On Inauguration Day, Donald Trump will cement perhaps the most incredible disruption of a political system in history. Entrepreneurs and Silicon Valley types are fond of talking about disruptors. They even take on their own mythological status sometimes as stories are told in whispers and awe of how some guy came up with an idea, bucked the system and made millions. Uber, e-cigarettes, and the mythological creature known as Steve Jobs are a few of the well-known examples.
Let me be clear, I don’t approve of just about anything Donald Trump does or says. But those in hotspots of disruption in our country like Silicon Valley, Austin, Salt Lake and Archer, Florida (that’s where I live) actually do see the opportunities that are arising out of this time. We realize that the relative chaos and feather-shedding in so many old, stodgy institutions opens up space for new conversations about what is really working and what isn’t. Conversations about what is worth preserving and fighting for and what should be allowed to die.
I’ve personally been involved in conversations with people I never would have talked to before this year – not because I didn’t like them or wouldn’t work with them – but because nothing has ever forced our paths to cross. Of course this journey started, for me, in seeking an independent presidential candidate alongside Bill Kristol, Rick Wilson, John Kingston and many others, punctuated by the amazing run of Evan McMullin and Mindy Finn that I am so proud to have served. But then there have been these amazing people like Greg Orman, Jackie Salit, Nick Troiano, Sho Baraka, Justin Giboney, Angel Maldonado and so many more who are all working, in their ways, to advance the common good for our country. Even better than that, we are working hard to find common ground even though we may not have seen it before. This is truly valuable and exciting. Stay tuned for lots more of this kind of activity.
Now, I have to point out that I don’t believe Trump actually is a disruptor in the ways that are often seen as so wonderful, ultimately, by so many. Why? True disruption blows up a tried and true (and often stodgy and uncompetitive) product or market precisely because it offers a better alternative that consumers were wanting for a long time. There’s the rub. I don’t believe that what Donald Trump is offering is a better alternative.
Did consumers want him? Well, sort of. Few of us would argue that our broken political system didn’t need a good old fashioned disruption. But what we’re seeing play out as the Trump-ifying of American politics simply isn’t making things better, and I don’t believe it will make America great again. Sure, some things will get disrupted that need disrupting. Some policies, I hope, that the Trump administration ushers in, will indeed be good for the country and the good of many. But it’s a poison pill.
However, instead of dampening my spirits or holding me back, this disruption is exciting me. Some of history’s most incredible movements and innovations have been born in times of extreme uncertainty and even unrest. Particularly among people of deep principle, these kinds of times offer sharp clarity of mission and provide opportunities to build bridges.
This year has disrupted my life in almost every way. It has forced me out of old ways – stodgy and unproductive ways, many of them – and is birthing new relationships and opening my eyes to blind spots I’ve had for a long time. It is awakening in me a renewed sense of calling and purpose, and a desire to work together with a diverse group of Americans for the common good. And that’s a disruption I’m glad to endure.
I find it beautifully ironic and hopeful that because of the rise of Donald Trump and #FakeNews we are in a moment of renewed calls for discovering “the truth.” It is particularly ironic that many who identify as liberal, progressive or otherwise on the “left” of the political spectrum are crooning most loudly about it. But instead of mock them, I am excited to embrace them. Let’s walk together on the journey.
I’m someone who is committed to a lot of traditional values and ideas that are not always popular among progressives and yet I’ve always had progressive friends. This should be the norm in America but it’s not. Instead, most Americans are increasingly segregated, self-selecting on social media into groups that think and act like them, moving in growing numbers into neighborhoods and to cities that accommodate their views and joining groups and churches that do the same. This is a huge problem.
I can’t tackle the whole enchilada, but we can take a bite out of it by focusing on this one, simple question: “what is truth?”
I believe there is indeed absolute truth, it is knowable in many ways and we can discover it together. I’ve never accepted the post-modernist view of the world that generally throws out the idea of absolute truth and instead focuses on what is true for the individual. It simply doesn’t hold functional water for me. Now this worldview is coming home to roost in the era Donald Trump.
Progressives who reject absolute truth have little grounds upon which to claim Donald Trump is wrong in shaping his own reality. After all, he is the pinnacle of postmodernism! In his mind, it seems, whatever is true and good for him should be true for all. And if you push back on it, you’ll be attacked as a liar, purveyor of #FakeNews, sympathizer of Hillary Clinton or if you’re lucky, given some uncreative nickname to mock you. That’s his basic worldview, lived out.
I cannot begin to count the number of stories that have been written “fact-checking” Donald Trump, showing he’s a liar and generally screaming at the top of their liberal lungs, “he’s not telling the truth!” Of course many Trump supporters willingly dismiss these, even in the face of airtight factual arguments. We cannot change that overnight. But we have to keep speaking truth, keep pointing out lies and deception. We have to keep holding journalists to the highest standards of factual accuracy and protect their right to report with great vigilance. We have to be careful what we read, how we read it and to stay humble. But in order to do all this well, we have to find common ground.
So to my progressive friends I say, let’s go back to basics together and agree that there is indeed, and must be, absolute truth. There is such a thing as right and wrong behavior. We can debate the specifics. But without this foundation, we have nowhere to stand together. And in the words of one of our truly great leaders, echoing a deep and enduring truth from the Bible – a house divided against itself cannot stand.
