In different ways, Glenda Ritz and Donald Trump demonstrate how difficult it is to run for high office.
And, in their different ways, both also demonstrate how valuable the skills of a gifted politician – skills we citizens often disparage – can be.
Ritz ended her ill-fated campaign for governor late Friday afternoon. It was an embarrassing end to an uncomfortable candidacy.
Ritz, a Democrat, first opted to run for governor out of frustration. She won a stunning upset victory in the Indiana superintendent of public instruction race in 2012 by putting the heavy-handed and arrogant “education reform” policies of the state Republican Party on trial.
Before she even took office, though, Ritz found herself confronted by a GOP hierarchy and heavily financed corporate education system determined either to ignore or overturn the election results. Hemmed in and thwarted at almost every turn, she decided to run for governor because, she argued, that was the only way to shape education policy in the state.
Her campaign was a disaster.
Ritz didn’t raise much money. And she had to return some of the tiny bit of money she did raise because of campaign finance irregularities.
That’s not surprising. From the beginning, there was a Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, “Hey, kids, let’s put on a show” quality to the Ritz-for-governor effort. Ritz and her most devoted supporters launched her campaign for the state’s highest office because they were angry at Gov. Mike Pence and other Republicans.
But gubernatorial campaigns can’t be won on impulse.
Successful major campaigns are complicated affairs that require candidates and their staffs to mobilize not only their most devout supporters, but reach out to and coordinate lots of other “soft” support while honoring and meeting an intricate set of election laws and deadlines. In an ideal world, the best candidates are able to do this while fashioning an argument for themselves that will allow them to govern successfully once they are elected.
In that way, politics can be both a science and an art.
It’s certainly not a pastime for amateurs.
But that’s how Donald Trump – as of late, sort of a Republican – treats it. The Donald has built a life and a career on walking away (divorces, bankruptcies, etc.) when things get too difficult – and finding ways to blame others for his setbacks when he stumbles.
His presidential campaign now is less about setting a course for the country than it is about him seeking to have his insatiable ego needs validated. He claims he wants to talk honestly about America and its challenges, but at the same time says he won’t rule out running as a third-party candidate – which would doom the GOP’s chances in a general election – if other Republicans and conservatives aren’t “nice” to him.
In practice, that means The Donald will get what is every bully’s dream: A chance to hit others without having to fear the other side will swing back.
Trump’s toxic mix of immigrant-baiting and misogyny already has diverted the GOP from the more inclusive, opportunity-based message the party hoped to advance this election cycle.
More important, Trump has stirred up animosities in all parts of the political landscape.
And that will make it even more difficult for the next president, Republican or Democrat, and the next Congress to govern the nation.
People who spend all their time shouting at each other rarely get much done.
Both Donald Trump and Glenda Ritz pride themselves on not being politicians. And they’re correct in saying they’re not; neither has that skill set.
We Americans and we Hoosiers love to make fun of politicians. It is part of the leveling spirit of a nation and a state that, in theory, make no distinctions between the rulers and the ruled.
But, much as we like to denigrate politicians as a class, we Americans and we Hoosiers could use a few more gifted politicians these days.
The skilled politician knows how to get people to resolve differences and reminds us that, regardless of those differences, we all are linked by our common citizenship. The gifted political leader shows us that our arguments are and always must be family quarrels.
That’s a rare skill set. We should honor it when we find it.
Because we suffer when good politicians can’t be found.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.