By Barry Rascovar
Donald Trump may have started an unwelcomed trend. An outsider who started as a joke rather than a serious contender in the wide-open GOP presidential primaries last year, Trump pulled off America’s biggest upset. Today he’s president and now just about anyone thinks he, or she, can do the same thing.
Exhibit A is Maryland Congressman John Delaney. He thinks he should be president. He is giving up his seat in Congress to run for Trump’s job – though his odds at this point are slim and none – and Slim just left town.
Delaney’s credentials are exceptionally modest. Yes, he’s serving his third term in the House of Representatives as a Democrat from a district encompassing Western Maryland and parts of Montgomery County. That’s his only fling at public office. Previously he started, ran and then sold two financial service companies, making him super-rich.
But given Trump’s even more meager political resume, Delaney apparently thinks experience no longer counts.
The difference is that Trump is an exceptional reality TV personality, a charismatic, loud-mouthed know-it-all who captivated America’s heartland with his unconventional sales pitch and aggressive, unapologetic rhetoric.
Delaney, by contrast, is more phlegmatic than charismatic. He’s been in office over five years yet still is unknown in most of Maryland.
He’s also got little to show for his three terms in Congress.
His claim to fame is a proposal to rebuild U.S. infrastructure by encouraging corporations to re-patriate, tax-free, billions of profits stashed overseas in exchange for buying special infrastructure bonds that support a giant public works agenda.
Great idea but that’s all it is after five-plus years. Delaney’s brainchild hasn’t matured into a viable plan of action in the Republican Congress.
All Delaney offers Democratic voters at this point is a more moderate, pro-business view of the world than any of the likely presidential candidates in the 2020 primaries.
He does have two advantages: 1) He’s the first to jump in, giving Delaney oodles of time to romance caucus delegates in Iowa and voters in New Hampshire and South Carolina – the early primary states; 2) he can self-fund the next few years of his campaign while building a fund-raising operation.
Even then, it is hard to imagine Delaney making much headway. He has all the makings of Maryland’s last presidential wannabe, former Gov. Martin O’Malley, who performed so miserably he got just 0.6% of the Iowa caucus vote – and dropped out. It was a huge humiliation for O’Malley, an end to a once-promising political career.
Now Delaney seems headed in the same direction. With a few more terms in the House of Representatives, he might have been an influential congressman. Or he might have used his wealth to become the Democrats’ gubernatorial nominee next year.
Instead, he could end up a footnote – an also-ran in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary season.
That’s insane, but holding public office, or wishing to hold public office, does strange things to an individual’s ego.
How, for instance, does a little-known Washington lobbyist like Maya Rockeymoore think she is qualified or has the electability skills to become Maryland’s next governor?
How does a little-known “technology policy expert,” Alec Ross, who wrote a best-selling book (“The Industries of the Future”) and advised Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on matters of technology, believe his background is sufficient to persuade voters he’s the most qualified person to fix problems bedeviling Maryland?
And how in the world does a 37-year-old former policy staffer to Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton, Krishanti Vignarajah – with no prior experience whatsoever in Maryland – believe her modest resume (she ran Micelle Obama’s “Let Girls Learn Initiative”) proves she is capable of running a complex state government?
If Trump can pull off a miracle electoral victory, then just about anyone else can, too. That seems to be the mindset.
It’s as though relevant experience no longer counts. Some captivating sound bites, colorful ads and outrageously out-of-the-box ideas and, voila, the presidency, or the governorship, is mine.
All these contenders see is opportunity – even though they lack the background traditionally expected of elected chief executives in this country.
The last time John Delaney faced a tough electoral fight, in 2014, he won reelection (in a gerrymandered, pro-Democratic district) by a slim 2,774 votes. That’s not an encouraging sign for his uphill battles in Iowa and New Hampshire.
The other wannabes have zero prior experience in running for public office, much less any measure of success. That’s a discouraging sign for their gubernatorial hopes and dreams.
But it’s also a discouraging sign for voters, who must separate the lighter-than-air candidates from the legitimate contenders.
Barry Rascovar’s blog is politicalmaryland.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.