campaign slogan “Right from the start.”
McGovern campaigned from the hard left, proposing to give every American a $1,000 income supplement, and to truncate the U.S. Defense budget. This forced Humphrey to spend much of his campaign excoriating McGovern’s plan as too far left. Accordingly, Humphrey appeared less progressive, hurting him with liberal voters. After a victory in the hard fought California primary, McGovern secured enough delegates to win the nomination.
Should Romney choose to run for president again, he will have a similar problem to the obstacle faced by Humphrey in 1972. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, like Muskie with the Democrats in 1972, is winning support from many parts of the GOP establishment. Accordingly, like Humphrey, Romney does not start out as the establishment favorite. Should Bush falter, like Muskie did in 1972, and should the establishment turn to Romney, there is a Libertarian-oriented insurrectionist movement in the Republican Party that favors a candidate well to the right of Romney. This is similar to the liberal insurrectionist movement in 1972 which denied Humphrey the nomination. The “new right” today, like the “new left” in 1972, is searching for a voice from outside of the partisan power structure to challenge the establishment candidate.
It will be interesting to see if Romney decides to make another bid for the presidency in 2016, and if his political fortunes will continue to echo Humphrey’s.
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December 12th, 2014
U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) recently announced his candidacy for re-election in 2016. Paul is also seriously considering a bid for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2016. However, Kentucky law only allows a candidate’s name to appear on the ballot once in an election. Ironically, Paul could in fact run for both offices in Kentucky without violating Kentucky election law by running for re-election to the Senate and at the same time running in the presidential primary in every state except Kentucky. Although he would never be able to have his name listed on the ballot more than once, this tactic would enable him time to assess his chances in the presidential derby. If it becomes evident that he will not win the presidential primary, he could drop out of the presidential sweepstakes before the May 17th Kentucky Republican presidential primary and seek only re-election to the U.S. Senate.
American political history is littered with examples of politicians who ran for their current office as well as another office in the same election. Politicians who do this usually hail from a state where his/her party is electorally hegemonic, and where the candidates get re-elected without personally campaigning.
Paul is not the first Kentuckian or even the first member of his family to seek re-election to his current post concomitantly seeking the presidency or vice presidency. In 1824, Whig Henry Clay was re-elected to his U.S. House seat while losing the presidential election. Rand Paul’s father, U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), sought re-election to both the House and the Republican Presidential nomination under the “LBJ law.” Although he lost the presidential nomination, Ron Paul won re-election to the House.
The genesis of the LBJ law dates back to 1959. In 1960, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson (D-TX) was up for re-election to the Senate. With the possibility that Johnson might seek the presidency the following year, the sympathetic Democratic-controlled State Legislature passed legislation allowing a politician to run for two political offices simultaneously. This benefited Johnson in 1960 as he sought both re-election to the U.S. Senate and the presidency. After failing to secure the Democratic presidential nomination, Johnson secured the vice presidential nomination. He subsequently won both the vice presidency and re-election to the U.S. Senate. Johnson then resigned from the Senate. Democratic Governor Price Daniels subsequently appointed former U.S. Senator William Blakley to fill the seat before a Special Election was held.
Other Texas officials have used the LBJ law to run for two offices concomitantly. U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen (D-TX) actually used the law twice. In 1976, Bentsen ran for the Democratic presidential nomination, declaring his bid in February of 1975. While he proved a voracious and efficacious fundraiser, he garnered less than two percent of the popular vote and even lost the Lone Star State Primary. However, Bentsen won re-election to the Senate by defeating U.S. Representative Alan Steelman (R-TX). Steelman tried to use Bentsen’s primary loss in the state to show that he was unpopular in Texas. To his credit, Steelman maintained that Texans’ feelings for the Senator “run from ambivalent to negative.” Steelman, with very little money, ran a formidable race, garnering a respectable 43 percent of the vote against Bentsen.
In 1988, Bentsen was in the midst of a re-election campaign against U.S. Representative Beau Butler when Democratic Presidential nominee Michael Dukakis asked Bentsen to serve as his vice presidential runningmate. Bentsen was faced with the task of running for re-election in Texas, a conservative state, while seeking the vice presidency with the more liberal Dukakis.