I love everyone, because that’s the call of Jesus. This includes anyone who voted for or supports Donald Trump. But I don’t understand how anyone could call themselves a follower of Jesus and be ok with Donald Trump’s way of speaking about others. I can get why you’d vote for him over Hillary Clinton. I can get why you’d like his policies better than Obama. I can even understand why you’d pray for him. I will do that too.
But I cannot understand how, if you read the same Bible I read featuring the same Jesus we’ve been following for 2,000 years, you could be ok with the way Donald Trump speaks – and then to not just vote for him but embrace him as a hero. Philip Yancey has spoken eloquently on that part of the unbelievable support from so many Christians.
You may say this is a tired drum to beat again. I don’t think we can beat it often enough. We either stand for goodness and decency in our leaders or we don’t. I cannot stand quietly by and allow us to become desensitized to this kind of behavior.
I’m going to be very careful to only use Trump’s own words, and to be faithful to the context in which they were given. It’s way too easy, it seems, for Trump supporters to dismiss any criticism of him. So I want to try to be fair and balanced (no pun intended, FoxNews) in my treatment of him. To take him only at his own words, in context.
We might be tempted to say, “hey, we’ve all said things we regret. Let’s give him grace.” Or we might want to shoot back, “who are you to judge him!? Are you perfect?!?!!!” And of course the answer is that I’m not perfect, I’ve said a lot of things I regret and need the grace of God for, and I am not the judge. But this doesn’t mean I can’t exercise judgment, evaluating a “tree by its fruit” to determine the heart – “for the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” And it certainly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t push back against darkness and unkindness.
Each of these quotes flies directly in the face of long-held, orthodox beliefs about how we should treat one another as humans. They fly in the face of the beliefs held by many of the world’s religions – but we’ll focus on Christianity for now. Let’s take a look.
“I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”
Are you ok with a man speaking about his daughter in an immodest way and alluding to incest. Even if that’s not what he meant, the words we speak have real power and set tones. So I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say I don’t think he was alluding to incest. Is this the kind of comment you’d want to hear your neighbor say? Your pastor? Your son’s coach? Why do we so easily accept it in our president?
“Ariana Huffington is unattractive, both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man – he made a good decision.”
“Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!”
These quotes condone divorce on the grounds of physical attraction, allude to acceptance of gay marriage and very personally degrade women in a dramatically public way. Jesus hates divorce, even as we are called to love and care for those going through it. God makes very clear his plan for human flourishing through heterosexual marriage, even as we walk lovingly and wisely in the minefield of this issue today. Jesus not only values women but goes out of his way, counter-culturally and scandalously, to love the unloved woman, not once she behaved but precisely in the moment of her deepest depravity.
“The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.”
“The point is, you can never be too greedy.”
We’ll take these two together. Are these true? Is wealth where our beauty lies? And is that what makes Donald Trump beautiful? Or in the context of his statement, is that what makes him beautiful compared to others? Is it true that you can never be too greedy?
Any true beauty in Donald Trump or any of us comes from the fact that we’re made in the image of God. More troubling though is his long pattern of equating wealth with human value or lack thereof. Nothing could be more contrary to the gospel of Jesus. Of course wealth is not inherently evil or wrong. But the love of it most certainly is.
“You know, it really doesn’t matter what the media write as long as you’ve got a young, and beautiful, piece of ass.”
Objectifying women. Exalting youth and beauty as primary values. Dismissing the opinions people have of you so long as you look good and powerful and popular. Do I need to really go into the specifics of why this is wrong? And dangerous for leaders to speak this way?
So what’s the point? What do you want me to do about this, Joel? If you’re a Jesus-follower, no matter who you voted for or how you made that decision, you have a responsibility to speak truth and shine light into darkness. We cannot allow this way of treating people to be ok – not for our kids, not for our communities and certainly not for our president.
Christ-followers, please listen and carefully consider these questions:
Is your support of Donald Trump going beyond the Biblical call to pray for our leaders?
Have you crossed the line into condoning his behavior and speech?
Is your support compromising the integrity of what you say you believe in?
Would Jesus be honored by the way you support Donald Trump?
So as it continues day in and day out, not just from the President-elect but now, because it’s normalized, from all his supporters and surrogates, we must push back in two key ways:
Refuse to speak this way or treat people this way.
Refuse to laugh along and casually accept it when others do.
It’s not just about speaking out or complaining when Trump or his supporters say something outrageous or disrespectful. That will only go so far, and most likely be confined to whatever our Twitter or Facebook reach is. No, our best response is the way we live in real life, the one no one will see on Facebook. It’s in the way we speak. The way we treat others. If you’re in politics, this is a truly urgent task. Even if you aren’t, it’s still a primary call that the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to God.
At the end of the day, this isn’t really about Donald Trump at all, is it? In a maximum of 8 years, he’ll be out of office. But the culture he shapes, and the culture we shape, will endure. Will it become increasingly normal, and even celebrated, to demean, to attack, to degrade and to speak ill of others? Or will we, like Jesus, reject the dominant cultural themes and act counter-culturally in ways that change the world for the better, bringing the kingdom of Heaven to earth?
