Political Note #210 The Congressional Can Can for President
Members of Congress are rarely serious candidates for president. Of the Members of Congress with aspirations, only former Member of Congress Beto O’Rourke registers on the presidential seismographs. Take a look at him and the others – at my best effort at attempting to understand what kind of managers they are and might be.
Beto O’Rourke We all know Beto. He was almost Senator O’Rourke. He looks like a former Irish-American President when he was young and skinny.
O’Rourke comes from a political family. His mother’s stepfather was Secretary of the Navy under Kennedy. His father was a county commissioner and county judge.
These minis are, to the extent possible, about how candidates manage – hard to know for Members of Congress. We know that O’Rourke was able to create a mixture of the off-beat and the serious that led him to be a successful insurgent. Ex poet for the hacker group Cult of the Dead Crow and ex co-captain of the Columbia crew, he first defeated an El Paso city councilman and then an eight term congressman. In his Senate campaign, he demonstrated an extraordinary capacity to raise money from small donors in Texas and beyond (more than 800,000 of them). He very nearly unseated Republican Senator Ted Cruz.
In that Senate race, Beto refused to use a pollster. If he had a pollster for the presidential campaign, he would have entered the race immediately when he was third behind Bernie and Uncle Joe. Instead, he took his time. He thought about what to do. He entered the race farther behind the most popular candidates. He was no longer third in the polls.
He still has those small donors. He has a chance.
John Delaney He is a multi-millionaire, but not an ordinary one. Son of a New Jersey electrical worker, he went to a local Catholic High School and then to Columbia, largely funded by a union scholarship. He went to law school at Georgetown and stayed in the DC area.
Instead of practicing law, Delaney lent money. He co-founded a business in 1993 lending money to small health care providers, went public in 1996, and sold the business in 1999. He co-founded another business in 2000 lending money to small businesses, went public in 2003, and sold the business in 2013.
What kind of manager is he? The kind with money-making ideas (money-making ideas that may even have a genuine social good component). The kind with a capacity to find collaborators with resources who would join him in putting his ideas into practice.
An imaginative and moderate three-term Congressman in a Democratic leaning, swing district, he might have tried running against Maryland’s popular Republican Governor in 2018. Instead, he decided to run for President. He started long before the rest of the candidates. Being that far ahead might work better in business than it does in politics.
Tulsi Gabbard She is distinctive. Born in American Samoa, she is a Hindu. Her mother, born in Indiana of German descent, converted to Hinduism. Her father, of native Samoan and white American ancestry, is a Roman Catholic. He is a conservative Democratic member of the Hawaii state legislature who has opposed same sex marriage.
Tulsi Gabbard is not conservative, but when she ran for Congress and now running for President, she has taken time to apologize for past antagonism toward homosexuality. In 2016, she endorsed Bernie Sanders for president and was critical of the DNC’s support for Hillary Clinton.
She has been enormously popular in her Congressional district. She has had her own foreign policy. As the only Hindu in Congress, she has built a relationship with the Indian Prime Minister. She argued for leaving Assad alone as head of Syria – an argument that might now seem to have been prescient.
Her popularity is being tested. Politico has described her campaign as in disarray. Her campaign manager has resigned and her consulting firm plans to leave. She has unaccountably picked a fight with Mazie Hironomo, Senator from Hawaii and Gabbard’s predecessor. She has a serious primary challenge for her Congressional seat. She was planning to run for her seat in Congress and for President. She could lose both.
Tim Ryan What kind of manager is he? He was a quarterback. He was recruited to play at Youngstown State in Ohio. Not Division 1. But Division tough.
1) Football is central. Ryan grew up in Warren, Ohio. Wikipedia lists notables from Warren, as it does from almost every city or state. 53 of them in Warren’s case. 17 football players. One baseball player. One auto racer. One golfer made it 20 athletes. One non-athlete also had a reputation for toughness. Roger Ailes.
2) Think about his mentor and predecessor. James Traficant. Congressman from Youngstown. A former quarterback for the University of Pittsburgh. For ten years, he was sheriff of Mahoning County, Ohio. He was a popular sheriff. He refused to execute foreclosure orders on unemployed homeowners. While sheriff, he was tried for bribery. He represented himself and got off – explaining the bribes were part of an undercover operation. That’s how he managed.
That’s also how Traficant got elected to Congress (and where Ryan became one of his staff). He was controversial – pro-life, pro-Demjanjuk (said Demjanjuk didn’t get a fair trial as a former concentration camp guard), pro scientist Arthur Rudolph (claimed Rudolph was railroaded by a “powerful Jewish lobby”) Accused of corruption, he was convicted and expelled from the House.
What did Tim Ryan learn about managing himself from his mentor? What did Tim Ryan learn about politics from his mentor?
Eric Swalwell He is not a household name. Like Ryan, Swalwell was an athlete who lost his scholarship due to injury. A soccer player, though. Like O’Rourke, he made his way by being a daring insurgent. A Dublin, CA city councilman, he knocked off a 20 term Congressman. Like O’Rourke, he can be flamboyant. He recorded and played for reporters a telephoned death threat. Against house rules, he recorded himself pushing a button to vote against an abortion ban beyond the 20 week mark.
He is different from the others. He is good at the inside work of being a Member of Congress. He was a member of the United Solutions Caucus (an apparent precursor to the current bi-partisan Problem Solvers Caucus). He has been a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (Adam Schiff’s committee). A Pelosi supporter, he was named vice-chair of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee – the committee that sets the term’s agenda and selects committee members. He plays well with others.
He is making gun safety a hall mark of his campaign. Interestingly, more than any other presidential candidate, he is a target of right wing organizations. Not as much as Ilhan Omar or Alexadra Ocasio-Cortez, though.
One more Member of Congress has recently announced: Seth Moulton of Massachusetts. Moulton organized an effort to get veterans to run for Congress, raised money for that purpose, distributed that money to candidates, including most of the ten veteran candidates elected for the first time in 2018.
These members of Congress may have good reasons for running for President. Except for Beto O’Rourke, the likelihood of being elected President should not be the reason they are running.