After, Bentsen accepted Dukakis’ offer to become his runningmate, he spent much time in Texas campaigning for the Dukakis-Bentsen ticket, while rarely mentioning his Senate re-election bid. However, his re-election campaign ran television advertisements highlighting Bentsen’s local accomplishments. San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros “quipped at a rally, “We have a very special opportunity, as Texans we get to vote for Lloyd Bentsen twice. We win, and the country wins and Lloyd Bentsen wins in 1988.”
Beau Boulter tried to tether Bentsen to Dukakis, saying of the pairing with the Massachusetts Governor: “It saved us a lot of money. People in Texas now realize that Lloyd Bentsen stands for the things that Michael Dukakis stands for.” In addition, Boulter tried to exploit the fact that Bentsen was running for two offices,remarking: “Bentsen is an old-timey, elitist politician from the past. I think this is a power grab.” In the end, the Dukakis-Bentsen ticket lost Texas by over twelve percentage points, while Bentsen was re-elected to the Senate by almost twenty points.
In 1996, U.S. Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX) used the LBJ rule to run for the Republican presidential nomination and for re-election. Failing to meet expectations, Gramm dropped out of the presidential race. Gramm had suffered an embarrassing loss in the Louisiana Primary. When asked if there was any resentment from Texas voters that he had initially tried to run for two offices, Gramm responded, citing past precedent: “Naaaaw, they weren’t angry with Lloyd Bentsen when he did it twice. They weren’t angry with Lyndon Johnson. They still elected them.” Gramm was securely re-elected to the Senate.
In 2000, U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) took some grief from his Senate colleagues for his failure to halt his Senate candidacy after being selected by Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore as his vice presidential runningmate. Had Lieberman dropped out of the Senate race, the party could have nominated someone else. However, had Lieberman won both the vice presidency and re-election to the Senate, his Senate successor would have been appointed by a Republican governor, John Rowland. Instead, Lieberman handily won re-election to the Senate. Interestingly, after the 2000 Senate election, the new Senate would be tied: 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats. Had the Gore-Lieberman team won the Presidential election, Lieberman would have had to resign his Senate seat and Rowland would have likely appointed a Republican, giving the Republicans one more seat, which would have granted them control of the Chamber.
More recently, in 2012, U.S. Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) was selected by his party’s presidential nominee Mitt Romney as his runningmate. Ryan ran for both re-election to the House and the vice presidency. Ryan did not actively campaign for re-election or debate his Congressional opponent, Democrat Ron Zerban. Zerban tried to get political mileage by appearing in Danville, Kentucky the day a vice presidential debate between Ryan and Democrat Joe Biden was scheduled to be held. Though Zerban could not shame Ryan into debating him, his Danville appearances resulted in Zerban accruing lots of free local and national media attention and effectuated a cash infusion to Zerban’s coffers. In fact, Zerban raised $2.1 million. Zerban held Ryan to just 54.9 percent of the vote, the lowest percentage of any of Ryan’s eight Congressional races.
There was one instance where a candidate’s simultaneous presidential run likely cost him his seat. In 1995, U.S. Representative Bob Dornan (R-CA) launched a quixotic bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Dornan’s district was rapidly becoming more Democratic because of the influx of Latino voters. Dornan lost the Congressional race by just 984 votes to Democrat Loretta Sanchez. Dornan alienated many of his Democratic constituents by his inflammatory polemics during the presidential campaign, calling Bill Clinton a “pathological liar” a “triple draft dodger” and a “criminal.” In addition to losing the Congressional race, Dornan pocketed less than one percent of the vote in the presidential election.
Paul, like the aforementioned examples, does not want to launch an all-or-nothing presidential bid. Paul is likely calculating that voters in his conservative home state will not view it as supercilious to run for two offices concomitantly. Should he falter in the early presidential primaries, Paul can drop out of the presidential race and focus instead on his re-election bid. Should he win the vice presidential nomination and lose in the general election, Paul likely believes the Blue Grass State will return him to the Senate in the next election. Paul’s move is certainly with precedent.
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November 26th, 2014
U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) insists that she “is not running for President” and maintains: “I pledge to serve out my term.” Yet few political observers take her comments seriously. In fact, a grassroots movement “Ready for Warren” is forging full-steam ahead to encourage her to run for President.
In American politics, it is kosher for a candidate to repeatedly deny interest in the Presidency and to even issue categorical statements that he/she will not run for President, then subsequently reverse course. Ironically, some politicians even strategize about a potential presidential run after appearing at an event where they double down on their denial of interest.