Such is the nature of political campaigning. It’s a winner-take-most sport, competitive to a level far beyond what I experienced when I played college sports. The stakes, after all, are very high. The professional politicos eat, sleep and breathe this stuff. It consumes our lives in those seasons, for better or for worse. We do and say things that, in the normal course of life, we would never do or say. Some awful things. Some heroic things.
We should call 2016 “the year of the advisors.” There were more stories this year about advisors and consultants, especially in the presidential campaigns, than I can ever remember in the past. Favorite punching bags were the lightning rods for each of the two major campaigns. How many stories did Politico write about Kellyanne, Robby, Paul Manafort, John Podesta, Huma Abedin and all the rest? (hint: a zillion – click their names) Why so much interest in this?
You might say its because of the palace intrigue of Washington, DC insiders – and you would be partially right. You might say it’s the influence of celebrity culture on the election process and a desire for fame by the advisors themselves – and you would be partially right. But I think there’s a deep truth at work here under it all: advisors are incredibly influential. They know it. The media knows it. I’ve lived it. We all know it. And another deep truth: we are influenced by the people we hang out with. How many times did you hear that from your parents?
It stands to reason, then, that the quality, integrity, wisdom and personality of one’s advisors should matter a lot.
Are we, as a professional political class, spending any time developing leaders who reflect timeless values that we all believe in? Who is the “next generation” of professional politicos? Who’s training and mentoring them? What are they being told is important to know? Is anyone even asking about their integrity, character, ethical standards or moral compass? And what about the current leaders in the space? Are we at all concerned about the industry? Is anyone thoughtfully considering how our entire profession is influencing the future of our country? I fear that nearly all of these questions are going unaddressed in any meaningful way. (I know there are some exceptions, but they are just that.)
As a member of the professional political class for 10 years now I’ve had the chance to see and interact with people at all levels all over the country. Just like any profession, the quality of work varies greatly – from people I’d let babysit my daughter and run my presidential campaign all the way to people who should never be allowed within typing distance of a campaign plan and some who should be in jail. None of us are perfect. I’ve made a LOT of mistakes on the professional side of politics. Some of us win more than we lose. Some people lose more than they win and yet stay gainfully employed and even get rich. There are people with master’s degrees in political fields and there are people who never went to college. The variety is really quite entertaining.
What troubles me, though, is what I see in the contrast between two culturally divergent ways of thinking about politics, and how one is dominating the other. The dominant “culture” in the professional political class is defined by proximity to power, making money, who you’ve worked for, your phone’s area code and winning at all costs. The other “culture” is defined by principles, passion, sacrifice and finding good people to work with. Many of us find ourselves with a foot in both camps depending on the day.
In the first “culture” you don’t matter unless you have certain relationships, have worked for certain people and live in a certain place. Most, but not all, of these folks have a 202 area code. Many consultants who live in other places get their google voice account set up with a 202 area code just so it appears they’re calling from DC. You know them. Maybe you are them. In this culture we fight and claw and compromise our values (if we are clear on them to begin with) because what matters is that we get close to power. The powerful will get us our next job and the powerful are closer to the money so I’m more likely to make more money. It’s transactional.
The vast majority of the national political money flows through Washington, DC. So if I want to play in that space, I better live in DC (for the record, I don’t.) The political media is all based in Washington, DC or New York. If I want a media presence, I’ve got to be there. The best parties, where I can meet the powerful, influential people who will help me get to the next step are also there. So it stands to reason that if I’m a professional politico, or want to be one, that I better set up shop in DC.
I’ve watched over the past decade as the rise in the variety of vehicles for political action has grown dramatically. The problem with the rise in the number of ways to engage in politics is that it is WAY outpacing the quality, equipped, passionate men and women it takes to run and staff all these organizations. We put so little time and effort into the quality of our professional political class that it’s no wonder we have a talent gap. More troubling for me though, is that we are “raising” a political class that is neither equipped nor challenged to lead us in ways that will strengthen and unite our country.
We see the impact of this throughout our political discourse. The professional political class has at least as much, and possibly more influence on political discourse than anyone in the nation. We all contribute, for good or for ill, to the way we talk, the way we operate, the standards we keep, the people we promote and ultimately help to get elected.
Before those in the political class on the left cast blame on Trumpism, white America and money – and before those on the right demonize the mainstream media, the liberal activists and academia, maybe we should be introspective, asking questions like:
How am I contributing to the toxic political environment in our nation?
Should I adjust any of my practices or behaviors or speech?
What am I doing to unite our country?
Do I care more about money, power and my reputation than I do about others and our country?
Politicos, we need a revival. One of Webster’s definitions of revival is “a restoration of force, validity or effect.” We need a revival of character, integrity, and professionalism in politics that strengthens our system, restores validity and faith in the institutions we serve and gives hope to future generations.
Some will argue it’s never been there, so how could it be revived? I would say there’s always been some who treated their roles as paid advisors, organizers and political service providers as more than just making a buck or winning or defining the other side. Unfortunately, though, we are in an era where these folks are hard to find. I meet very few in DC or otherwise. There are some notable exceptions, but if you’ve spent much time really working in the DC culture, you know this is true.
We need leaders in the professional political class who can both win AND do it with honor, integrity, professionalism and kindness. Before you dismiss this as idealism, don’t confuse kindness for weakness. Real kindness is one of the strongest forces in humanity, especially when coupled with the truth and put into action. We can fight hard battles and be honest about our opponents in creative ways without demonizing them. We can make a great living without being dishonest. We can run incredible campaigns without compromising our most basic values.
