Although winning the Presidency and then performing as a President is difficult, it is not as difficult as most think. Although most view the President as glamorous because he is the most powerful man in the free world, the essence of his job is to simply make good decisions to improve the lives of each and every American citizen.
. . . While I was a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin during Richard Nixon’s 1968 campaign I became fascinated with the candidates, the campaign and the office. And have studied it ever since. And I even ran for President twice, unknown and unfunded, visiting 6,000 businesses on the main streets of 242 towns in Iowa and New Hampshire in 2008, placing placed tenth in Iowa and New Hampshire that year, and seventh in both states in 2012.
The surprising thing one learns who has studied presidential campaigns is that for someone who is unknown it is less difficult to win the Presidency than to win the Governorship of Texas. For two reasons. One, to even entertain a Texas governor’s race one must have ten to thirty million dollars to be able to compete across the large state. Few unknowns have this. The second reason is that in a gubernatorial campaign there is no fortuitous “roll” from a race in one state to the next as is always the case in a fifty-state presidential campaign.
In 2008 in Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign he began with $300,000, won the Iowa Caucus, was competitive in a number of other states and was in competition with John McCain and Mitt Romney till the end. In Herman Cain’s 2012 presidential he began with $500,000 and topped the polls early on until likely inaccurate allegations about him in a media onslaught stopped him. Both candidates were the beneficiaries of the “roll” process where the right person with the right message who fit the times could start with little, and with the always heavy media coverage, build a growing campaign. The process is much the same that any bootstrapping businessman goes through to develop a market for the right product at the right time.
In 2012 Rick Santorum all but lived in Iowa. He began with a few voters at an event in a pizza place in a state where the saying goes that a voter must shake your hand at least twice before he will vote for you. He won the Iowa Caucus by a few votes over Mitt Romney and was Romney’s only competition from that point on. The possibilities that an unknown possesses is why they are always treated quite well by voters in both Iowa and New Hampshire. Voters there who are unusually knowledgeable politically know that those who are down can soon be up and those that are up can soon be down.
This situation is unlikely to change soon. As each day passes and social media become more entrenched and effective in the political process, it will become increasingly likely that an unknown dark horse candidate will prevail. A candidate is just one viral video away from being nationally known and evaluated. For evidence, just recently House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost to an unknown congressional opponent whom he outspent ten to one. And that opponent did not have a viral video.
One thing a candidate must have though is known in presidential politics as a “fire in the belly”, the daily, overwhelming and intense desire to win the presidency. And he or she must have good values, good decision making skills, must be right on the issues and be very tough.
Just going through the gauntlet of presidential politics and succeeding normally prepares the candidate for the difficulties of the job. The exception to date has been President Obama. Because he was given a free ride by the media and his unquestioning supporters, and was fortunate to have a nice opponent who did not take him to task, he was never required to develop good personal qualities. And accordingly, in The Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens description, he has continued as “a self-infatuated weakling in the White House”. Which is on full display to each and every one of us every day.
In each of 2008 and 2012 100 people or more ran for the presidency out of our nation of 320 million Americans. Of these less than several dozen were serious, whether known or unknown or whether funded or unfunded.
One hopes that as time goes on more and more of those having good personal qualities will step up to run for our nation’s highest office, someone exceptional will prevail, and make for a better America. Where each of us will benefit.