When a potential presidential candidate answers the question in a non-declarative way, such as “I am not running for President” or “I have no plans to run,” it is often interpreted as a “non-denial denial.” The press and supporters of the potential candidate extrapolate from that statement that the candidate is leaving the door open. This is the case with Elizabeth Warren. She said she “is not running for President.” She did not say that under no circumstance would she run. This is a very different statement.
The art of leaving the door open to a potential run is not a novelty. In 1884, there was an active effort by some Republican Party activists to draft former Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman to seek the Republican nomination for President. Sherman stated definitively: “I will not accept if nominated, and will not serve if elected.” This unequivocal language left no wiggle room for Sherman to explore a candidacy. This absolute language is today called a “Shermanesque statement.” When an individual says he/she will not run for a certain office, reporters often ask if the candidate will make a “Shermanesque statement” that they will not run.
A great example of Shermanesque language was seen in 1968 when President Lyndon B. Johnson, after winning the New Hampshire Presidential Primary with an underwhelming 49.4% of the vote, and polls showing him behind U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy (D-MN) in the upcoming Wisconsin primary, announced to a stunned nation: “I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your President.”
Today, however, even a politician speaking in such absolutist language does not necessarily quell speculation of a potential candidacy. It is an odd game where politicians are willing to mislead about their intentions, yet rarely accrue any electoral repercussions. Even when the candidate actually means he/she is not running, they are often not believed. In 2010, speculation of a Presidential candidacy by New Jersey Governor Chris Christy did not cease even after he told a reporter: “Short of suicide, I don’t really know what I’d have to do to convince you people that I’m not running.”
There are a litany of examples of Presidential candidates who originally pledged not to run, then broke that promise. In 1968, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller was asked if he would run for the Republican Presidential nomination that year. His answer was “Absolutely not.” Yet just months later, with polls showing he would do better against the Democratic Presidential candidates than the front-runner, former Vice President Richard M. Nixon, Rockefeller announced his candidacy stating: “By taking this course at this time I feel I can best serve my country.” Rockefeller lost the nomination to Nixon but his statement that he would “absolutely not” seek the Presidency was a non-issue.
More recently, the day after being elected to the U.S. Senate from Illinois in November of 2004, Barack Obama said: “I can unequivocally say I will not be running for national office in four years, and my entire focus is making sure that I’m the best possible senator on behalf of the people of Illinois.” Yet Obama supporters never took him at his word, and many of his Senate colleagues urged him to run. In February of 2007, he announced his candidacy for President. Obama’s prior “unequivocal” statement did not hurt him.
When ambitious upper-level elected officials seek re-election to their current position prior to a Presidential election, they are often dogged with the question of whether they promise to serve out their full terms or seek the Presidency part way through their turn. In response, candidates often resort to rhetorical gymnastics to give the impression they will serve out their full term, without stating so unequivocally. In an October gubernatorial debate, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, running for re-election, was asked if he would serve out his full term. Walker, answered: “My plan is, if the people of the state of Wisconsin elect me on November 4th is to be here for four years.” Five days after winning re-election, Walker, who was widely believed to have harbored Presidential ambitions, told Chuck Todd of NBC’s Meet the Press: “I said my plan was for four years … but certainly I care deeply about my state and country.”
Two prominent governors with Presidential ambitions who were facing a tough re-election bid were forced to pledge to serve out their full terms and to do so in non-nebulous terms. The first was Bill Clinton. In 1990, Clinton was asked in a debate with Republican Sheffield Nelson if he pledged to serve out his full term as Arkansas Governor. Clinton responded: “You bet.” However, after easily beating Nelson, Clinton met with Arkansas voters the next year and asked to be released from that pledge. He eventually defied the pledge and declared his Presidential candidacy.
The one recent Presidential candidate whose broken pledge to not run for President and to serve out his term as governor seriously damaged his Presidential candidacy was Pete Wilson, who sought the Republican Presidential nomination in 1996. In 1994, when California Governor Pete Wilson ran for re-election, he promised his constituents that he would not run for President in 1996, declaring definitively: “I’ll rule it out.” However, just a year later, Wilson broke that pledge. At a press conference announcing the formation of a presidential exploratory committee, Wilson said of his pledge: “When I said it, I meant it.”
