Last week Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican, announced that he was running for President. He consciously chose a venue and a topic that would help to define his campaign: the speech was given at Liberty University, described as the largest Christian university in the world, and his speech was styled as being about liberty itself. In his announcement speech, Cruz staked out the unabashedly conservative position (or the far-right position, depending on your political perspective) on a number of issues. He wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, for example, and he’s against Common Core and wants to abolish the IRS. Although Cruz is the first to announce his candidacy, the Republican field is expected to be crowded. Other potential candidates include former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, as well as Dr. Ben Carson and Donald Trump. With President Obama ending his second term, other Republican hopefuls may be tempted to throw their hats into the ring. I’m glad Cruz has declared — not because I agree with his politics, but because I think we as a country would be well-served by a thorough airing of different positions on the issues of the day. Cruz, and other anticipated Republican candidates, no doubt will present the various conservative and libertarian positions on the issues in a forceful way. I’m hopeful that, on the Democratic side, too, potential candidates forget about the concept of Hillary Clinton and her inevitability and enter the race so that competing perspectives at the other end of the political spectrum also are thoughtfully explained and advanced. Elections should be contests of ideas, not coronations. When candidates meaningfully joust about policy proposals they can expose flaws and sharpen concepts, as well as present voters with real choices. But elections also are about the candidates themselves and their baskets of resumes, skills, and personal characteristics, evaluated in the context of the issues of the day. I wonder whether, in our increasingly dangerous world, 2016 voters will be looking for a candidate with more experience, who is perceived as having a steady hand and sober judgment, to succeed a President who was elected as a first-term Senator? If so, Cruz — a first-term Senator himself who was elected only three years ago, and whose resume includes playing an instrumental role in bringing about an ill-advised governmental shutdown that left Republicans with egg on their faces — will be out of luck.
President Obama’s State of the Union speech this week drew the lowest ratings in 15 years. Why? Because this is America, and we get bored with anything that’s been around for six years. The President is old news, and nothing he says or does in a wooden speech to politely attentive members of Congress is going to change that reality.
And let’s not forget, too, that we’ve turned the calendar to 2015 — which is the year before the next presidential election, which means we’re due to be bombarded with an increasing barrage of news stories about the would-be candidates who want to take the President’s place at the podium. As if on cue, supporters of Hillary Clinton have made it known that she will be receiving financial commitments for her anticipated campaign that will be “astounding.” Their goal in lining up an immediate avalanche of cash is intimidate potential opponents and cause them to refrain from challenging Clinton in the first place. It’s like a “shock and awe” military campaign applied to American politics.
The article about the Clinton effort doesn’t say what would constitute money commitments that are “astounding” and “like nothing you’ve ever seen,” and it’s hard to imagine that sheer numbers are going to boggle the mind given the amounts being spent on political campaigns already. The Federal Election Commission estimates, for example, that about $7 billion was spent on the 2012 election. We’ve come to expect big spending on politics, and many of us get email fundraising appeals every day — even now, with no election on the horizon. So where is the shock level? $20 billion? $50 billion? $100 billion?
Money is important in politics, obviously, but ultimately money is just money. Americans spend lots of money on lots of things, such as $7.4 billion on Halloween, $20.5 billion on video games, and $73.9 billion on soda. You can buy commercial time and produce slick ad campaigns, but if your message isn’t resonating with voters you’re not going to win.
Perhaps the Clinton money machine will scare away some contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, but those fraidy-cats probably weren’t serious challengers, anyway. If there are politicians out there who truly believe in their positions and want to use a presidential bid to forcefully advocate them, they aren’t going to be cowed by mere money, no matter how much it is. And don’t forget that America loves an underdog. A spunky candidate who is seen as bravely challenging the establishment and the aura of inevitability might make that “astounding” amount of money seem like chump change.
The Democratic National Committee is trying to decide where to hold the 2016 Democratic National Convention. According to reports, the finalists are Brooklyn, New York, Birmingham, Alabama, Phoenix, Arizona, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — and Columbus, Ohio.
A few days ago Columbus city officials and civic leaders hosted a delegation from the DNC, trying to convince them to come to the capital city of the Buckeye State. The tried to use crowds, reasoning, friendly signs and t-shirts, and a blue carpet to sway the DNC decision. Given the audience, I think an appeal to naked political self-interest is far more likely to be effective. So I say:
Democrats, you owe us — and you’re going to be here, anyway.
Ohio is the battleground state. You pester us with polls, bombard us with ads, stop traffic for rallies, and hassle us in more ways than we can count in every election. We put up with this crap in 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012, and we’ve spent countless tax dollars on police protection and the other municipal services that the constant campaigning requires. You owe us! We’re entitled to have your delegates fly into our airport, book our hotel rooms, shop at our stores, eat at our restaurants, visit the bigger-than-life statue of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and — not incidentally — pay all of the taxes that such activity generates. Fill our coffers, baby! We’re entitled to it!
You’re going to be here, anyway, so you’ll all save on travel expenses if you start out here. You may as well get to know the good new restaurants, and the excellent new bars, because you’ll be returning again, and again, and again as the election draws near. Contrast that with Brooklyn or Philly, which are solid blue, or Birmingham, which is redder than Red Square. Phoenix is red, too — red hot. Those places are locked down, one way or the other. In contrast, Ohio is so deep purple that its residents might as well hum the opening chords of Smoke on the Water with every step. Wouldn’t you like to have some friendly, and early, firsthand exposure to the swing voters who inevitably will decide the election?
One other thing: the Republicans are holding their 2016 National Convention just up I-71, in Cleveland. They know they need to win Ohio, and they’re pulling out all the stops. Are you really going to dis us and give the Rs a leg up on raking all of our crucial electoral votes? It’s time for the Party of Jefferson and Jackson to make the pilgrimage and put its money where its mouth will be during the fall of 2016. You want to win Ohio? You’d better come to Columbus.