As our country is torn apart by partisanship and a tone that I’ve never seen before, what will we do, politicos? Will we run to wherever the next buck is? Or will we choose projects, candidates and words wisely? If you’re a politico and you’re feeling this, join me in committing to a few basic principles. As a political professional:
I will be honest and when I fail, I’ll admit it.
I won’t demonize others when I or my clients disagree with them.
I will do excellent work that is worth the price tag.
I won’t compromise my values for a buck.
I will intentionally develop friendships with people from the “other side.”
I will keep learning and improving on my craft.
I will seek to build others up in the business, passing on the lessons of my wins and my losses.
We can’t all be Kellyanne or Robby or John or Paul. But we can all do our part to unite our country, to heal the divide and to contribute positively to a healthy, vibrant political discourse.
I’ve been pondering a lot lately what it means to “seek first the Kingdom of God.” Jesus calls his followers to do this in book of Matthew in the Bible. Even if you don’t believe in Jesus or practice any faith at all, this question is intriguing, so stick with me here. It’s an interesting question for all of us because it’s a basic human question, really. It’s the question of “how should I live my life?”
What does it actually look like, each day and in all things, to seek first the Kingdom?
Part of the answer lies, I believe, in the context of that directive from Jesus. It’s a single line in a much longer passage about not worrying. About provision. About the faithfulness and love of a Father for his children. Why would Jesus wrap up that part of his sermon on the mount with a directive to seek first the Kingdom? I think it has everything to do with focus. With where we fix our eyes. Where do we go first in our minds each day, each hour, each moment as we are faced with challenges and decisions and opportunities?
If I’m honest, without an effort to do otherwise, my feet hit the floor every morning seeking first my kingdom. My needs and wants and problems and questions for the day. Staring at my own proverbial feet and wondering where they will take me today. It is so easy, indeed natural, to focus on ourselves. It is natural in the sense that it is the ingrained way of us humans. Self preservation. But not all “natural” things are healthy. Would you eat a rubber tree? Drink a gallon of maple syrup? (ok I admit, some of us might do that. But would it be good for us?)
Seeking first the kingdom, then, starts by recognizing that I am not the center of the universe. That there is indeed a “kingdom.” Something much bigger than myself. As soon as we shift our focus from our own problems wants and needs, something happens inside us. Our hearts grow less anxious. We see the needs and wants and pains of others and we gain perspective. Then we can find our place in it all. And we can figure out what to do about it. We can figure out how to live.
For us Christ-followers, we have a framework for a lot of specific things he calls us to do and be in the world. But we won’t even get to that point until we shift our gaze from ourselves and fix it on him – on others – on the world around us.
So in this time where we are encouraged every day by advertisers and politicians and nearly every impulse inside us to look out for ourselves and make decisions based on what is good for the almighty “me”, what would happen if we sought the good of others before ourselves? What would happen if some of us sought first the kingdom every day? Might we see the hurts and needs of the most vulnerable in ways we never have? Might we think differently about our political rhetoric? Might we use our resources differently?
The pine branches creaked with the gusts, the sound reverberating through the trees. It made me wonder if some would crack and twist and fall to the ground. The two onlookers seemed oblivious to the sounds of the branches creaking and cracking and bending. They were mesmerized by the beauty of the trees.
“What beautiful trees,” one exclaimed. “Truly magnificent. The best,” said the other. They exchanged glowing praise for the trees and seemed very proud of themselves for having found them. It was a strange sort of self-congratulatory conversation about something for which they had no hand in growing, no part in bringing about. “How wonderful to live here with so many pines all around!” they said. “Who would want to live anywhere else,” they declared. They were so engrossed in their conversation, and mesmerized by the beauty of the pines, that they were oblivious to the coming storm that continued to bend and blow the trees.
Pine trees are indeed beautiful. Their tall, skinny trunks giving way to such flexible, prickly branches full of wispy, soft needles, green all year round. And these were as beautiful as any I’d seen. But I watched in quiet desperation from fifty yards away, the pine tree farm fully in my view. Rows and rows of carefully planted pines.
The onlookers seemed not to understand the purpose of the trees. They were being grown for the express purpose of their harvesting to feed the demand of hungry consumers. They would all be cut down in just days. They thought the trees were there for them. For their enjoyment and to please them with their beauty. But this was a pine farm, not a forest.
In a forest, diversity is its strength and beauty. Pines, however beautiful, are soft. They may well fall in a strong wind. But in a forest, the oaks will remain. The redwoods. And even if a pine falls, it is naturally and beautifully repurposed as a habitat, or food for some tiny creature, or simply to make room for other nearby trees. In a forest, when one tree falls the beauty remains. The purpose unchanged. Even from the complete devastation of a fire there springs new life in time from a forest.
Pines are beautiful. Of this there is little dispute. And pine farms are useful and even beautiful in their own ways. But pine farms are not forests.
Let us be ever mindful of the moments we are in our own “pine farms” of culture or politics and remember that we are, as humans, inhabitants of a beautiful “forest” of great diversity. And that diversity is our strength. Indeed, our very survival is dependent upon it.