In Wilson’s case, the pledge became his Achilles heal. Two of his Republican opponents pounced on Wilson’s broken pledge. Nelson Warfield, the spokesman for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-KS), compared Wilson’s pledge to Clinton’s pledge in 1990, chiding Wilson as “a politician who began his campaign for President the same way Bill Clinton did, breaking his pledge to serve out a full term as governor. Wilson responded: “I was not in any way expecting that I would be standing here talking to you about running for president. At that time, there were a number of people who have my admiration who have since taken themselves out of the presidential sweepstakes: Jack Kemp, Dick Cheney, Bill Bennett, and Dan Quayle.’‘ Former Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander focused radio advertisements directly at Wilson. In the advertisement, an announcer exclaims: “If we can’t trust Pete Wilson on that, we can’t trust him on anything.” Wilson’s candidacy soon fizzled.
Potential Presidential candidates are rarely taken at their word when they disclaim interest in the Presidency. It becomes a game. News reporters try to goad them into making a definitive statement that they will not run for President. Presidential candidates who use non-declaratory language in disclaiming a potential Presidential candidacy send signals to supporters and potential benefactors that they are seriously weighing a presidential candidacy. Even after a potential candidate says with absolute certainty that he will not run, many do not believe him or her. With the exception of Pete Wilson, one would be hard pressed to find presidential candidates whose past denials actually had deleterious effects on their presidential candidacies.
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October 30th, 2014
By Rich Rubino.
The recent incident where Florida Governor Rick Scott refused to make his way to the debate stage for seven minutes because his opponent, former Governor Charlie Crist, had an alleged illegal cooling fan below the debate lectern is emblematic of the political debate culture today. Rather than dissecting and analyzing the policy prescriptions put forth by the candidates during their debates, it is often the gaffes, one-liners and demeanor of the candidates that garner the most attention.
Fearful of losing their lead by making an inadvertent political gaffe or being outshined by their opponents, incumbents usually want as few debates as possible. In contrast, underdogs often call for multiple debates hoping that the incumbent in the race will falter.
When front-runners make a strategic decision not to debate, challengers often go to extreme lengths to shame their opponent into debating them. An oft-repeated tactic is for an underdog candidate to send a person in a chicken suit to events where his/her opponent appears. This almost always garners media attention.
In 1982, Republican Ray Shamie used a creative tactic which embarrassed Democrat Ted Kennedy into agreeing to debate him. Shamie hired a plane to fly around the country with a trialing banner which read: “$10,000 reward — Get Ted Kennedy to debate Ray Shamie.” The stunt mustered national media attention.
Sometimes a candidate is forced to make a pledge in a debate for political survival, which could hurt him/her in future races. In his 1990 bid for a fifth term as Arkansas Governor, Bill Clinton was neck-and-neck with his Republican opponent Sheffield Nelson. While Clinton enjoyed respectable job approval ratings, voters wondered if it was time for a change in the Governorship, and if Clinton would be a full-time Governor if re-elected. There was speculation that Clinton would seek the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1992, taking him away from the state. When Clinton was asked in a Gubernatorial debate if he promised to serve out his full term, he replied:“You bet.” After easily beating Nelson, Clinton met with Arkansas voters the next year, and asked to be released from that pledge. He eventually defied the pledge and declared his Presidential candidacy.
Similarly, during a 1994 debate with Democratic U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, Republican Mitt Romney tried to defend himself from charges that he was not a supporter of abortion rights. He said: “I have my own beliefs, and those beliefs are very dear to me. One of them is that I do not impose my beliefs on other people. Many, many years ago, I had a dear, close family relative that was very close to me who passed away from an illegal abortion. It is since that time that my mother and my family have been committed to the belief that we can believe as we want, but we will not force our beliefs on others on that matter. And you will not see me wavering on that.”
This quote has been used ad nosium by Republican opponents of Romney in his two Presidential runs and Romney has spent an inordinate amount of time explaining how he has since come to oppose abortion rights.
Sometimes a first-time candidate can be embarrassed when debating a seasoned political debater. Former President George W. Bush suffered this fate during a debate in his 1978 race for an open U.S. House Seat. His Democratic opponent, Kent Hance, sang from a populist song-sheet by branding Bush: “Not a real Texan.” Hance suggested that Ivy League graduates like Bush and his family caused the economic malaise in the country. Hance embarrassed Bush, and lamented: “My daddy and granddad were farmers. They didn’t have anything to do with the mess we’re in right now, and Bush’s father has been in politics his whole life.”
