Joking with my wife on election day I reflected on the nagging pull of politics past. Me: “I can’t help it, there is an ambient anxiousness in the air.”
Dating back five decades I seriously considered running for Congress. But, having friends who had won elections I was not naïve about the downside. I didn’t run.
So let me shift quickly from stage right to stage left—from the 1970s to November 8, 2022.
In the Republican party, the one I know best, as election returns were coming in words were spilling out of the mouths of pollsters and operatives about the guys in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia and the gal in Arizona, Kari Lake.
Ms. Lake, the Republican candidate for Governor in Arizona, animating politics by subtraction, at a campaign rally called out those who had previously voted for John McCain telling them to “get the hell out.”
Ms. Lake is not alone. There are a lot of politicians who are smoking their own dope—confusing reality with dark wishes.
Going back to stage right, if politics in the 70s had been anything like today I wouldn’t have considered a run. I tell this story hesitatingly as I don’t like to use myself as a baseline for anything. But, having known some quite gifted public leaders, I can think of a number who did run but today would have kept their filing fee in the bank.
The media, always looking for the next evocative story, have now turned to what Donald Trump will or won’t do. To me that is a secondary question. We need to give more thought to people who will not even consider running because of the poisonous nature of today’s politics. Voters can only choose from those on the ballot.
But back to the emerging presidential contest. Ron DeSantis, Florida’s governor, had a big win on Tuesday. He got just under 60% of the vote in a State that is as diversified demographically as any in the nation. Predictably Trump, two days before the election, called him Ron DeSanctimonious and then on election day shot the following across his bow: “If he runs, he runs,” and “If he did run, I will tell you things about him that won’t be very flattering. I know more about him than anybody other than perhaps his wife, who is really running his campaign.” A lack of self-awareness blinds Trump to the fact that he was able to overcome an encyclopedia of unflattering conduct.
It is, of course, impossible to know how many principled people decided not to run for office as politics became increasingly a ravenous blood sport. Just think, you are now considering a run reflecting on that oft-quoted aphorism, “Lies travel around the globe while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
While many right of center pundits are saying Trump’s sun is setting, the most insightful ones know Trump is not going away and that he will continue to influence and inflame quite a few Republican voters. If the spotlight is not on him, he will find it.
So, today the soothsayers would subtract names like Governors Larry Hogan, Glen Youngkin and Chris Sununu from the prospect list because they don’t get along with Trump. I use Governors illustratively because many have leadership chops—they know how to optimize resources.
My thoughts now veer from politics to boxing—a true blood sport. Governor DeSantis is also a pugilist. Go with me back to the halcyon moment in boxing.
In early 1971, Sports Illustrated’s Mark Kram penned these lines to characterize the pending fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier: “The thrust of this fight on the public consciousness is incalculable. It has been a ceaseless whir that seems to have grown in decibel with each new soliloquy by Ali, with each dead calm promise by Frazier…. It has cut deep into the thicket of our national attitudes, and it is a conversational imperative everywhere.”
I saw the fight on closed circuit TV in St. Louis. Wikipedia reports that Frank Sinatra could not get a ticket to the fight staged in New York’s Madison Square Garden, so he got a press pass and shot photographs for Life magazine.
Frazier won the fight. DeSantis reminds me of Frazier. He is tenacious. If they pair off, Trump will need to keep his left hook in the front of his mind.
In the larger scheme of things, the 2024 elections will be day after tomorrow. The world’s speed has accelerated. Networks buzz 24 hours a day. There is a lot of time and not much time. Apparently, Trump will announce his intentions on Tuesday. But, unlike the legendary boxing match most don’t care what Trump does because his talent in the ring has been revealed: weak.
In the 1970s most betting was done in back rooms. Now it seems to be everywhere. Trump’s candidacy will be treated like a boxer with a big fight coming up. The handicappers will set the odds. On my card neither the former or current President will be in the ring in 2024. It might be DeSantis, but not necessarily.
The bigger loss is that ballot after ballot will not feature gifted leaders because blood sports are not in their blood.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al writes on themes from his book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.