Here’s a visual look at what the first week of the McMullin campaign was like, from staff cell-phone pics – the most authentic way to see it! I’m working on a piece to go with this but thought some of you might enjoy a sneak peek!
The Black Barn in NYC – L to R: Rick Wilson, Brian Henderson, Deson Haynie, John Claybrook, Evan McMullin, Joel Searby
Fox Business Studio in DC
The London Times
Evan loving the views of the Mountain West
Evan on the phone with someone important
In Salt Lake – KSL TV
Early morning in NYC – we used a LOT of UBER!
John Claybrook just doesn’t like early morning flights
I slept on the couch at my in-laws the night before I flew to Washington, DC to launch Evan McMullin’s presidential campaign. I could tell you it was because I had a super early flight and I didn’t want to disturb anyone when I got up. But the truth is, my wife was angry and hurt that I was about to “deploy” for over 3 months. When your wife is angry and hurt, you get the couch. My gracious brother-in-law, David, awoke around 5 am on August 4th to take me to the tiny Champaign, Illinois airport where I’d fly out of one of its two gates. I flew through O’Hare and landed in DC later that morning. We had three days to launch a presidential campaign.
In order to understand the timeline of this story, I’ll take you back a week (the next three paragraphs are from last week’s piece here. Everything else is new) I had taken my family to Illinois to the tiny town where my wife grew up – Bellflower, Illinois. That small town, and my in-laws house, has always been a refuge for me. I was so uncertain of what to do next. For several days I just sat on the porch or took walks or played with my kids. I drank coffee in the morning and beer at night (don’t worry, I believe in moderation so I wasn’t just drowning my sorrows.) I had no idea what the future held. One afternoon, as I sat by the garage, behind the cedar trees enjoying a great Illinois summer breeze, my phone rang. It was Evan.
Evan had been asking around among friends and colleagues in Washington, hoping, like me, that someone was going to stand up and run against both Clinton and Trump. He had hoped, like me, that it would be someone of great stature or resources or both. Instead, he learned, we had failed. There was no candidate and not much to show for our efforts of the summer. In his asking around, someone had suggested maybe he should consider running. Someone had told him if he was interested, he should call me since I was the guy with the plan, or so they thought. Maybe I was just the only one still crazy enough to be considering it.
We talked and I laid out for him all the challenges and the most likely outcome: crash and burn in the first two weeks. But, I told him, I still thought it was important and I thought there was an outside chance someone like him could get traction and make an impact on the race. I told him if he was serious we needed to meet in person. So he flew to Chicago and I drove up to meet him where we spent part of two days talking it all out.
I started by laying out the realities of getting on ballots. I had just lived through several months of this with Better for America and learned of the extreme challenges of getting an independent candidate on the ballot in many states. Our nation’s system in set up to favor the two major parties in a big way. Requirements vary dramatically from state to state – $1,000 and a piece of paper by July 14th in Colorado on one end of the spectrum and over 79,000 signatures collected by May 9th in Texas. That’s before most of the primaries have even finished. Oh, and the petition signers can’t have voted in either primary. It’s really quite absurd. More on all that another time.
I then talked with Evan about how we had no money and very few prospects for anyone big to come in. It was possible, but unlikely given our experience so far. Only John Kingston had the courage and willingness to put in big sums of money to that point on an independent effort. He had truly sustained us. But none of the really big hitters we had talked to, even the most ardent anti-Trump folks, were willing to put more cash into the mix. Plenty of them put up big money earlier, to try to stop Trump – but that was when their favored guy – Rubio, Bush, Cruz, or whomever else they liked – were still in and it seemed politically expedient to oppose Trump and curry future favor with their guy. Now that Trump was the nominee, these donors had gone dark on us. Completely, totally dark.
I told Evan how we basically had to get our own traction, make our own news and be prepared to run this on a shoestring and still fail. Even with all that, there was a sense between both of us, that it still had to be done. He wanted to run for all the right reasons. He was smart and articulate. He knew the lay of the land and still believed it was worth it. We took a few days to consider things. The entry below is from my journal the morning after my first day with Evan in Chicago.
On August 3rd, I decided I’d do it. I began calling the trusted few who had been in the fight with us since the Spring and letting them know that we had a candidate. I didn’t know a whole lot more about him than they did. I explained to these trusted folks that I believed Evan had a solid resume and that he was dead serious. I told them I was going to do it and asked them if they wanted to be a part of it.
One of the first calls I made was to John Claybrook (@johnclaybrook). John and I had worked together on Better for America and I had found him to be one of the hardest working, most reliable, most humble guys I’d ever been around. John is the former student body president at Texas A&M and wise beyond his years. He had just recently found out Better for America was winding down. Now I was asking him to come to DC, in two days, to help on a presidential campaign for a guy he’d never heard of. I wanted him by my side in the fight. He said yes and immediately booked a flight. John became one of my most trusted sounding boards and friends and even sacrificed his body for the cause, sleeping on a pull-out couch at the Hilton Garden Inn for the first week. You’re a true patriot, John.