At the 1988 Vice Presidential debate, Democrat Lloyd Bentsen stole the show with a pre-formulated one-liner. When his Republican opponent, Dan Quayle suggested that he had more experience than John F. Kennedy had in 1960 when he was elected President, Bentsen quipped: “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” This line became one of the most remembered in American political debate history.
Bentsen was not the only candidate to pull off a memorable one-liner. At the time, Boston Harbor, located in the home state of Governor Dukakis, was one of the dirtiest harbor in the U.S. After Dukakis gave a byzantine answer to a question about the bulging federal budget deficit, Bush deadpanned: “Is this the time for one-liners? That answer is about as clear as Boston Harbor.”
Memorable lines are often made off-the-cuff and do not appear scripted. In 1990, two Massachusetts Republicans, Bill Weld and Joe Malone, were elected statewide for the first time. Both brought down the house with inimitable lines, which appeared to be impromptu. During a 1990 Massachusetts Gubernatorial debate, Republican nominee Bill Weld exploited a claim by the Democratic nominee, John Silber, Ph.D., that beavers created so much wetland that preserving wetlands should not be of concern. Weld quipped: “Would you tell us doctor, what plans, if any, you have for the preservation of open spaces in Massachusetts, other than leave it to beavers?”
That same year, in the race for Treasurer and Receiver General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Democrat William Galvin, trying to show that his Republican opponent, Joe Malone, was ignorant of economic issues, asked Malone the question: “What’s a junk bond?” Without hesitation, Malone responded: “That’s what we’ll have if you’re elected.”
During a debate in the 1988 race for the Democratic Presidential nomination, U.S. Representative Richard Gephardt (D-MO) turned to U.S. Senator Al Gore (D-TN) and blasted him for moving to the right to secure Southern votes. Gephardt said: “When you started this race, you decided you needed a Southern political strategy. So you decided that you’d better move to the right on defense and [on] a lot of other issues. And lately you’ve been sounding more like Al Haig than Al Gore” (Al Haig was U.S. Secretary of State in the Reagan administration and was also a GOP Republican Presidential Candidate). Without missing a beat, Gore bested Gephardt, deadpanning: “That line sounds more like Richard Nixon than Richard Gephardt.”
Similarly, in a 2012 Presidential debate in Jacksonville, Florida, U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) was asked by host Wolf Blitzer about a proposal by one of his opponents, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), to colonize the moon. Paul mustered uproarious laughter for his response: “Well, I don’t think we should go to the moon. I think we maybe should send some politicians up there.”
Candidates spend hours preparing for their participation in political debates. Much time is spent by candidates rehearsing responses to potential questions, testing one-liners, and engaging in mock debates with staffers. Although it can certainly be argued that a candidate’s debating skills are probably not indicative of his/her ability to govern, how the candidates perform in the debates influences how undecided voters view the candidates and impacts upon their perceptions regarding their ability to govern. Again, for the American people and the media, it is often gamesmanship rather than substance that rules when determining the winner of a political debate.
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October 9th, 2014
By Rich Rubino.
Economist John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) said: “Modesty is a vastly overrated virtue.” Politicians have apparently taken Galbraith’s words to heart.
Through advertisements and meetings with voters, they are quick to trumpet a litany of accomplishments and virtues. Most recently, the Republican nominee for governor of Georgia, David Perdue, told Morehouse College students that his father, in his role as a superintendent of Schools, desegregated the Houston County schools. Perdue said his father “integrated I think the first — if not the first or second — county school system in Georgia, and he did it before they had to. He did it right after he got elected, and he did it because it was the right thing to do.” Perdue failed to mention the fact that the desegregation plan was instituted after the NAACP successfully challenged the “Freedom of Choice” plan instituted by the Houston County School Board, which allowed but did not mandate integration.
Perhaps the most egregious exaggeration in U.S. political history of a candidate’s background was the yarn spun by William Henry Harrison, who was elected President in 1840. Harrison was raised in a patrician family. His father was once Governor of Virginia. Yet Harrison brilliantly styled himself as “one of us.” He dressed the part of a humble down-home candidate and boasted of the fact that he had lived in a log cabin. While it was true that Harrison once lived in a log cabin, it was only briefly after retiring from government service. Contrary to popular belief at the time, he was not born in a log cabin. Yet this tactic helped Harrison get elected. In fact, one of Harrison’s supporter, Whisky distiller E.G. Booze, sold whisky in log-cabin-shaped bottles during the campaign to promote this master narrative (This is where the word booze came from.) Harrison’s ploy worked and he was elected president. However, he was not able to do much as President, as he died of pneumonia just 31 days after his inauguration.
