Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The GOP CNBC Debate: Everything Old Is New Again?

So far, the GOP presidential debates have been a lot of fun to watch, mostly due to the antics of Donald Trump.  Indeed, one CNN pundit brilliantly described the circus-like debates as “Fonzie on stage with a whole bunch of Richie Cunninghams.”  

The CNBC debate was different than the others. This time Trump was less the publicity-consuming forest fire, giving some of the other candidates a rare chance to poke their head into the spotlight.

This made the debate – for me, at least – the most interesting session yet.

It wasn’t because of the alleged bias of the CNBC “moderators.” Blaming the media or pollsters when your candidate loses smacks of blaming the refs in the NFL. However, the CNBC crew was, bias-wise, more egregious and self-embarrassing than most. 

What made the CNBC debate truly interesting was the showdown that occurred between former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and current Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

As has already been widely reported, Bush confronted Rubio for missing votes in the Senate, and Rubio – clearly anticipating the attack – responded aggressively and effectively. It was a "you sank my battleship" moment for Bush, and may have been a defining moment for both campaigns, as Rubio’s surging and Bush’s sinking poll numbers could indicate.

Still, what made it most interesting for me is the strange déjà vu feeling I had.

First, here is the relevant clip of the Bush-Rubio exchange during the CNBC debate.

Watching it, I felt I had seen a similar debate moment before.  A brief search of YouTube reminded me I have.

The date was October 11, 1992, when President George H. W. Bush – desperately fighting for reelection – called out Governor Bill Clinton for alleged patriotic lapses.

In the Bush – Clinton exchange, a genteel political aristocrat known for his aversion to engaging personally in sharp-edged attacks tentatively launched a volley against his Democratic foe clearly orchestrated by his campaign team. And, it backfired.

In the Bush – Rubio exchange, a soft-spoken, wonkish ex-governor who prefers talking policy rather than competing in the kind of garish scrum into which the GOP debates have devolved awkwardly attacked a political protégé on a perceived vulnerability. 

That backfired, too.

For the record, I would be very comfortable with Governor Bush as the next president.

The question isn’t whether Jeb would be a good president.  The question is, given the strange dynamics of 2016, can he be a good candidate? 

Concerns about the economy overshadowed Bush 41's historic foreign policy successes, leaving the man who won so convincingly in 1988 a spent political force by 1992. 

The times shape the candidate. Can this candidate Bush shape the times? 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Steve Kreseski

In the most recent, and much maligned, Indiana Jones film, Indy muses that he had reached the point at which life stops giving you things and starts taking them away.

Last week, I experienced a similar epiphany.

Steve Kreseski, former chief of staff to Congressman and later Governor Bob Ehrlich, passed away after a long illness. He played a big role in my career, and in the careers of many others.

Now, I am no stranger to loss. Long ago, I buried my parents, and lost a fiancee.

But the passing of a personal mentor barely a decade older than I am raises its own set of complicated emotions about human mortality.

Steve was personally responsible for bringing me onto Team Ehrlich when the congressman was first elected to the House of Representatives as part of the first Republican congress in 40 years. I barely knew Ehrlich at the time, and some people in Baltimore County political circles tended to regard me as a bit of a live wire.

This live wire thing must be shocking to some of you, I know…but I digress.

But Steve fought for me, and I remember him reaching out to me on December 31st, 1994 – I was in Dallas for a high school buddy’s wedding – to tell me I had gotten the job. That launched the defining experience of my professional career.

It was a band of brothers experience, as we devoted ourselves to our new boss and his ambitions during what seemed like a heady and historic time.

Sometimes, brothers clash.

Steve’s devotion to the congressman was absolute, and he was mindful of the challenges of managing a very young, neophyte staff. As for me, I was eager and anxious to prove my value.  Understandable tensions between a risk averse chief of staff and a brash young press secretary occasionally resulted – a common dynamic across Capitol Hill.

He pushed me to deliver, to be more than the introvert that sat quietly writing press releases and talking points. And in the process he helped me evolve.

Some might even say he created a monster. Again…I digress. :-)

Still, at the end of the day, I never doubted his friendship.

Anyway, it was the best work experience of my life, and Steve Kreseski made it possible.

I worked with him again in the State House. In what is often a self-centered business, Steve was the rare exception – a manager and a mentor who actually cared that the people under his charge learned, grew, and thrived.

On the day I buried my mother – a snowy December morning in 2003, not to mention the worst day of my life – he unexpectedly showed up at my home. He was the only senior member of Team Ehrlich who did.

I never forgot that.

When I heard he was ill, I reached out to him. Typically, he turned the conversation back to me and my own particular career issues and aspirations.  “Once I have beaten this,” he told me, “I will do what I can to help you.”

Greatness starts with goodness, and Steve Kreseski was a truly good person. He lived his life with compassion and kindness. Putting other people first was an ingrained part of his DNA. He was everyone’s generous uncle, and everyone whose life he touched was made better as a result of having known him.

RIP, Steve. We will miss you.