Also among the first calls was my friend Mohammad Jazil. Mo, as most call him, is an exceedingly talented lawyer who served as our lead counsel throughout. I needed his counsel on what it would take. We had, together, laid a lot of groundwork for it all in our work with Better for America. I had resigned from BFA as had all those wanting to work with Evan as is required by the law. I knew we could pull off getting it launched by the 8th but I needed Mo to actually make sure we were legal and we had all our paperwork in order. I knew if anyone could do it, Mo could. Mo has proven himself to be a faithful, wise and sacrificial fighter for the good in our country and I am deeply grateful for all he and his firm did.
I also called Ian Hines (@ianpatrickhines) to ask if he wanted to help with the digital and more importantly, if he could get a website up in three to five days, for a presidential campaign, and have it not suck. He said he could. In fact, he’d just done something very similar for Theresa May in the U.K. And now she was the Prime Minister. I liked my chances with Ian. He is scrappy and super-talented. Not only did he pull it off but he did it very well.
I called Chris Riklin (@chrisriklin) with Nationbuilder. I knew they were the only platform that could spool up that quickly and be ready to help us collect data and succeed. I’d been in talks with them since the Condoleezza Rice days and Chris knew my intentions. They were excited and he just happened to be visiting DC so we met and I let him know what was going on. I called him up to my hotel room where I introduced him to Evan and told him he was going to run for president. After his initial shock subsided, Chris got to work immediately and really helped make things happen.
I wanted us to have quality design. So I called Tim Dalrymple (@timdalrymple_)with Polymath about doing the branding and design. They were in and got to work immediately on logos and branding that have become iconic in their own ways.
I knew we needed to capture and produce video content to make this work digitally. So I called David Nolte from Scratch Creative about doing the video. I knew him to be committed and excellent and he didn’t disappoint. He was in and booked a red-eye from L.A. for Sunday.
I also reached out to Tyler Lattimore (@tylerlattimore), a talented young guy just out of Emory who I had met at church and I knew was considering a role with the RNC in African American outreach. I wanted him on our team and he jumped on board immediately. He proved to be an invaluable asset and made a lot of things happen throughout the campaign.
The team was coming together.
I called Bill Kristol, Rick Wilson, Bill Wichterman and Stuart Stevens to get their input and tell them about Evan. All were supportive but of course needed more info before going too far in. Except Rick. Rick was in the fight and he wanted to keep going. He was just the kind of fighter we needed. Rick had been at the vanguard of the never Trump movement and was, and is, the most creative with his (ahem) flowery language. He got on a plane and came to DC to serve as our senior comms advisor. He never backed down for one second throughout and helped us stay sharp every day.
I called others who I thought could be on the team – in comms, social media, finance, and other realms. A few said maybe. Some said no. They had their reasons. I didn’t try to convince anyone. We needed people who were in it all the way with no hesitation. By the time I got through the calls and got to DC, it was the afternoon of Friday the 5th. We were planning to launch on Monday the 8th and we still needed more folks.
We convened at the Hilton Garden Inn in the NoMa district of DC. This is no five star hotel. It’s comfortable, the staff was kind and it was quiet. But no one really paid much attention to us. After all, we were only launching a presidential campaign with no money or staff, in three days. I secured a windowless conference room for a couple days, some fruit and pastries, and coffee. Lots of coffee. I didn’t know about anyone else but I knew I could survive on that alone. I hadn’t yet considered that our Mormon friends would need lots of diet Coke. We got that in due time.
Present and trickling in that Friday and Saturday were Chris and Roshelle Harmer, John Claybrook, Tyler Lattimore, Ian Hines, his business partner Richie Alicea, a few confidants of Evan’s, Evan and myself. That was it. Ten of us.
I asked if I could start our first meeting with prayer. Even though we had people of different faiths present it just seemed right. After a brief prayer and some introductions, we got right to work. Ballot access was set in motion immediately. We began making lists of possible staff and calling them. We combed through Evan’s contacts and compiled lists of possible donors and supporters. It was fast and furious and we worked all together in that room late into the night. It was truly inspiring to see everyone just set themselves to the task immediately.
Evan was fully engaged and working incredibly hard in his own right. This was no candidate with a full staff at his beckon-call. This was an everyday American about to quit his job and put his reputation and life out there for all to see in a way that risked losing everything. So what did he do? He dove in headfirst and started writing a platform, calling friends, tweaking a bio, working on a speech, and many, many other things.
On Sunday the 7th more people began arriving including Rick Wilson, Mo Jazil and his colleague Doug Roberts, David Nolte and Ryan Leuning, the cameraman who would follow us constantly for the first two weeks. By Sunday night, the core team was assembled and working furiously for a Monday launch.
We worked on a platform, built the website, set up social media accounts, got a bank account ready, signed legal documents, talked about messaging, reviewed resumes, set up secure communications and generally just did everything we could think of doing. It was intense, but there was peace. It was not frantic or hurried. There was a clear sense of purpose and we were on mission.
When we wrapped for the night we had no idea what the response would be the next day. What happened in the first week was incredible and historic, no matter how you slice it. And it set the stage for the rest of the story.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I slept well that night, even if it was only a few hours. Somewhere in that craziness I came to a conviction that I shared which ended up being our informal slogan and I took great comfort in believing deeply that it’s never too late to do the right thing.
(here’s some pictures I took on my phone in the first week as a preview for my next installment of the story of the historic Evan McMullin presidential campaign.)
