By Len Lazarick
See video of this interview here.
Dan Bongino concedes that his campaign as a conservative Republican to unseat Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin next year looks pretty crazy.
He gave up a 12-year career in the Secret Service, where he had led the protection details for Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, forgoing his government pension. He’s got seven months of savings set aside, his wife is pregnant with their second child and, of course, he’s never run for public office.
“One day, I just came home and said to my wife, ‘I really think we’re in a bad spot in this country,’ ” and it needed someone like him in public office. “I said, ‘I think we can win.’ ”
He’s not the only candidate who wants to take on Cardin. Two other Republicans have already filed, as have four Democrats. But Bongino, 36, fully recognizes that he’s got a compelling life story, and he tells it well. It’s the kind of narrative that has already garnered him three appearances on Fox News in June and a feature package on CNN, as well as multiple talk-radio interviews.
The life story
Raised in poverty with his two brothers by a single mother in New York City — “baloney and Cheerios for dinner,” he says — he was a NYPD cop for four years, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology, joined the Secret Service, traveled to 27 countries, helped break up a fraud ring and last year got an MBA from Penn State. While he swears high respect for Obama and his family personally, he strongly disagrees with the policies of the man he would have taken a bullet for.
“I think it’s time for really normal middle-class guys to take a stand, and if I don’t win, maybe people pay attention, maybe we make a dent, maybe the next time out a Republican wins,” Bongino said. “If I didn’t think I could win, I wouldn’t have done it.”
He said political consultants have shown him numbers that convince him he has a shot of defeating a man who has been in elected office since before Bongino was born.
Bongino doesn’t know Cardin, just his politics.
“I’m sure he’s a wonderful man. He seems like a really nice guy,” he said. “What has he done that entitles him to really lead Maryland? What does he know about what middle-class families are going through?”
The beef with Cardin
What’s Bongino’s beef with Cardin?
“Let’s just stick with the big three,” Bongino said: education, health care and the economy.
On schools, Cardin “claims these grand intentions, and then he does the exact opposite,” voting against charter schools in D.C. and against federal vouchers to give parents choices. Schools in Baltimore and Prince George’s County are some of the worst in the state, Bongino said, but Cardin doesn’t support ways to get out of them.
“He’s beholden to unions,” he said. “He supports the system. He doesn’t support the students.”
On health care, where Cardin is considered one of the most knowledgeable lawmakers, Bongino said the senator supports socialized medicine and forced choices for care.
And Cardin, he said, represents the philosophy that the government knows how to spend your money better than you do.
“I’m not anti-government,” Bongino insists. The government has a legitimate role in defense, public safety, courts and even public education, though he says it’s “monopolized services that could be provided more effectively in the private sector.”
Flatter, broader tax code
On taxes, Bongino said he would be standing with the freshmen Republicans in Congress against higher taxes. He supports a broader, flatter tax code with zero subsidies and exemptions, and no net tax increase.
“A flatter, broader tax code does benefit the economy, since the cost of compliance goes way down,” he said. “Think of how many tax lawyers would be out of business.”
Regardless of how high taxes might be, over time they’re going to generate about 18% of gross domestic product, he said. People will figure out ways to do other things with their money. Right now, we’re spending 24% of GDP. “Do we want to do what works or do we want to do what sounds good?”
He also thinks government benefits have “made poverty so comfortable.”
“Poverty’s uncomfortable, but it’s the greatest incentive to get out of it. When we made poverty comfortable, you know what you get. You get more poverty. That’s not help.”
Bongino thinks his lack of political experience is “a badge of honor.” He said he doesn’t hear any cries from the right or the left that “we need more politicians.”
“I don’t have a voting record,” he said. “I’m glad I’ve not had to make any deals.”
That helps explain why he got into the race with the backing of Brian Murphy, the businessman and political novice who challenged Gov. Bob Ehrlich last year.
The Cardin campaign declined to comment on Bongino or any of his complaints about Cardin. But on Friday, Cardin announced he had raised $1 million in the last three months, and had $1.8 million cash on hand – about 100 times what Bongino has raised in the first few weeks of his campaign.
“I strive every day to tackle the serious challenges facing Marylanders and our entire nation,” Cardin said in a statement. “Helping to create and protect quality jobs, keeping our Bay healthy and our drinking water clean, and protecting seniors from efforts to slash Medicare and Social Security are at the top of my daily agenda.”