Lyndon B. Johnson had a fascination with the Alamo. His father, Samuel Johnson Jr., wrote legislation to give control of the Alamo to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. In 1966, while visiting troops in South Korea, Johnson accurately said that there is a picture of his father inside the Alamo. He then went a step too far by mendaciously claiming that his great-great-grandfather had died in the Alamo. In actuality, the great-great-grandfather that Johnson was referring to was a real-estate trader who died at home. When confronted with this inaccuracy, Johnson creativelytold Press Secretary George Christian:”You all didn’t let me finish. It was the Alamo Bar and Grill in Eagle Pass, Texas.”
Perhaps the most famous political exaggeration has been grossly exaggerated in and of itself. When someone asks the question: “Who invented the Internet?” someone will invariably quip: “Al Gore.” It is popular belief that Al Gore claimed to have invented the Internet. This belief however is false. In reality, Gore told Wolf Blitzer on CNN: “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” Gore was referring to his role as the lead sponsor of the 1991 High-performance Computing and Communications Act, which appropriated $600 million for high-performance computing and co-sponsored the Information Infrastructure and Technology Act of 1992. Critics chided Gore for his statement and falsely claimed that Gore had said he “invented the Internet.” U.S. House Majority leader Dick Armey (R-TX) joked: “If the vice president created the Internet then I created the Interstate.”
However, Gore has exaggerated other facts in his past. During his failed 1988 bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination, Gore told the Des Moines Register that in his early days as a reporter for the Nashville Tennessean, he got “a bunch of people indicted and sent to jail.” However, it was later revealed that Gore’s reporting resulted in just two municipal officials being indicted, and neither was jailed.
Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney also has a history of exaggerating the facts. During his two Presidential campaigns, Romney continuously claimed that as governor of Massachusetts he made the “tough choices and balanced the budget without raising taxes.” Romney was referring to the $3 billion budget shortfall he inherited when he assumed office in 2003. Romney did not mention that he raised over $500 million in “fees.” Romney also raised corporate taxes under the guise of closing corporate loopholes and truncating local aid to the state’s municipalities. This forced municipalities to cut services and/or raise property taxes on their residents.
Similarly, in 2007, Republican Presidential aspirant Mitt Romney told a voter: “Ipurchased a gun when I was a young man. I’ve been a hunter pretty much all my life.” It was later revealed that Romney had only hunted twice in his life. Romney later said: “I’m not a big-game hunter. I’ve made that very clear. I’ve always been a rodent and rabbit hunter. Small varmints, if you will.”
Candidates with military experience often brandish this experience on the campaign trail, and occasionally get themselves into trouble. During his 2008 bid for an open U.S. Senate seat in Connecticut, it was revealed that the Democratic nominee Richard Blumenthal had on two occasions claimed he served as a Marine “in Vietnam.” Blumenthal had in fact served in the Marines during the Vietnam era, but never served in Vietnam. He apologized for the remarks and despite this exaggeration was elected to the Senate by twelve points.
An amusing exaggeration came from Mark Roosevelt, the Democratic nominee for Massachusetts Governor in 1994. In an interview with the Boston Globe, he made the following comment about his tenure in the Massachusetts State Legislature: “A record of accomplishment probably unsurpassed by any legislator in the 20th century in Massachusetts.” Roosevelt later retracted the comment, stating: “I can be sanctimonious.” Roosevelt lost the Gubernatorial election, garnering less than 30 percent of the vote.
Politics is not the profession for the modest. To a great extent a politician has to be a salesperson. He/she must master the art of bragging about himself over and over again without overdoing it, appearing supercilious.
It takes a certain personality type to be ready, willing, and able to repeatedly tell voters of his/her stellar attributes. As the aforementioned cases reveal, politicians sometimes go a step too far and exaggerate what they have accomplished, sometimes losing all credibility. Robert Strauss, who served as chairman of the Democratic Party, captured this phenomenon of political exaggeration best when he said: “Every politician wants every voter to believe he was born in a log cabin he built himself.”
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