I’ve never been much of a runner. I always preferred sports for my exercise. Basketball is my sport of choice and I played throughout my life including in college. I guess I don’t like the idea of anything where you just run and there’s nothing else to it.
Today after a long hiatus from exercise because of this presidential year, I went for a run. But instead of running on a road or a sidewalk, I ran in a beautiful park down trails along a creek. Whenever I wanted to stop and enjoy a squirrel climbing a tree, the meandering Hoggetowne Creek, or just watch the leaves falling here in Florida, I did. This is a different way to run. This is a running that doesn’t lose sight of the journey. This is a running that, when needed, stops and enjoy the scenery. I’ve never run like this before.
That reminded me of something a mentor of mine, Mike Patz told me about a year ago. He said I’m a sprinter not a distance runner. More like Usain Bolt. (I know, Usain, I’m nothing like you.) I’ve pondered this ever since. What does it mean to be a sprinter in life? What does it mean about the things that I do? Or don’t do? What does this say about me? Is it even true?
I’m realizing that it is. Throughout my life I’ve been able to go at speeds and levels of intensity that very few people are able to handle. But I can’t sustain it for too long. If I try I will crash and burn.
So what does a sprinter have to do? He must rest after each race.
Many of you have asked me what I’m up to. The answer is, not much. I have been deliberately quiet and avoiding a lot of activity. Part of this is the simple fact that I’m exhausted and the election is over. Part of this is the natural depression that comes after a period of high intensity in life. Part of it is that I don’t want to jump into opining on matters of such weight for our country and our world.
It has been said that at times, for the good, we pour ourselves out to the point of being completely empty. This has been the case for me. And so being emptied I must refill. Refill from the Source. Refill with goodness and truth and beauty. Be quiet long enough not just to hear but to truly listen. In times of refreshing we must give ourselves space to ensure that we fill up our empty tanks with things that will renew us and give us life, not further drain us or lead to death.
So perhaps you would like to know what I think about Donald Trump. Maybe you’d like to hear my thoughts on building a new political party. Maybe you think I should hang it up and stay out of politics altogether. These are all things I’ve pondered myself. But here’s what I know sitting here today on this park bench looking at this beautiful creek: I’m not ready and that’s OK.
Some have said I’m the most rejected man in America. Actually, my friend and recent presidential candidate Evan McMullin said it. Why would he say that? Here’s the story.
It all started in February of 2016 when I woke up one morning with a deep conviction that I had to do something in this presidential election and that it was very likely that Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee. I was deeply convicted that I must act, although on that February morning, I did not understand why or exactly what to do.
I began to explore what it would take to run an independent presidential campaign and to think about who might be a good candidate. I reached out to friends, colleagues and experts on the matter to learn about things like ballot access, the electoral college, funding possibilities, minor parties and all sorts of other things I never knew existed even after working in politics for ten years.
After a week or so I decided to test the waters and wrote a memo outlining a scenario, based on some polling our firm had done, whereby Condoleezza Rice could become president. This was all done without Dr. Rice’s knowledge but I had always liked her and thought she’d make an intriguing and viable pick. To my surprise, the polling showed that she was very, very strong and in fact might be able to mount such a run. I figured I better let her know.
There was only one problem – I’m not influential or connected at that level of politics. I was a small time consultant from Gainesville, Florida who had worked all around the country but mostly for medium-sized political action committees and state and local level candidates.
I’ve never been afraid to cold call anyone. Even the former Secretary of State. So, I looked her up. I found her chief of staff at Stanford, where she now works for the Hoover Institute, and I emailed. No response. So I emailed again. And again. Then I called – a few times. Finally, I got a rather frustrated response from her chief stating in no uncertain terms that Dr. Rice would not be running for president and I should leave them alone. Rejection number one.
The memo I had written on the matter was leaked to Politico who ran a small story on it that was apparently noticed by a few others who were feeling similarly. Long story short, I got connected with a few of them including Bill Kristol, Rick Wilson and others and began discussing other options for candidates. Bill had been floating ideas for a while and felt similarly, that we needed a better option.
Between us, we emailed, cold-called, met with and otherwise courted many well-known people. Former presidential candidates, generals, senators, congressmen, rich people, celebrities, leadership gurus. There were many different conversations and meetings. Rejections number two, three, four and some number higher after that. I lost count.
Eventually one man, David French, decided to seriously consider the idea. It was Memorial Day weekend. With the gracious assistance and leadership of his friend John Kingston, we holed up at John’s beautiful farm in Vermont to consider the possibilities. Extra pressure was added when Bill Kristol, heading to Israel for a week, tweeted that news may be forthcoming on a candidate. But we were ok. We were going to take a deliberative approach.
On the first day in Vermont, David’s phone rang. It was his publicist, or so the number read. In fact, it was a patch-thru from Mark Halperin of Bloomberg News and he asked David if he was going to run for president. When David didn’t deny it, a story was up in an hour and our quiet, deliberative planning turned into a pressurized, intense scramble to spool up a possible presidential campaign in less than a week, still not knowing if our candidate was indeed going to run.
(Side note about the impacts this stuff has on people – that same day my wife called me to inform me that, minutes earlier, the neighbor’s dogs had mauled and killed our family cat of 11 years and she and my young kids came home to the scene. So yeah, my cat died while I was gone and I wasn’t there to bury him or help my kids process their first pet death. A few weeks later our fish died. Garage doors broke. Things stopped working around the rental house. Such are the real costs of giving yourself to something like this.)
What ensued in Vermont was a crazy few days of making lists of possible staff, supporters, financial backers and endorsers. Soul searching. Building a potential platform. Long days of meetings interrupted by periodic walks around the farm to pray, or weep, or just try to make sense of it all.
I learned so much in those few days. I learned that it was indeed possible to spool up a presidential campaign in a few days. (this experience would prove invaluable later on.) I learned that there were quite a few people out there feeling the same way I was. I learned that despite unbelievable odds, many of them were ready to sacrifice greatly to help in any way they could.
I learned that John Kingston is one of the most open-handed and generous men I’ve ever met with a passion for advancing good in the world. I learned that David French is a deep, caring, thoughtful and incredibly intelligent man who loves his country, his family and his God. Others, like Stuart Stevens, came to offer advice. New friendships were formed. And I learned that if we were actually going to do this, it was going to be the hardest thing I’d ever done and it would probably fail by conventional political standards.
I will never forget the final, agonizing moments of David’s decision-making process. We had talked it out. He had talked to his wife. Now he just had to go talk it out with God. I watched him as he paced, and thought, and prayed. I knew he was wrestling with God in ways that few people ever do.
Then he walked into the kitchen in the colonial house and said, with tears in his eyes, “Guys, no.”
We had already rallied some troops to meet us in New York City the next day because we couldn’t wait too long and drag our feet. They thought they were coming to join up with a presidential campaign. What we didn’t know was that it would form the core of the next phase of this journey.
At the Marmara hotel just off Park Avenue we convened a group of operatives, thinkers and experienced hands to consider the possibilities. There were people with White House experience, presidential campaign experience, well-regarded writers and thinkers, potential funders and young, hungry operatives.
After David shared his decision, we shifted immediately to what was possible and what could be done. Many of us just weren’t ready to throw in the towel. Over the next 24 hours we settled on forming an organization and called it Better for America. Our mission would be to educate the American public on the process of running for President as an independent, to continue recruiting candidates and to get as much ballot access as we could while we waited and hoped for a candidate to step into the fray.
Great patriots and friends like Anne MacDonald, Kahlil Byrd, John Claybrook, Mohammad Jazil, Mike Lehmann, Ashley Pratte and many others joined John Kingston and I in what was, admittedly, a very uncertain journey ahead. The waters weren’t uncharted. Many had gone before us in the challenge of ballot access, running an independent candidate and other difficult tasks. But we learned very quickly that without a candidate, there was very little for anyone to rally around.
We struggled, under tight timelines, to gain ballot access, ultimately getting a newly formed Better for America party on the ballot in Arkansas and New Mexico. We tried to organize like-minded people online and rally them to the cause. We talked and met with many more potential candidates. All of them said no, even after some seriously considered it. I was truly earning that title as the most rejected man in America.
Pretty soon it was July and we still had no candidate, limited ballot access and a beat-down team of fighters uncertain of what to do next. Funding was gone, even after Kingston’s deeply sacrificial efforts. We decided to fold up shop.
In June, I had decided that I could no longer continue as the CEO of the consulting firm I had been leading. I could not serve that role well and pursue what had become a strange but unshakeable passion, even knowing it was almost certain to fail in the conventional sense. So I walked away from an incredibly stable, comfortable income with virtually unlimited prospects for the future and now I was literally unemployed and completely defeated. I had no idea what to do. So I went on vacation.
I took my family to Illinois to the tiny town of Bellflower where my wife grew up. That small town, and my in-laws house, has always been a refuge for me. I was so uncertain of what to do next. For several days I just sat on the porch or took walks or played with my kids. I drank coffee in the morning and beer at night (don’t worry, I believe in moderation so I wasn’t just drowning my sorrows.) I had no idea what the future held. One afternoon, as I sat by the garage, behind the cedar trees and enjoying a great Illinois summer breeze, my phone rang. It was Evan McMullin.
Evan had been asking around among friends and colleagues in Washington, hoping, like me, that someone was going to stand up and run against both Clinton and Trump. He had hoped, like me, that it would be someone of great stature or resources or both. Instead, he learned, we had failed. There was no candidate and not much to show for our efforts of the summer. In his asking around, someone had suggested maybe he should consider running. This was not what he was thinking. He was thinking he’d be willing to quit his job – but to work in the policy shop of this candidate of stature and resources. Now he was seriously considering it himself. Someone had told him if he was interested, he should call me since I was the guy with the plan, or so they thought. Maybe I was just the only one still crazy enough to be considering it.
We talked and I laid out for him all the challenges and the most likely outcome: crash and burn in the first two weeks. But, I told him, I still thought it was important and I thought there was an outside chance someone like him could get traction and make an impact on the race. I told him if he was serious we needed to meet in person. So he flew to Chicago and I drove up to meet him where we spent part of two days talking it all out.
He then went back to DC to consider it all. A few days later I got a phone call that he wanted to do it and wanted to know if I was in. I pondered it for 24 hours, talked to a few folks about it and then I got on a 5:30am flight the next day from Champaign, Illinois to Washington, DC. I told him I’d be with him through the end. Now all we had to do was launch a presidential campaign in three days.